Frequently asked questions about Goju-Ryu karate
These are the most common questions we are asked. We hope you find the answers useful and informative.
How do I join a local club?
We have a network of local clubs across England. To join one, click here to select the nearest dojo to you. Then simply call the instructor listed. He or she will be pleased to advise you and invite you to come along and either watch or participate in a lesson. Most dojos do not charge you for attending the first few lessons, and there is no need to commit to buying the white Gi during the first few weeks of training - all you need wear is a loose fitting tee-shirt and pair of tracksuit bottoms. Following Japanese tradition we go bare foot in the dojo.
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 in other styles send their 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 other 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 EGKA dojos take this aspect very seriously.
Ask for the qualifications and affiliations of the instructors - are they mere karate grades or has any official sports coaching courses, first aid courses etc, been attended?
Look at the track record of the school - How long has it been in operation etc. 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 one start karate?
One 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.
Will I get hurt?
The answer to that question has to be a qualified "Yes" but you will most likely enjoy every second of it. Let me explain what I mean. The fundamental principle of all sports is ´no pain - no gain´. Karate is no different and the transformation from couch potato to black belt will involve years of sweat and groans as you get fit.
Our style does not involve full contact sparring so that eliminates the more common injuries associated with other styles such as MMA. You will almost certainly experience the odd muscle sprain, and on the road to gaining your black belt you may experience the odd dislocation, black eye or bloody nose.
The author of this section has ended up in casualty four times with sporting injuries. The three most serious accidents were sustained riding horses or playing football. The only occasion for karate was a careless finger dislocation that was sorted out in a matter of hours. If I had foreknowledge of each injury would I change anything? Not on your life and I bet you will feel the same way too.
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 three and a half years of constant training to win a Goju-Ryu black belt. For seniors (18 years and above) an exceptionally gifted student will gain their black belt in four years, but for most of us it takes longer.
On the issue of frequency of gradings, most dojos grade their students every four 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 amongst us didn´t feel pleased and motivated to do better when their teacher awarded us 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.
It is a sad reflection of modern life that many people look for short-cuts and want instant gratification. We see adverts all the time for other styles that promote the idea you can earn a black belt in half the time that we work to. If the black belt is all you want, then the best of luck to you. The honest truth is you would probably never have earned one with us anyway. There will always be good teachers in any style, and there will always bad ones. A good teacher won´t sell their students short by letting them believe they have attained a standard they have not.
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.
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 irreconcilable 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.
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:
Goju-Ryu - Chojun Miyagi Sensei
Shorin-Ryu - Sokon Matsumura
Uechi-Ryu - Uechi Kanbun Sensei
Shotokan - Gichin Funakoshi Sensei
Wado-Ryu - Hironori Otsuka Sensei
Shito-Ryu - Kenwa Mabuni Sensei
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 a surprising number of different martial art styles, often claiming direct lineage to a particular Japanese or Okinanwan teacher who founded that particular style in the last few hundred years.
Goju-Ryu is one such style and we can trace its origins back to the teachings of the founding master, Chojun Miyagi Sensei, who was born in 1888. In an age where change and rapid technological development is the norm, it is strange to think that someone studying Goju-Ryu karate today can be fairly confident they are being taught the same effective fighting system and value-set of an Okinawan master who lived in the last century. It should be remembered that Chojun Miyagi Sensei´s own fighting skills would have been taught to him by a line of masters who preceded him … probably going back to the Chinese Shaolin monks who are credited with starting the process in the Far East.
The only difference with Chojun Miyagi Sensei is that he lived at a time of significant social change in Japan, not least of which was the profound change brought about by the presence of the occupying forces after the Second World War. During this time a lot of service men rotated through Japan and when they returned home they brought back with them some of the Japanese culture they had experienced. This naturally included all of the Japanese and Okinanwan martial arts. In one short decade, Goju Ryu went from a very secular martial art being taught in Japan, to a world wide phenomenon that is still growing today.
Many attribute the continuing success of Goju Ryu to the fact the style has stuck true to the original methods of teaching karate. This is an important consideration at a time when so many other styles have lost their way and foundered after the initial worldwide expansion of the 1950´s. A martial art always needs new students to thrive and prosper. Students tend to recognise when a martial arts instructor has compromised his or her standards and succumbed to commercial pressures or the desire to convert a fighting system into a tame sport. The corruption is easily recognised and not surprisingly students drift away to other styles that fulfil their requirements.
One of the aspects of the EGKA and its affiliation to the IOGKF, is that an English student learning a Goju Ryu karate technique, will be taught in exactly the same way as a student in every other country in the world. There are many international Goju Ryu karate events held every year, and a hundred students who have never met before can be absolutely certain they will be able to line up and train together with only the slightest of regional variations being apparent to the trained eye.
This fundamental commitment to preserving the teaching methods of the past is not misplaced. Neither does it stifle development. The reason why we follow tradition is simply because the training methods developed over several centuries when self defence equated more with continuing survival rather than a hobby … continue to work in this modern age. No one has found a better method of achieving all that Goju Ryu karate has to offer. We must have something right because many of our members have been training with us for decades.