Which Style is the Best?


One question I am always asked by adults, parents, and youth is what style of martial arts is the best?

Of course, I am partial to my style of martial arts and my dojo, but like a zen riddle, the answer is no answer.

Martial arts is not a “one size fits all.” Different styles specialize in one aspect or another. Therefore the answer to this question might be different for each school.

In the worst case scenario you might hear something like, “Our martial arts style is deadlier than all the others and we always win in tournament competition.”

Maybe that makes an effective sales pitch for students who don’t know better, but it is dishonest. This is a good sign that you should walk away. The most important thing to watch for is that they do not insult other styles/schools or boasting that their style/club is supreme.

Actually there may even be a number of individual circumstances and restrictions for every person interested in martial arts training.
Sometimes there is a limited selection of clubs or training times.

If you live in a city or town with only one martial arts club, then you only have one choice. In some bigger cities there may be more selection. However in a large city like Toronto or Montreal, the time and distance to travel to your preferred style or club may be an issue. So many people will settle for the convenience of proximity. If the club only trains on Mondays and Wednesdays and you have other commitments on those days, then you may have to select another style or club that trains on the times and days that are suitable to your schedule.

Q A question to ask yourself is “Why do you (or your child) want to learn martial arts?”

A. If a person is only interested in self-defence, then a traditional martial arts club that emphasizes basics, kata, kumite and sparring are not going to meet that person’s expectations. A lot of parents don’t really know what they want their kids to get out of the martial arts. In some cases parents want their child to learn discipline or self esteem. While martial arts training can develop such benefits such as confidence, discipline, self esteem some clubs will just teach you karate techniques. It is helpful to understand each other’s expectations at the outset, which could avoid confusion later on.

Q. What is the facility, instructor or students like?

A. Visit the club.
Some have a bare bones studios with outdated equipment. Some schools have the latest martial arts and fitness equipment with sparkling clean change rooms and facilities. All of these will factor into the membership fee of each school. You have to determine what you are willing to pay for and what type of environment you will feel comfortable training in.
Also watching classes will reveal how safe the instructors run their sessions with adults or children. For children sometimes it is more worthwhile to drive your child to a martial arts school located further away if it has a great program for kids even if it is more expensive than a studio closer to home that is geared more towards adults. You want martial arts to be a positive experience for your children, not a negative one. Ask if the club provides a free trial lesson to see if they like it.
Try to talk with the instructor after the class is finished or make an appointment to meet with the instructor. Through a one on one conversation you can get a feel for the school. Listen for what the benefits are presented to help you in your decision of where to train or take your child. Most people could not care less if the system is 1,000 years old or just formed last week. You want the style/club to provide a positive experience for you or your child. Also do not be impressed with how many trophies the instructor has won or how many stripes are on his belt or how many patches on his uniform. You want to know that the instructor cares about you or your child’s progress and well-being.

Q. So how do you choose a martial arts school that meets your needs and is one of which you can feel proud?

A. These steps show you how:

– Check your telephone directory to see what kinds of schools are listed within a reasonable distance, or ask friends or colleagues. Sometimes the best schools advertise by word of mouth. Some martial arts schools teach in community centers, school gyms and even church basements.

– Phone the schools and ask whether they’re affiliated with a larger organization, such as the International Tae Kwon Do Federation or Karate Ontario, or the World Karate Federation. If not, standards and methods for advancement may be inconsistent.

– Determine your martial arts goals. Are you interested in tournament forms or self-defense? Do you want to become a black belt or to attend classes simply for the exercise?

– Stop by several training halls to watch classes. Many schools have an observation area, so you can watch during class. Ask permission first.

– Ask for permission to talk with students and instructors. Find out how students’ experiences have been with the school and whether the instructors’ styles will support your goals.

– Assess the quality of teaching. What is your impression of the head instructor? Do instructors expect and show respect and courtesy? What is their experience?

