Traditional martial arts, specifically traditional Japanese Shotokan Karate, provides a cultural blend that is especially beneficial for children. A class in a traditional karate school (Dojo) weaves elements of Japanese culture into an American environment. At Arizona JKA, we bring elements of Japanese and American culture together to create a dojo atmosphere that is both educational and enjoyable for children.
There is a ceremonial aspect of training, where an opening ceremony initiates each class and a closing ceremony marks the end of class. During these ceremonies, the teacher (Sensei) and the students bow to the art and the Masters who developed the art of Shotokan Karate. The Sensei then bows to the students, and the students bow to the Sensei. This mutual respect is the cornerstone of traditional Japanese karate. This demonstration of respect is continuous. Bowing before entering the Dojo floor, bowing when leaving the Dojo floor, bowing before and after techniques, bowing to your partners when pairing up for techniques, all are physical reminders of the respect that is required from each person on the Dojo floor.
Where America promotes the individual, and values the creativity and uniqueness each person provides, Japanese culture honors the group and the selflessness of devoting oneself to the greater good of the group. Each viewpoint has both positives and negatives, but the ability to learn from both cultures provides a deeper understanding of human society and interactions.
When a child starts training in a traditional Japanese martial art, they quickly learn to conform to the culture of the Dojo. They learn the hierarchy of the group and the etiquette that is expected. What may be acceptable in American culture is not acceptable in the Dojo – standing with arms crossed in front of the chest, leaning against the wall, walking in front of students in line for opening ceremony instead of walking behind the students to take their place in line. The details of the ritual become important. Bowing with heels touching, bowing from the waist instead of nodding the head, kneeling in opening or closing ceremony with everyone’s knees in a straight line, these are the aspects that demonstrate Dojo etiquette and respect.
As part of the closing ceremony, the Dojo Kun is recited in both English and Japanese. The Dojo Kun is a reminder of how to live life both on and off the Dojo floor:
Seek perfection of character
Endeavor to excel
Refrain from violent behavior
As the Dojo Kun illustrates, it is the student’s effort that is important, not just natural talent and ability. In working hard to perfect techniques, character is developed. The connection between mind and body is inherent in training. Sustained concentration is required to execute the techniques, with balance and synergy in using the arms and the legs, the right and left sides of the body. In learning Katas, the mind and body both work together to remember sequencing and to perfect techniques. This concentration, in conjunction with the dynamic movement and breathing in Karate training, calms the mind.
The benefits derived from traditional martial arts training spill over into children’s daily life, with increased focus and concentration at school, an awareness of respect for others, and confidence derived from physical activity, development of techniques, and progression through the ranks. In our increasingly fast-paced and distracted culture, traditional martial arts provide ritual, clarity and focus to its young practitioners.