Thursday, February 11, 2010

Traditional Okinawan School of Martial Arts in Mesa, Arizona

 Seiyo Shorin-Ryu members train at a traditional dojo in the East Valley of Phoenix in the town of Mesa. Members travel from the nearby communities of Chandler, El Mirage, Scottsdale, Florence, Phoenix, Gilbert and Tempe to train in one of a few traditional Okinawan dojos in Arizona. Being on Baseline between Mesa Dr. & Country Club Dr., the dojo (60 W. Baseline) is easily accessible from the Superstition Highway (60) & a near straight shot from Sky Harbour airport. We have members train from Mesa as well as groups from local businesses and groups from around the world train at our hombu. As martial artists, it is important to understand what a dojo is.
In Japan, a dojo is a gym. But dojo also includes martial arts training facilities. In the West, dojo is restricted to a place for martial arts training. Unfortunately, most people in North America are familiar with the sport variety of martial arts schools; however, a sport facility lacks the beauty and grandeur of a traditional dojo: sport martial arts schools are designed to focus on picture windows to advertise their product and give the public a full view of their training, something that is considered 'taboo' in a traditional Okinawan dojo. In traditional schools, we teach not only traditional karate, kobudo and self-defense, but we also train the individual in respect, self-confidence, self-esteem, and concern for others. As you train in our dojo, you will also learn Japanese.
Rei - bowing to one another - an important part
of karate practice.
In Okinawa, a dojo designated for martial arts is almost sacred. Traditional dojo have rituals where secret arts and techniques are taught to members and not made public; hence there are no picture windows of the training area. The training center is restricted from view by outsiders and it is rare for any public seating in a dojo. Under proper guidance, these secret arts are safe, but without guidance, they can be dangerous, especially to the uninitiated.

As an example, traditional martial artists learn to break rocks (not boards). Rocks are cheap and readily available - but breaking techniques are only used to help build self-confidence and are a very minor part of karate. An individual would place themselves in peril without knowing proper technique when breaking a rock. Other training methods not seen in sport schools is the training with a makiwara - a board designed to build power in strikes.
Many people are familiar with nunchaku or known as the nunchuks or chuks to the layman. In the hands of a trained martial artist, it can be an effective weapon. In the hands of a novice, it can provide considerable entertainment to a nearby audience. As an example, a criminal tried to rob a bank in California decades ago. He did so with a pair of nunckuks. As his bag was being filled with money, he stepped back from the counter to give a demonstration of his prowess for the bank employees only to apprehend himself with a blow on the top of his head. I suspect he was not presented any award for stopping this crime – but should have received something equivalent to the Darwin Award. 

Soke Hausel demonstrates the art  of rock breaking at the University
of Wyoming prior to teaching UW students how to break rock with their
hands.

Body-hardening techniques (Shitai Kori) in traditional schools can be extreme, but as one learns these secrets, they actually begin to enjoy them. A novice attempting to mimic such training could end up seriously battered and bruised and potentially in a hospital. Body hardening is only taught to adults and advanced students. For example, the ultra-extreme martial art known as Juko-Ryu Kijutsu is only taught to members of Juko Kai International by its grandmaster: Dai-Soke Sacharnoski and its methods are secret. Anyone attempting to do this art without proper guidance could be seriously hurt. Seiyo Shorin-Ryu teaches a similar form of body hardening modified from the Kokushinkai karate.

Dojo (道場 dōō) literally means "place of the Tao" in Japanese. For those not familiar with Tao (道, Dào), this is a concept of Taoism and Confucianism. The kanji translates as "way" or "path" and more loosely as "doctrine" or "principle." Tao is often expressed through in-yo (yin-yang) arguments where every action creates a counter-action that is thought to be natural and an unavoidable movement. This is true in karate and physics. When we punch (tsuki) we withdraw the other hand at an equal velocity to maintain power and balance. At one time, martial arts dojos were adjunct to temples in Japan because of their importance in the Japanese culture. Many Westerners confuse Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, Korean and sport street fighting facilities as dojo. Dojo is strictly Okinawan/Japanese and should only refer to the Japanese-Okinawan arts.

