Horse Stance Training


The most hated drill in martial arts is horse stance training.  Even though you’re standing still in the horse stance, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Hot Tip! Stances are easier when you’re a statue.

Use the wall to ensure your Horse Stance position is well aligned. The wall horse stance will teach you how to align your spine, hips and legs and will also help you get present with your current lower body mobility levels.

Train your stances dynamically. A great place to start is combining your horse stance with forward stance.

Hold in horse stance for 3-6 breaths,
Then transition left to forward stance for 3-6 breaths,
Back to horse stance for 3-6 breaths,
Transition right to forward stance for another 3-6 breaths,
Then bring feet together.
Rest and repeat for 5-20 mins.

This will help build a powerful lower body foundation, and is a great way to get more flexible hips and legs with all the strength you need to live well. Practice in this way for at least 6 months and you’ll have an excellent foundation to experience the deeper benefits of longer duration horse stance training.

Why am I experiencing pain in my hips / knees / ankles?
If you experience joint-pain in your knees, hips or ankles during the horse stance, you may have a limitation in your flexibility and potentially stability / strength through somewhere in your lower body.

If you look at it from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective – the pain may also be a symptom of dysfunction of a specific organ system, or blockage in a meridian line.

Learning how to get flexible and strong in the following areas can help immensely:

Adductors (inner thighs)
Abductors (muscles around your butt and outer thighs).
Ankles in a range of different angles.

How long should I hold my horse stance for?
Once you understand how to perform the horse stance correctly, and are focused on addressing potential strength, flexibility and internal limitations – it’s time to improve your hold times.

For purely physical benefits I recommend only beginning to count hold times when your thighs are parallel to the ground.

For internal force benefits, a range of different heights can be used depending on the intention.

Once you’re ready here’s some general guidelines to gauge your progress:

Beginner Standard: 10-20 breaths / 1-2 mins
Intermediate Standard: 20-40 breaths / 3-5 mins
Advanced Standard: 40 breaths + / 10 mins +

What’s the difference between horse stance and sumo squat?
The horse stance and sumo / wide squat are two different creatures.

When in correct position in the horse stance, the femur (thigh bone) generally won’t actually be able to go past parallel to the ground due to the design of the hip.

In the wide / sumo squat, the forward tilt of the hip can allow the thighs to move below parallel.

The horse stance and sumo squat create slightly different physical adaptations, and when combined form a strong foundation for the isometric middle split and many other important physical traits.

Here’s some key differences between the two moves:
Horse Stance


Hip angle: Posterior / backwards tilt or neutral.
Hip position: In line with heels.
Torso position: Straight up.
Foot position: Parallel, spaced 3-7 steps apart.
Benefits: Lower body stamina and suppleness, specific to the position. Mental discipline and internal energy flow development.


Sumo Squat

Hip angle: Anterior / forwards tilt.
Hip position: Behind heels.
Torso position: Angled forward.
Foot position: Parallel, or angled outwards slightly, spaced 3-7 steps apart.
Benefits: Lower body stamina, strength and suppleness, specific to the position.


Karate Black Belt Ranks

One question I am always asked about is how many black belts ranks are there in Karate?

Typically there are ten ranks or levels of Black Belt.
The following list of Black Belt (Yudansha) ranks are often used in Okinawan/Japanese Karate clubs.
Shodan-Ho: Probationary Black Belt Black and white square sectioned belt


NOTE: I have not seen this one used in Shorinjiryu clubs

Shodan First Degree Black w/ one stripe

Nidan Second Degree Black w/ two stripes

Sandan Third Degree Black w/ three stripes

Yondan Fourth Degree Black w/ four stripes

Godan Fifth Degree Black w/ five stripes

Rokudan Sixth Degree Black w/ six stripes

Nanadan Seventh Degree Black w/ seven stripes

Hachidan Eight Degree Black w/ eight stripes

Kudan Ninth Degree Black w/ nine stripes

Judan Tenth Degree Black w/ ten stripes

However, in Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use stripes to indicate rank level. Instead the rank is indicated in Japanese kanji (i.e. San Dan) on the belt above the black belt’s name (see image below ~ belt end on your right above label).



I have noticed that some Shorinjiryu clubs in the U.S.A. have been using for their fourth degree black belt, (Yondan),  a half red and half white on one side and a solid black on the opposite side belt, sometimes referred to by martial arts suppliers as the “Renshi” belt. For Yondan, the half red and half white side is worn showing on the waist. I have also noticed that Shorinjiryu Kenryukan Karate also uses the “Renshi” belt for third degree black belt but with the black side showing on the waist.