– Determine the school’s emphasis. Does it advocate control or heavy contact? Does it stress tournament competition? How formal or informal are the classes?

– Ask friends and work associates whether they’ve heard anything about a martial arts school you’re interested in joining. Also check with the Canadian Council Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce.

Tips & Warnings

– Ask if there is a month-to-month payment option when you first join a school. It becomes a probationary period you can use to assess the school as a student. While many martial arts schools require fees on a month to month basis, there is a trend towards annual contracts.

– Be sure to ask questions about all fees, including registration fees, federation fees, Black Belt Club fees, testing or grading fees for advancement, required equipment costs. All of these additional costs will add up.

– Ask what happens if you have to freeze your membership due to extended illness or injury or even vacation .

– Ask the same question of every other school and compare the prices yourself. If they do not tell you all the costs upfront, providing full and open disclosure, then be wary.

– Consult your family physician before beginning any exercise regimen. Also, remember that the practice of martial arts can be dangerous. Exercise caution at all times.

– Make sure that you do some preliminary research before committing to any particular club, do NOT sign a contract right away, take your time, go home, discuss with your family physician, spouse and children. Think about it first.


What is a Kohai and a Senpai?

kohai , n. (koh-hi) meaning junior, and senpai , n. (sen-pie) meaning senior.

There is also dohai , n. (doh-hi) meaning someone of the same rank, that always gets lost in the kohai-senpai equation. So we also need to have respect and giri towards our dohai, whom we sometimes take for granted. Our dohai can be our strongest allies and support, after all.If these terms were to be compared with a college or university setting, Senpai would be upperclassmen and Kohai would be lowerclassmen. In Japan, the Senpai is someone who is supposed to look after the Kohai, to assist and support the lowerclassman, and to lend a sympathetic ear and be someone they can rely on. Senpai is often used as a term of endearment. The Kohai does not serve the Senpai.

In the dojo, the Senpai usually are seated in the most senior positions during training and are important to the culture of the training environment in their roles as leaders. Senpai students ought to be the best examples for newer and less experienced students, they may be called to assist the instructor in demonstrating the application of technique. Kohai students just have to be observant, learn and do their best.

Unfortunately in some karate dojos, some brutal school club activities surround this relationship. In both Japan and in North America, the Kohai is made to feel as a slave to the Senpai. This kind of arrangement is unacceptable and should not be happening in your karate dojo. The best karate schools in fact are quite insistent that higher ranked students have a responsibility to their lower ranked classmates.

In terms of proper etiquette, one is called “Senpai” by others, and does not refer to himself as a “Senpai”. If someone says, “I am your Senpai!”, it is just like saying “I am your Master!”.

If your dojo has a master-slave relationship between Senpai and Kohai, then they have it all backwards, and you should get out of there. The Senpai are there to support the Kohai. They help them, and do whatever they can to encourage them towards improving their karate.

Start and End of Each Class

Starting and Ending the Class

NOTE: The protocol followed may vary from dōjō to dōjō

The instructor or senior student calls everyone to line up saying “seiretsu“.

When lining up, each person is to stand shoulder to shoulder with the person to their right.

The line is to be as straight as possible.

When bowing, bring your heels together and point your toes in a 45 degree “V” position. Place the palms of your hands at the side of your thighs. Bow to approximately 20 degrees, while keeping your back straight. As you bow, your eyes must follow your bow. Never stare into your partners’ eyes as you bow. This shows disrespect and distrust.

The instructor or senior student calls the students to kneel one after the other by rank saying “seiza”.

From attention stance proceed left knee down first, then right knee, toes touching but not crossed. (Remember,… Left behind)

Sit with a straight back, do not slouch or show fatigue, remain still.

The instructor or senior student calls class to meditate by clapping his hands once and saying “mokuso“! 

Close your eyes and breathe in through the nose. Hold your breath for a count of three. Then exhale out your mouth. Repeat the breathing until you hear the next command from the senior student or instructor. Prepare your mind for the karate class.

