A Very Okinawan Dojo Experience

Akamine Hiroshi Kaicho talks to the class at the Shimbukan Dojo, Tomigusuku.

Akamine Hiroshi Kaicho talks to the class at the Shimbukan Dojo, Tomigusuku.

I spent over 20 years practicing Shotokan at various Dojo across the UK and Australia, and many were similar in their breakdown of practice. Line-up, bow, warm-up, Kihon, Kumite, Kata, warm-down/stretching or simply sit, meditate and bow to finish.

In Okinawa though most classes contain a warm-up, a practice, then finish. Having experienced a few different Dojos I'd like to give you my experience of practice in an Okinawan Dojo.

Beginning with the warm up, each have a flavour of the Sensei leading it. Hokama Tetsuhiro Sensei likes to get the joints moving, followed by quick pulsing movements of the body and utilising slapping and knocking, Masaharu Higa Sensei had us performing exercises which he says normally are done 100 times each – as well as stressing the importance of doing neck strengthening exercises.

Me going through some Kata before class

Me going through some Kata before class

In the Shimbukan Dojo the warm-ups consist of body movements starting from the feet and moving up to the head, with some very light stretching and then Kihon. There is always 20 minutes from the Dojo opening to the start of class where you are free to do your own warm-ups which is great if you like to focus on dynamic loaded movements – I like to use kettlebells and the chi-ishi personally.


Have you noticed I’ve not mentioned lining up. sitting, bowing or meditating?

In most classes an informal bow is enough, a bow to the Shomen before you begin is a must, and the line-up is in no particular order - or even a line for that matter. If it's your first time I would suggest slotting yourself in the middle, so you can follow others.

Just make sure to leave enough space whilst you're swinging a 6ft Bo around the place.

Classes run between 1.5 to 2 hours usually, but can sometimes just keep going depending on the mood. With small break periods to rest a little and get some fluids back in. It’s a much more relaxed affair, not so much a Do or Die style of practice the whole time, waiting for your Sensei to order you to do battle!!!!

Dell Hamby Sensei takes one of the Shimbukan members through some Sai Kata

Dell Hamby Sensei takes one of the Shimbukan members through some Sai Kata

If there was one word that really sums up Okinawan Karate training it is Kata. There is still Kihon and Kumite practice, breaking down the segments of the kata and performing exercises against an opponent, but the Kata remains at the heart of the practice.

This is where all other practice stems from, it is the essential framework of your development and learning. That is not to say that the other parts can be neglected.

Unlike my experience in the Shotokan Dojo where everyone requires leading by a Sensei, usually in a drill style of learning, the Okinawan Dojo offers the chance at self-practice, with the Sensei checking and correcting as the class progresses.

During class, unless you are being led by Sensei, you can go to work out with some weights and Hojo Undo tools, focus on increasing your strength and flexibility, or pound the makiwara several times.

Many of the exercises and tools available have all had instruction provided for, but the direction you take is entirely up to yourself.

What have I learnt from this experience?

That learning Karate is not about trying to be the same as everyone else, it is about learning the movements, practicing them for yourself, and learning how you can apply the principles of Karate. It is the ideal method of teaching whereby the focus is less on line-up drills and more on developing a host of skills required to fully understand Karate.

Are you tired of daily drill practice, or of learning Kata at the same pace as those less experienced, or hungry to test your skills against the makiwara, or what about attempting to experiment with how you can maximise your training by developing your own warm-up routine - then what you need is a dose of the Okinawan Dojo!!!