There are some Shorinjiryu clubs that have been using for the fifth degree black belt, a red and black square panelled belt.


In Ishino Shorinjiryu Genbukan Karate, Shihan Ishino does not use the “Renshi” belt or the red and black paneled belt.

Many Karate clubs follow the Judo tradition of wearing special belts for sixth, seventh and eight degree black belt by using a red and white square paneled belt, sometimes referred to as a “Rokudan belt” or “Kohaku” belt.


It should be noted, that even though Hanshi Masayuki Kukan Hisataka, the president and chief instructor of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, was himself a high ranking Judo black belt and is familiar with the required qualification of sixth degree black belt in Judo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, he has decided to allow fifth degree black belts in Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo to wear the “Rokudan belt”, for whatever his reasons are ?!?!

Even more strangely I have noticed that in some Jiu Jitsu clubs they have been awarding the “Rokudan belt to fourth degree black belts ?!?! I would have expected that they would follow more closely to the Judo’s belt designations.

Shihan Ishino is currently seventh degree black belt and wears the red and white panelled belt.



In Judo, the solid red belt is worn by ninth and tenth degree black belts. This is the same for most Karate styles including Shorinjiryu. However that being said, I have seen children in open Karate tournaments with red belts. In those clubs, the red belt is used as the next belt colour following the first promotion from beginner white belts. This makes me wonder what is the coloured belt their style uses for tenth degree black belt?!?


The Korean martial arts styles are different, as some taekwondo clubs use a red belt in place of the brown belt.

In the World Karate Federation Karate (WKF) competitons, they use blue belts and red belts for black belt team competitions to distinguish one team from the other. Possibly because red vs blue are the best two basic colours that can be used to indicate opposing teams.


So reader are you confused yet?

Belt Ranks


One question I am always asked about is how many levels of belts are there in Karate?
The answer is … it differs from style to style and from club to club.

The Shi Ryu Kai dojo uses a ten level coloured belt system  with solid coulred belts for the even number ranks and split-coloured belts for the odd number ranks.


Other schools of Karate may have fewer levels or something similar or even more levels than what is illustrated in the above diagram.

The list from tenth to first is as follows:

10th kyu … Jukyu … white belt

9th kyu … Kukyu … white/yellow belt

8th kyu … Hachikyu … yellow belt

7th kyu … Shichikyu … yellow/orange belt

6th kyu … Rokkyu … orange belt

5th kyu … Gokyu … orange/green belt

4th kyu … Yonkyu … green belt

3rd kyu … Sankyu … green/brown belt

2nd kyu … Nikyu … brown belt

1st kyu … Ikkyu … brown/black belt

(Note: kyu ranks progress from the larger number to smaller. For example, a first kyu outranks a fifth kyu)

Instead of split-coloured belts like our dojo uses, some karate schools may use a strip of electrical tape on one end of the belt to denote a higher level of that coloured kyu belt. Some martial arts supply companies make a belt with a solid black band in the center of the belt along the width of the coloured belt which some karate schools may use to denote a higher level of that coloured kyu belt.

The explanatory levels, for example: Pre-Intermediate, Advanced  Pre-intermediate and so on, are my own ideas of explaining the levels. Other karate schools may use other terms to explain the various levels or not bother at all.


About Belts

2017-12-08 11.09.30

When you become a martial arts teacher you are always asked about belts, hence the title of this month’s blog.

Students will ask you:  How many belts to get to black belt? What is the colour of my next belt. Why are their different colours of belts?

In Karate and other martial arts, the belt, known as obi in Japanese, is more than just a part of the martial arts uniform. It symbolizes the hard work, effort, and the commitment of an individual. Although the black belt is the most sought-after and revered colour, it is the beginner’s white belt that is most important. It is the first step from which all others will follow.  When you’re a white belt, for the most part, you have no idea what you are doing or why you are doing techniques, so all the information you are receiving is new. You have to build a foundation, learn what your martial art is, and you will get in shape as you struggle through the training sessions. You become part of the martial arts community.


The Karate belt grading system is a unique way to identify skill level among Karateka. Karate students move up through the levels of karate by taking examinations.
Karate belts are an adaptation of the Kyu / Dan rank system the originated with Kodokan Judo, whose founder, Jigoro Kano, had the idea to use different colors of belts (originally white, brown and black belts) to designate rank depending on the level of training.