The instructor or senior student will end meditation with a single clap of the hands and saying “mokuso yame“.

Open your eyes, everyone looks to Shomen

The instructor or senior student says “Shinzen Ni Gasho”.”

All perform the kneeling ceremonial bow.


The instructor or senior student says “Kaiso ni keirei“.

All perform the kneeling ceremonial bow.

The instructor will turn to face the class. The instructor or senior student says “(Shihan/Sensei/Sempai) ni keirei“.

All perform the kneeling ceremonial bow.

The students at the far right and far left of the front line will turn inwards at a 45 degree angle.

The instructor or senior student says ” Otagai ni rei”.

All perform the kneeling ceremonial bow.


The students at the far right and far left of the front line will turn to face forward.

The instructor first rises from kneeling position to attention stance (heiko dachi), then senior belt rises and the next rises and so on by rank (Remember,… Right up).

The instructor will change from heiko dachi to musubi dachi and perform a standing ceremonial bow, the students will also change their stance from heiko dachi to musubi dachi and perform a standing ceremonial bow.

The instructor or senior student will say to the class to spread out to begin the practice.

If it is the end of the class there may be some announcements before the class is dismissed and the dojo is cleaned and equipment put away.













Dojo Manners

Dojo manners, or how one is expected to behave in the dojo. Most karate schools are based on a traditional military model, and rules are expected to be followed very strictly. Everyone must perform the tasks assigned to them.

Because of the serious nature of the practice being undertaken in the dojo, good etiquette, manners and common sense must be instilled in students for self discipline, motivation, respect for themselves their training partners, senior students and instructors, and to ensure the safety of all who train there.

All students are expected to arrive on-time for class
It is preferred to arrive a little earlier to help prepare the dojo for training
Upon entering or leaving, the dojo salutation rituals must be performed
This may vary between different Shorinjiryu branches.
Keep training clothing or karate gi clean.
The best defence is not to offend.
Outdoor shoes must NOT be worn on the mat areas.
Martial arts shoes or Gym sneakers are permitted for those with arch of foot problems.
If you have an injury, please tell the instructor at the beginning of the class, so that you will not be expected to do an exercise to aggravate an injury.
If you must leave the dojo, to go to the washroom or to get a drink, ask permission of the instructor so that he knows where you are. It is also a safety issue.
When paired with a partner each will bow before beginning and upon completion of the exercise.
Remember to respect your partner, we train to help one another, not hurt one another.
Formal standing bow facing partner.
The instructions of the Sensei are to be adhered to for the safety of yourself and your training partner.
Never horseplay or roughhouse.
The Martial Arts are deadly serious.
After using any equipment: target squares, chest shields, headgear, hand/foot protection, place them neatly at side of mat area.
This is your dojo, keep it neat and tidy and take care of the equipment.
– Be loyal to the dojo, the instructors, and the art that they teach.
– Work to help the dojo and our organization.
– Do not demonstrate Martial Arts techniques to non-club members.

– Everyone initially starts at the bottom – and works hard to improve.

Dojo Rules

Every dojo has it’s own set of rules. The following encompasses many of the rules for dojos I have encountered during my years of training.

