A: Shorin-Ryu Karate comes from the island of Okinawa, Japan. Developed by a long lineage of Masters, it is known as a highly effective self-defense system equal to or better than others. While the complete curriculum includes grappling, joint manipulation, and vital point usage, the core of the art is hard strikes . These hard techniques are strikes with the hands, feet, elbows, head, hips shoulders, and knees, usually delivered in an efficient, straight path to the target. The development of these skills produce incredible destructive power in a fast and undeniably effective manner. We teach karate as it is done in Okinawa with an emphasis on self-discipline, a structure based on a defined curriculum, courtesy, humility, and respect. Advancement in our school is done on a case by case basis and all students must meet the standards defined in Okinawa in order to move forward. It takes a great deal of responsibility and maturity to become a black belt and our minimum age is 16, the same as in Okinawa.
Q: When is testing held and how are students eligible?
A: Testing for the next rank is held as students reach required attendance levels and develop the skills necessary for their age level. There is no set timetable. Testing is on a case by case basis and students are nominated by the senior instructors when they can demonstrate proficiency of the requirements listed for rank. However, physical ability is not enough as the attitude of the student is also evaluated. In order for children to be allowed to test, they must have a letter of recommendation from their school teacher demonstrating appropriate progress in academics and social skills as well as their parents demonstrating responsibility at home. Students are evaluated on their adherence to self-discipline, demonstration of dojo etiquette, and 100% effort in all that they do in the dojo, at home. and in school. NOTE: In some commercial dojos, students are allowed to test after a certain number of classes or based upon what "program" you have purchased (e.g. masters club, black belt club, demonstration team, etc). There are no such things on the island of Okinawa. These are marketing activities designed for these schools to stay in business and make a profit. We teach traditional karate. Through training and demonstrating the characteristics of self-discipline, courtesy, humility, and respect, students wear a belt they have earned. It is symbolic of life.
Q: Beyond the physical skills, what is expected of children in karate?
A: In addition to the aforementioned self-discipline, respect, humility, and courtesy, we expect all kids karate students to make their beds each day, keep their rooms clean, assist with dishes at mealtime and to find something extra to do at home without being asked each weekend. This helps them to understand that they are responsible for the messes they make and should not expect someone else to make it right. These are great life lessons and our parents love this approach.
Q: My child or I have a belt in another style of karate. Can I wear my belt?
A: In general, no. All students start at the beginning level when joining our dojo. The only students that are allowed to keep their belt are those who have moved from another Shorin-Ryu Dojo within our association, from a related Shorin-Ryu school, or a recognized system of Okinawan karate. (In the last case, it is highly likely that the student will essentially begin anew learning an entirely new curriculum, however, we respect the hard work and discipline that went into earning their rank and will allow the belt to be worn in our dojo. In all cases, they will be evaluated by our chief instructor and if the requirements or expectations of rank are too dissimilar, they may be asked to start over at white belt.)
Q: What if I have a black belt in a similar style of Shorin-Ryu?
A: Black belt students from related Shorin-Ryu systems are accepted on a 1- year probationary status and will be allowed to wear their black obi but will not be accepted at their dan rank from their old school or system. At the end of the probationary period, and assuming they demonstrate rank knowledge and skill they will be awarded a dan rank certificate commensurate with their previous dan rank. This is typical of all traditional schools in Okinawa.
Q: Why does my child or I have to start over if we already are ranked in another style?
A: (NOTE: see also the two previous questions.) This is a traditional dojo and we follow the curriculum of our parent organization (The Shorinkan) in Okinawa. Even though some styles are similar, they are not the same and therefore require that you study them from the ground up. If you have had previous training, your rate of learning will most likely be faster than a beginner. For those who feel that they should be able to wear their belt from another style, this is probably not the best place for you to train. Keep in mind they will always be the belt that they have earned in another school, we are not taking that away from them, but if their rank is from another style, then it does not apply to our school or style. If they are to be accepted at our dojo, they must start over at the beginning and learn our style of karate like any other student.
Q: Do all students have to participate in Kumite (free sparring)?
A: Yes. All students begin to learn Kumite when the instructors deem them ready. Kumite is taught in a very safe manner and students are carefully trained through drills first. Kumite training is important and builds reaction skills as well as physical stamina, focus and spirit.
Q: Do you break boards?
A: We do not emphasize this type of practice. Breaking wood boards is not difficult and does not require any martial arts training to perform. We do it on occasion for our kids classes class to build up their confidence and to let them have fun.
Q: Does your school participate in tournaments?
A: Those who wish to have competed in AAU Karate tournaments. We do not emphasize training for these types of competitions. We neither encourage or discourage students to compete although we will train them for competition if they wish. Most of our adult students have no wish to compete and do not care about trophies or medals. Most of our students care only about strong traditional training where the only person that you are in constant competition with is yourself.
Q: When do I get to start weapons training?
A: At AAA, Kobudo is an entirely separate curriculum, unlike most other schools that incorporate weapons directly into the karate curriculum. We are part of the international Okinawa Kobudo Doushi Rensei-kai (OKDR). Traditional Kobudo training begins when instructors deem the student is ready and after basic karate technique has been evaluated as strong and consistently correct. Karate and Kobudo are complimentary arts with each art strengthening the other. While not mandatory until black belt, students are highly encouraged to begin Kobudo early in their training. Children begin learning bo (staff) and nunchaku. Adult basic curriculum includes the bo, sai, tonfa, and nunchaku.
Q: How come everyone wears a white uniform for Karate and black and white uniform for Kobudo? I have seen other schools with many different colors.
A: The white uniform was first used in Japan as a way of eliminating the social status students may have enjoyed outside the dojo. White uniforms are worn for karate. Because our kobudo curriculum is separate from the karate curriculum, we wear black uniform tops with white pants while practicing this art. This is also quite common in Okinawa. In an authentic dojo, however, everyone is treated with the same respect, no one is special, and everything must be earned. There are no special exclusive clubs, groups, or differentiations in uniform other than the simple cotton belt.
(A special thanks to Sensei John Spence of Williamsburg VA Shorinryu for allowing us to use his FAQ section as a model for ours.)