Mikonosuke (Mikinosuke) Kawaishi was a master of Japanese Judo and Jiu jitsu, who led the development of Judo in France and much of Europe. He is responsible for introducing the belt colors yellow, orange, green and blue to further differentiate beginner, intermediate and advanced practitioners. The coloured belt system soon became a grading standard used around most of the world by other martial arts systems.

While there are no universal rules that govern which karate belt colours equal which step-up levels, each individual martial arts organization has their own order for colour belt advancement. Typically the white belt is assigned to beginners, who then  have to pass each level until they have reach the coveted black belt.

While some martial arts schools award only solid coloured belts, other schools may use stripes on belts. Stripes are sometimes used to show “in-between” phases of training. For example, a white belt with a yellow stripe or a white belt with a black stripe could mean that the student has been progressed beyond a standard white belt, but has not met the requirements for a solid yellow belt.

In Japanese tradition, the color white symbolizes death, while the color black symbolizes life. In the martial arts you are invited as a white belt student to sacrifice your previous lifestyle for devotion to martial arts practice. You are then reborn to conquer your fears and embrace your new life.

Karate students usually get a rank number along with their coloured belt. In most Japanese Karate styles they use this or a similar ranking system: 10th to 1st for Kyu levels and then 1st to 10th for Dan ranks.

Kyu” denotes ranking below Black Belt.  A new beginner would start with the rank of ten (10th Kyu) and someone about to test for their black belt would be rank of one (1st Kyu).

Dan” means that a student has reached Black Belt status. The Kyu student that passes to black belt would be 1st degree black belt or Shodan.  “Sho” meaning “beginning” instead of the word, “ichi” which is Japanese for one. The founder of the Karate style would be 10th degree black belt or Judan.

Note:  In the current Shorinjiryu styles derived from Kaiso Hisataka’s teachings, the rank of Judan 10th degree black belt was reserved in memory of Masayoshi Kori Hisataka, (Seiki Kudaka in Okinawan; April 22, 1907 – August 14, 1988), the founder (Kaiso) of Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo. However in 2017, Masayuki Kukan Hisataka,(born November 18, 1940), his son and heir to Shorinjiryu Kenkokan Karatedo, assumed the rank of Judan 10th degree black belt.

All of the Karate belts have a different set of corresponding requirements. During the initial lessons, students have to practice stances, balance and coordination and perform basic techniques to move on to a new belt color. In the upper levels, speed and power are added, which the student must learn to demonstrate in order to move upward in rank.

The awarding of levels of Karate belts allows the student to set goals for themselves, culminating with a sense of achievement and accomplishment. Obtaining a new coloured belt is a major accomplishment for martial artists of all ages. Most dojo will hold a special class for testing and a have an award ceremony where the advancing student is presented with their new coloured belt and rank certificate.

A common stereotype belief that needs to be clarified is the “black belt” is a “master”. In reality, a black belt indicates the wearer is competent in a style’s basic techniques. A  good intuitive analogy would be a 1st degree black belt (Shodan) is equivalent to a college/university Bachelor’s Degree. Shodan is seen not so much as an end, but rather as a beginning, with additional study leading to advanced learning.

Dispelling an Urban Myth 
One common “legend” or “urban myth” concerning the tradition of coloured belts claims that early martial artists began their training with a white belt, which eventually became black from years of sweat stains, dirt, and blood.

There is no real evidence for this story. Given the standard of cleanliness common in the traditional Judo or Karate dojo, and within Japanese society, a student arriving with a bloodied or dirty uniform would not have been allowed to train.

Another story goes that the belt should not be washed and by doing so, one would “wash away the knowledge”. This is of course ridiculous. Knowledge resides in your brain, not in a piece of cloth wrapped around your waist. This is also related to the “dirty belt” myth.

Psychology of Coloured Belts 
I was reading an article about the psychology of colours and thought about the relationship to our system of coloured belts.
Note: This is not an official explanation of the relationship of the colour belts used in Karate, but it certainly seems to fit the philosophy associated with each level.

10 = White

Purity or beginning with a clean slate. A white belt student is a beginner searching for knowledge. The white belt student is pure, untainted with little or no knowledge of the undertaking ahead.

9 = White/Yellow

8 = Yellow
Like the energy of a bright sunny day, shines upon the yellow belt student giving his first ray of knowledge, opening his mind.

7 = Yellow/Orange

6 = Orange
Like the growing power of the sun, orange offers a more thoughtful control. Curiosity is a driving characteristic of orange, and with it comes exploration of new things.

