Wandering Karateka

I had a good time at Wizard World, but man did I miss karate class.

I walked into the dojo for the first time in a week tonight, and I hadn’t done so much as a punching exercise or push-up in the meantime. A week may not sound long, but I felt out of touch. I found myself reviewing my kata, Naihanchi Sho, in my head while I stood in line. Lucky for me muscle memory kicked in as I bowed in and I made it through my kata and its interpretation without difficulty.

It’s going to get worse, though. I’ll miss three consecutive classes visiting family and attending a wedding this month, and then I’ll miss three consecutive classes again in early August on a family vacation. That also includes a review week, which may cause me to miss an opportunity to advance a stripe (and thus throw off my goal of achieving sankyu, or 3rd degree brown belt, by the New Year). In order to help keep things sharp, or to at least get a workout on the road, I started looking for karate schools in the areas I’ll be visiting.

As with many things martial arts, there are those for and against the idea.

The main problem is a question of style. Attending a kung fu or tae kwon do class probably wouldn’t do me much good, but there are Shotokan karate clubs not far from where I’ll be. I study Shuri-ryu, and both styles have their roots in Shuri, Okinawa. They each have a signature style, but they share a large part of their lineage.

In a recent blog entry, Sensei Charles Goodin says he doesn’t take students from other styles. He has several reasons for the policy, but in general he compares it to mixing gasoline and diesel fuel in a car: it just doesn’t work. The visitor will not gain anything from the visit, and their presence may only be a distraction to the dojo’s regular students. He describes it further:

“There is a saying that ‘you can’t catch two rabbits.’ The rabbits tend to run off in different directions. For this reason, if a student wants to join our dojo, I would expect him to only practice our style of Karate. Practicing two styles at the same time is very difficult. You have to empty the bucket before you can fill it.”

On the other side of the coin, Sensei Stephen Irwin compares karate to driving lessons: no matter your style, you’re learning the basics and it’s up to you to apply them. To pull a quote from his blog entry:

“Regardless of the vehicle driving is driving. Regardless of the art fighting is still just fighting. The presentation of driving/fighting skills might vary, but the underlying principles are the same regardless.”

Sensei Irwin’s post does not address the issue of visiting students, but I would guess from this post that he isn’t opposed to the idea. Which one is right? Both, I suppose. They each follow what works for them in their respective dojos, and I understand both points of view.

Personally, I think I would enjoy working out with another school. My school also teaches Haganah and Judo, and it’s always fun to get a glimpse of those arts. I like seeing how other karate styles interpret their kata, and it would be interesting to get a taste of their kumite or self defense methods.

From a student point of view, however, would it be a good idea? My sensei once said he would welcome students from other styles, and they would run their kata their way so we could discuss the differences. However, would other sensei tell a student his style is wrong? It hardly does me any good to show up at a Shotokan school if the sensei in question were to just turn his nose up at the way I’ve been taught. Even if I get a good physical workout, it wouldn’t be any fun to walk out of that dojo hurt or angry. In that case I’d have been better off skipping a week.

So what’s a rookie karateka to do? Two things:

  1. Work harder to get off my butt and get those personal workouts in. It’s not like I’ll be facing a con schedule during the next two trips.
  2. Call those dojos, talk to their instructors, and hope for the best.

Some of our school’s black belts travel frequently for their jobs, and they tell me they have attended classes with other dojos and it’s gone well for them. With luck it will be the same for me.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

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  1. Noah L says:

    Well, Mike, I can tell you from my experiences going to Hawaii with Shihan this spring that working out with and comparing the differences of other styles is a very interesting thing to do, so long as you have the correct mindset. I would definitely call any dojo you plan to visit and speak with their instructors to get a feel for the place and ask them if it would be alright to visit. There are some that would simply go over the basics with your, while some would like to see your version of Naihanchi or Wunsu to compare to theirs. Even better, though, would be one that will share a kata with you :P. Good luck!