Soke and Sensei Donette Gillespie
demonstrate Juko-Ryu Kijutsu
at University of Wyoming basketball
half-time
A traditional martial arts dojo, or karate school, is considered special. It should be cared for by its practitioners as it is their facility, not one individual’s facility. It is traditional to conduct a ritual cleaning of the dojo at the end of each training session called souji, which translates as "cleaning". Besides the obvious hygienic benefits of regular cleaning, it also serves to reinforce the fact that a dojo is sacred and supported and managed by the student body, not the school's instructional staff.

Kyoshi Ngo from Vietnam
displays Hall of Fame award
  Another important characteristic of traditional dojo in Okinawa is that dues are donated or set at a minimum level even though the type and quality of instruction is usually many orders greater than commercial sport schools. In Okinawa, it is traditional for members to support a dojo by paying whatever they can give for its operation as it is everyone’s dojo. Imagine your life without your dojo. When a dojo closes, it is usually for good. Over the years, I’ve had many students tell me (after they had graduated from college and moved elsewhere) that they didn’t realize how good they had it in our dojo. This is something that is always taken for granted until it happens, and it does happen often.

View of the Kamidana in background at the Arizona Hombu dojo in Mesa, Arizona. When one approaches the kami, they face the shire and bow twice. Next they clap their hands together, and bow a third time. In front of the Kamidana, Patrick Scofield trains with Ryan Harden.
 
It is common for traditional (koryu) dojo in the East to be rarely used for training, and instead reserved for symbolic or formal occasions. In such cases, actual training may be conducted outside adjacent to the dojo or in a less formal area within the dojo, but always out of view from non-members.

Most traditional dojo follow a prescribed pattern of shomen (front of the training center) laid out precisely. If the facility was initially built as a traditional dojo, the structure will include special entrances based on student and instructor rank. Students enter the lower-left corner of the dojo (in reference to the shomen) with instructors entering the upper right corner. Shomen typically have a kamidana—a Shinto shrine. Upon entering, respect is paid to the dojo. When the sensei (teacher) enters, all activities cease and the class is loudly called to attention by the senpai (class senior).

Kamidana (神棚 or かみだな) have "kami shelves", or a miniature shrine placed on a wall containing a variety of items related to Shinto ceremony. Kamidana can be found in many Japanese homes as well as dojo.

There are often displays throughout a traditional dojo, such as kanban (poster boards or signs) that authorize the school to practice a particular style or strategy, and items such as taiko drums, armor (yoroi) and kobudo weapons. It is not uncommon to find the name of the dojo and dojo kun ("rules or philosophy") displayed prominently at the shomen. Weapons and other training gear are found on the back wall. A hombu (or honbu) dojo is the administrative and headquarters for a particular martial arts style. Hombu are not necessarily large or ostentatious: most are small. Hombu is considered the head of a martial arts system and like any traditional dojo, all members of a traditional ryu (style) support the hombu financially. Hombu are considered important as all training and certifications originate from a hombu and its soke. A hombu provides credibility for all members. Most Soke are not businessmen and it is rare that any association produces excessive financial support. Rare exceptions included the late Mas Oyama and late Ed Parker, both of whom build international empires for their ryu. For those of you who trained with any Okinawan sensei in the past, this should provide a good example. At various universities, we periodically brought in Okinawan instructors for special clinics and we were never asked by the instructor himself, for his fees. These were all arranged by their senpai, as it is considered an insult in the Okinawan culture for an instructor to have to ask for fees and dues.

The Shomen at the Arizona Hombu in Mesa Arizona.

Traditional dojo have many profundities concealed beneath the surface. A deeper meaning beneath the superficial layer is a recurrent theme in traditional Japanese culture. If one examines the design (hiegakure) of zen gardens they will begin to grasp why there are hidden meanings in martial arts. Hiegakure means "that which is hidden from ordinary sight."