5 = Orange/Green

4 = Green
Green signifies the powerful energies of nature, growth, desire to expand or increase. Balance and a sense of order are found in the color green. Change and transformation is necessary for growth, and so this ability to sustain changes is also a part of the energy of green.

3 = Green/Brown

2 = Brown
Brown represents the ripening maturing and harvesting process. A brown belt is an advanced student whose techniques are beginning to mature, and he is beginning to understand the fruits of his hard work and becomes rooted in a solid foundation.

1 = Brown/Black

Shodan = Black
Black signifies the darkness beyond the Sun. Like it used to say on the TV series, Star Trek: “Space.. The final frontier…”. A black belt seeks new, more profound knowledge of the martial art in a never-ending process of self-growth, knowledge, and enlightenment.

Wearing Your Rank: The Importance of Martial Arts Belts

Martial arts are practiced all over the world by people with some starting from early childhood through to late adulthood. Practicing a martial arts lifestyle is often a demonstration of perseverance, determination and grit that requires both mental, physical and spiritual commitment. Your level of martial arts achievement is indicated by the colour of belt you are authorized to wear with your uniform. It is worn around your waist for all the world to see.

Each higher rank is a significant milestone that can take years of dedicated practice. As you advance, the colour of belt you wear with each advancement has special meaning and signifies that you have demonstrated competence at increasingly more difficult levels of skill. Incidentally, you are setting an example for students at the lower ranks and you can look for guidance from students who have higher rank. The belt colours you see in the dojo can be a source of motivation and inspiration, pushing you ahead to the next level.

In some schools, your coloured belt rank determines which types of training you are eligible for. For example, some schools may not let students participate in particular types of training until they have reached a certain rank. I remember black belts from a Karate school on the local military base visited our dojo and told us that their students were not allowed to kick and punch the heavy bag or focus mitts until they achieved their green belt which meant they acquired proper discipline. They were surprised to see our white belts kicking and punching bags, focus mitts and chest protectors.  Which goes to show that each school of martial arts has its own traditions, rules and explanations.

With my youth class, it is sometimes sad for me to see that they sometimes come to class without their uniform and belt, and instead with just with a t-shirt and sweat pants, like the new beginners. They have an excuse, that their parents washed their uniform and it wasn’t dry when it was time for the parents to drive them to class. At this age, sometimes they don’t realize the significance of their coloured belt rank, but I hope over time that they do.

Tying the belt (three variations)

The Famous Shotokan Tiger Symbol

NOTE:  The following is part of an article adapted from 24FightingChickens – Shotokan Karate: but also from other sources.

When a student of karate hears the term “Shotokan Tiger,” one image comes to mind: the traditional symbol of the tiger inside the circle which has become representative of Shotokan Karate.

The drawing was originally created by a Japanese man named Hoan Kusugi who was a friend and student of Funakoshi. Hoan Kosugi, a famous artist and president of the Tabata Poplar Club, an artist’ guild, was a very important figure in the development of Shotokan Karate-do in Japan.

To entice Funakoshi, to write a book about Karate, Hoan Kosugi told Funakoshi that if he would write the book, Kosugi would design it and provide a painting for the cover. When Gichin Funakoshi produced the book, Hoan Kosugi produced the now famous Shotokan tiger

“Ryukyu Kempo: Tode”, Funakoshi’s first book about karate, was written in 1922, but the plates for that original book were destroyed in the fire of the Great Kanto Earthquake in September of 1923. Later that year, Funkoshi released the book again, this time under the name of “Rentan Goshin Jutsu” .

His idea for the tiger came from the expression “Tora no maki.” Tora no maki, in Japanese tradition,  is usually translated as “master scroll” or “master text.” It is the official written document on long scrolls of an art or system, which is used as the definitive reference source for that particular art.  The picture of the tiger in the circle is a pun on the words “Tora no Maki”.  Since “tora” also means “tiger”,  … “Scroll of the Tiger”. Already by Funokoshi’s time, this practice had been long abandoned, but the name stuck.

Since no books had ever been written about Karate, Hoan Kosugi told Funakoshi that his book was the Tora no maki, of Karate. He designed the tiger as a representation of Funakoshi’s art.

