Frequently asked questions about karate and Goju Ryu
These are the most common questions we are asked. We hope you find the answers useful and informative.
How does one choose a good school of Karate?
Go and watch a few classes being taught. Observe the state of discipline and the way in which it is applied - as a motivation or as punishment? What are the measures taken by the instructor to prevent possible injuries? Small things such as punctuality, uniformity of dress, discipline on the floor by the instructor, etc all add up to a well run school.
Some schools send a senior instructor around at the beginning of a term or year to impress new members, but, thereafter, junior instructors teach the classes. Ask the head instructor about this.
By making a few inquiries about teaching fees of more than one dojo in the area, you can quickly establish what is fair and reasonable. Some charge more than others simply because they offer more.
In the case of teaching children, can the school demonstrate a sufficient level of CRB checking (Criminal Records Bureau) of their instructors? All dojos and parents should take this aspect very seriously as there have been several cases over the years of martial art instructors regretably taking advantage of their poistion and being successfully convicted as peadophiles. In practice the chances of this happening in well run schools is minimal, especially where all junior lessons are held in the presence of the parents.
Ask for the qualifications and affiliations of the instructors - are they internally awarded karate grades, or do they possess qualifications from external and consequently more independent sports coaching bodies, first aid course providers, etc?
Look at the track record of the school - How long has it been in operation? Trophies on the wall are no guarantee of a good school, but they certainly indicate a successful approach if they are legitimate and recent.
At what age can you start karate?
You or your child can start training at any age - we simply adjust your training to your age and/or physical condition. There is no doubt the best age to start any physically demanding activity is from early school age where one can condition and train the body when it is still growing and most flexible. Most students start in the early teens, but it is not unusual to find people first presenting in their forties and fifties.
Do I have to be fit to start training?
The answer is a definite "No". The instructor will adapt the lesson to match your current level of fitness and ability when you first start. Over the ensuing months you will soon attain the necessary fitness with regular and diligent training.
Of course it helps if you are reasonable fit and supple to start with, but it has to be remembered that different activities develop different muscle sets and levels of stamina. So someone fit enough to run a marathon, would still struggle to keep up in their first karate lesson.
How often should I train?
Most instructors would agree that in order to improve stamina, technique and develop the correct mental attitude students will need to train at least three times a week, especially in the months leading up to the more senior gradings. Like most things in life, however, the commitment one can show to Goju-Ryu will vary according to the other demands placed upon your time, such as family, work and education. It is also possible to over-train, which can lead to avoidable strain injuries that only serve to slow down your progress. You will find your Sensei will be best placed to guide you on this difficult question.
What about physical handicaps, injuries, or health problems?
Karate will usually improve most of these conditions if care is taken and good communication exists between the teacher and the student. Persons with handicaps could possibly progress slower than their counterparts, but self-defence training can still take place effectively. If you are not sure, first consult a physician.
How long will it take to obtain a Black Belt?
For juniors, it normally takes a minimum of six years training to win a Goju-Ryu black belt. For seniors (18 years and above) an exceptionally gifted student will gain their black belt in three years, but for most of us it takes four.
On the issue of frequency of gradings, most dojos grade their earnest students every six months. To increase the frequency would only serve to lower standards and potentially hinder progress. In the case of young children, some dojos will introduce more gradings as sub-sets of the nine official Kyu grades that the EGKA recognise. The higher number of gradings serve to retain interest and give more tangible rewards for those children who do apply themselves to their martial art. Which child didn't feel proud and motivated to do better when their teacher awarded them a gold star?
Whilst on this subject, it is worth mentioning that when most of us start out, our focus is firmly locked on winning that coveted black belt. As you progress, you will begin to appreciate it is the journey that matters more than reaching the destination. As you progress through your grades, even when you win your first black belt, you will realise it is only the start of another journey to learn a little more of what Goju-Ryu karate is all about.
What is the highest black belt grade?
The chief instructor of the IOGKF to which the EGKA is affiliated, is Sensei Morio Higaonna, who was awarded his 10th Dan in 2007. This is the highest grade to be recognised in traditional Japanese martial art culture and to be awarded this rank is considered to be a great honour. Sensei Higaonna shares this rank with many other individuals who have spent their lives serving their martial art.
It should be remembered that many reputable martial arts associations exist today, and each will have its own Dan grading system. Some associations have several ranks above 10th Dan, and one has to look to the underlying credibility of each association to judge the value and measure of the Dan grades they award.
What is Karate?
The general public’s perception of karate is often hyper-inflated as a result of the sensational press, television and movie attention our martial art attracts. Karate, (the name being a combination of two Japanese Kanji characters "Kara" and "Te" literally meaning "Empty" and "hands"). It comprises of an unarmed combat system wherein the body as a whole is trained and developed, along with deliberate mental toughening to develop aspects such as tenacity, will-power, concentration and self discipline.
If one goes back to the late part of the 19th century in Japan, each martial art would be taught under a strict regime by a revered master to a select few of his chosen students. The teaching methods all shared a common lineage traceable back to the Shaolin monks of China, but over the centuries each master had developed regional differences that defined their particular style. "Karate" as a name for a martial art is credited as arising from the island of Okinawa in the early part of the 20th Century. The liberalisation of Japanese culture allowed the martial art masters of this time to travel more freely and it was inevitable that they should start forming alliances that would begin the process of consolidating the many different styles into just the handful of authentic traditional variants that come under the generic umbrella term of karate we recognise today, namely:
This list is not exhaustive, and it will vary according to the historical perspective one starts from. If you spend a few hours researching the origins of Karate on the Internet, one will quickly discover there are literally thousands of different martial art styles, and far too much conflicting and confusing claims about their lineage, which appear more often than not to be driven by cynical commercial factors rather than truth.
The main point we wish to make here is that Goju-Ryu is one of the few styles of karate that has stayed true to the teachings of the founding master, Chojun Miyagi Sensei, who passed away in the last century. As such, someone studying Goju-Ryu karate today can be confident they are being taught the same effective fighting and value-set systems that took many centuries to evolve and develop. This is an important consideration at a time when so many styles have been diluted or corrupted by commercial pressures or the desire to convert a fighting system into a sport.
Why is karate not an Olympic sport?
The controlling masters of most martial art governing bodies seem to be of one accord on this point. The core element of each martial art is their combat fighting system that would have evolved over many centuries, and one of the primary objectives of many martial art associations is to preserve that knowledge for future generations.
A consensus exists that believes that the acceptance of karate as an Olympic sport would require the introduction of a new set of rules that would serve to dilute the essence of their martial art. This change would conflict with their primary objective to preserve the original teachings of their founders, and this explains their resistance to the idea of converting traditional Japanese karate into an Olympic sport.
That is not to say that there isn’t a growing movement in various splinter groups pursuing the idea of karate following Korea’s Taekwondo footsteps into becoming an Olympic sport. The cautionary point to note here, however, is that one only has to look at the unreconcilable doctrinal differences between the two main Taekwondo governing bodies, namely the WTF (Olympics) and the ITF (traditional), to realise that there is a price to pay for pursuing those elusive gold medals.
Fortunately, there is enough room in the world for both schools of thought, and should karate become an Olympic sport in the future, it will all come down to a matter of personal choice as to which doctrine you follow. The interesting thing is that the more you think about it, the more certain you become you cannot follow both.