The average individual who strolls through a Japanese garden admiring the sights is only subconsciously aware of the paths beneath his or hers feet. To the connoisseur, these paths offer meaning. Where paths are smooth, they are designed for ease of traffic flow. Where stones are rough, irregular, or stepped, this causes the visitor to slow. Where paths end, they are planned by the designer to have visitors pause and take note of the surroundings. The dichotomy of the obvious and subtle can be found or missed not only in Japanese gardens, but also in martial arts as well as in the dojo.

Demonstration of hakutsuru karate - white crane - a beautiful but deadly martial art developed by a female practitioner of Wu Shu (Chinese kung fu) centuries ago. Many martial arts were developed by mimicking movements of animals.

A study of kata provide subtleties that are missed by the uninitiated. It is not uncommon for some lower ranked students and instructors to scoff at kata as being useless. This is because they lack training and maturity to understand kata. Kata is zen and provides many meanings. The more one practices kata, the more one understands martial arts. As one progresses in karate, periodically a technique in kata will provide new meaning – this is by design as we all have different backgrounds and experiences. To be a good karate-ka, or deshi (student) one must practice all kata many times a week and practice all bunkai (applications) associated with each kihon (basic), chudan (middle level) and jodan (upper level) kata numerous times a week. Equally as important, one must practice all kihon (basic) stances, blocks, kicks, and strikes hundreds of times each week as this is the only way one can gain muscle memory. Calisthenics and stretching must be kept to a bare minimum and replaced by hundreds of kihon. I’ve yet to see anyone defend themselves by outstretching an attacker. Hundreds of full-focused kihon provide a time of mediation when the body reacts and the mind rests.

Do - or the path or way.

Martial arts in the eastern culture are intimately concerned with matters of the spirit. Thus, while a dojo may resemble a gym, its historical inspiration is that of a temple or shrine. A dojo should be treated as a shrine. All of its practitioners should be missionaries or emissaries of a dojo. We all want our families and close friends to share in the benefits of this life. A dojo teaches self-confidence, self-esteem, self-improvement, concern for others and provides benefits of health not available in any other kind of training – so why would we not want this for our friends and family? As a student of a traditional dojo, you should consider ways to attract people you care for to your dojo – a blog on the Internet about your experiences works wonders, a personal business card designed with pride can provide valuable information about you and your dojo: students are the success and voice of any dojo. After a dojo is well-established and the dojo population declines, there is something wrong that needs to be fixed. The student body should remain stable or grow.

In the past, traditional dojo architecture and associated reishiki (etiquette) had three functions: first, the placement of the sensei at the front, seniors on the right, and juniors on the left, this afforded the teacher maximum protection from an intruder. Second, the arrangement shielded the teacher's instruction from those who might peer through the dojo's entrance. Third, the arrangement reflected certain Buddhist rituals. The next time you enter a traditional dojo, look for the subtleties. They are all around you.

Sport Karate schools are not traditional and it is even questionable if they are even a valid martial art. This is particularly true of mixed martial arts and extreme martial arts - they have no traditions, no foundation, no history and no lineage and few practice any traditions or have any philosophy to build better people. There are many talented people who practice these sports which provide good physical conditioning, but by definition, they are not a martial art since they offer no esoteric value for self-improvement.
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VISIT OUR HUMBLE HOMBU IN MESA, ARIZONA
Map to Dojo

Our members from Vietnam train at outside dojo.
Stop by and visit our Arizona School of Traditional Karate in Mesa. Our School is located right on the border between Mesa and Gilbert at 60 W. Baseline Road.

We offer Shorin-Ryu Karate Classes, Kobudo Classes, Kobudo training (Weapons Classes), Self-Defense Classes, Women's self-defense classes, clinics, and training in the Samurai arts. Our traditonal Okinawan karate center is open to the public - our classes focus on Adults and Families. Come learn the traditions of Okinawan Karate & Kobudo, where much of the class is conducted in Japanese and English to help students learn Japanese.

Our school is a member of a International Okinawan Karate Association - Seiyo No Shorin-Ryu Karate Kobudo Kai, and affiliated with one of the most respectful traditional martial arts associations in the world - Juko Kai International

We also teach meditation, philosophy and martial arts history interjected in karate classes. Our schedule is as follows:

Shorin-Ryu Classes -



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