The tiger in the traditional circular image is a traditional Chinese design that implies “the tiger never sleeps.” It symbolizes, therefore, the keen alertness of the wakeful tiger and serenity of the peaceful mind. Also the tiger drawn within a circle could be meant to show that the power of the tiger, like the power of Shotokan, is contained. It indicates that this power should never be used on a whim. The power is only unleashed, or broken from the circle, in order to defend ourselves or others who can’t defend themselves from a violent attack.  The kanji character up in the upper right corner of the circle is part of the artist’s name, Hoan Kusugi,

Presently, the Shotokan Karate is is synonymous with the tiger symbol and many Shotokan Karate clubs use as a symbol or logo for their dojo or association. However, the Japan Karate Association still chooses to use the “inyo”as their primary symbol.  Few people understand the relationship of shoto, to what is commonly called the “shotokan tiger.”

When Gichin Funakoshi was a young man, he enjoyed walking in solitude among the pine trees which surrounded his home town of Shuri. He would often walk up Mt.Torao and meditate among the pine trees under the stars and bright moon. Mt.Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain which, when viewed from a distance, resembles a tigers tail. The name “Torao” literally means “tigers tail”, and it is because of this that people think Funakoshi chose the tiger symbol. There is some skepticism behind this.

Later in life, Funakoshi explained that the cool breezes which blew among the pines on Mt.Torao, Tiger’s Tail Mountain,  made the trees whisper like waves breaking on the shore, thus, since he gained his greatest poetic inspirations while walking among the gently blowing pine trees, when he signed his poems he used the pen name, “shoto”, which literally means “pine waves or waving pines”.

The name SHOTOKAN was made up using Shoto, and the word Kan meaning house or school. Thus Shotokan means the house or school of the waving pines, but today is interpreted as the Karate school or Karate method of Funakoshi.


Many people train Karate aimlessly, without a real goal in mind, or sometimes with a fluffy goal like “getting in shape”. But to really progress in Karate, you need solid goals that fulfil the S.M.A.R.T. criteria.

S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives

S.M.A.R.T. goal setting brings structure and trackability into your goals and objectives.


What exactly do you want to achieve? The more specific your description, the bigger the chance you’ll get exactly that. S.M.A.R.T. goal setting clarifies the difference between ‘I want to be a millionaire’ and ‘I want to make $50.000 a month for the next ten years by creating a new software product’.

Questions you may ask yourself when setting your goals and objectives are:

  • What exactly do I want to achieve?
  • Where?
  • How?
  • When?
  • With whom?
  • What are the conditions and limitations?
  • Why exactly do I want to reach this goal? What are possible alternative ways of achieving the same?


Measurable goals means that you identify exactly what it is you will see, hear and feel when you reach your goal. It means breaking your goal down into measurable elements. You’ll need concrete evidence. Being happier is not evidence; not smoking anymore because you adhere to a healthy lifestyle where you eat vegetables twice a day and fat only once a week, is.

Measurable goals can go a long way in refining what exactly it is that you want, too. Defining the physical manifestations of your goal or objective makes it clearer, and easier to reach.

(know when the goal is achieved),


Is your goal attainable? That means investigating whether the goal really is acceptable to you. You weigh the effort, time and other costs your goal will take against the profits and the other obligations and priorities you have in life.

If you don’t have the time, money or talent to reach a certain goal you’ll certainly fail and be miserable. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take something that seems impossible and make it happen by planning smartly and going for it!

There’s nothing wrong with shooting for the stars; if you aim to make your department twice as efficient this year as it was last year with no extra labour involved, how bad is it when you only reach 1,8 times? Not too bad…

(make sure it’s realistic),


Is reaching your goal relevant to you? Do you actually want to run a multinational, be famous, have three children and a busy job? You decide for yourself whether you have the personality for it, or your team has the bandwidth.

If you’re lacking certain skills, you can plan training. If you lack certain resources, you can look for ways of getting them.

The main questions, why do you want to reach this goal? What is the objective behind the goal, and will this goal really achieve that?

You could think that having a bigger team will make it perform better, but will it really?

(is Karate really the best tool to achieve this goal?)


Time is money! Make a tentative plan of everything you do. Everybody knows that deadlines are what makes most people switch to action. So install deadlines, for yourself and your team, and go after them. Keep the timeline realistic and flexible, that way you can keep morale high. Being too stringent on the timely aspect of your goal setting can have the perverse effect of making the learning path of achieving your goals and objectives into a hellish race against time – which is most likely not how you want to achieve anything.

(define the time frame and milestones).

Another thing that’s very important when setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, is formulating it POSITIVELY. Remember that what you focus on, increases. So when you focus on NOT doing something, all you think about is that thing. And it will increase. So don’t ‘stop procrastinating’, but ‘achieve a daily discipline’.