  1. Students will bow before entering and before leaving the dojo.
  2. Students will not walk on the workout area with shoes on. Students must wear shoes or sandals to and from the dressing rooms and the mat area.
  3. Students will behave appropriately at all times, both inside and outside the dojo.
  4. No Karate student will provoke violence or allow himself to be provoked into violence.
  5. Higher belts will aid lower belts in their training.
    Lower belts will follow the instructions of higher belts in the dojo.
  6. No alcohol or non-prescription drugs will be taken.
  7. No chewing gum or eating in the dojo while training.
  8. Students must refrain from criticizing other Martial Arts with which they are not familiar. All Martial Arts have the same basic aim within their teachings. To cultivate the individual’s mind, embody his mental culture, and above all, to perfect his character.
  9. Personal cleanliness is essential. Finger and toe nails must be kept short.
  10. Students will arrive for classes at the designated time.
  11. No rings, watches or other jewellery may be worn during classes for the safety of your partner and yourself.
  12. Karate uniforms must fit the student properly and will be kept clean and in good repair.
    (Jacket must be on unless specific training requires it to be off.)
  13. Under no circumstances will any Karate be taught by any member to any non-member.
  14. The Club Instructor and other black belts are called “Sensei”.
    In some dojo, the rule may be to address Black Belts as Mr., Mrs., Ms. or Miss. and only the chief instructor is to be addressed as “Sensei”.
  15. For dojo etiquette and mutual respect students must bow to one another.
  16. During formal classes, students should not leave the dojo without permission. It is a safety issue.
  17. During formal classes, students must be attentive to the instructors at all times. Students must not idly sit lean against the walls, or lie down on the mat.
  18. All students share in the responsibility for keeping the Dojo safe and clean.
  19. Students must remember that the teachings are safe as long as one keeps in mind the dangers and harm that can come from these teachings if not controlled.
  20. Students will maintain a serious attitude at all times. No profanity or loud talking is permitted in the dojo.
  21. There will be no sparring without permission and being under the direct supervision of a Black Belt or the Sensei.
  22. Students must approach and correct others not abiding by the Dojo rules. Anyone who violates these rules will be subject to disciplinary action as directed by the chief instructor.
  23. Visitors are welcome, but must be made aware of the dojo rules by the student.
  24. Any student using his skills outside the Dojo irresponsibly will be expelled from the dojo.    

Karatedo begins and ends with courtesy.

Karatedo wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru

Karatedo begins and ends with courtesy.


How do you show your courtesy and respect in your culture?

In Japanese culture, they bow. They bow a lot actually. Bowing is an ancient practice and is a sign of mutual respect and trust. Bowing in the martial arts is not showing of subservience, as it is in Western culture (i.e. bowing to royalty).

Even if you are not in Japan, being in the dōjō there many Japanese traditions, customs and rituals that are followed today. Historically they had (still have?) meanings but somewhere between then and now, we have lost the meanings and even outside of the  dōjō in modern Japanese society, some of these may not be performed any more.

Whenever or wherever you train karate, judo kung fu, kendo, jiu jitsu or any martial art, you are expected to follow certain etiquette and manners. The rules may vary from place to place , however these etiquette and manners are basically to “show respect”.

When you enter the dōjō , remember that the other people who are there too came for the same reasons as you, so you must show respect to them, to the teachers who are present and to their teachers as well.

The bow is one of the first things you learn to do in Shorinjiryu Karate.


Usually the entrance to the dōjō  (training area) is placed directly opposite to the shomen (place of honour) at the front of the dōjō . Depending on the Shorinjryu school or club, the shomen  would have a picture of our founder and the current chief instructor, flag of your country, calligraphy, and in some dōjō  a religious symbol like a crucifix or

 a Kamiza (a little shinto religious altar with flowers).
When you enter at the beginning of class you are in a position to bow. We bow before we enter the training room to the people inside the dōjō  that you will be training with. If there is nobody is inside, you must still bow. But you are not bowing to an empty dōjō , you are bowing to the spirit of those who may be away right now or who will soon be coming to the dōjō.
We bow before we step onto the mats, as part of the opening ceremony  we bow to the Shomen (place of honour), we bow to the Sensei (instructor), we bow to one another, we bow when we start to practice a kata by ourselves or to each other for a kumite or practice drill.
At the end of class, as part of the closing ceremony we bow to the Sensei and to the Shomen and one another, and again as we leave the mats and as we leave the training room.

Even outside the dōjō , when meeting a fellow student we would bow when we say hello or goodbye. If you meet your teacher or other instructor in a public place outside the dōjō you would bow.
It seems we spend a lot of time bowing, and the reason for it is because it is a symbol of respect and trust.
We were told we bow to show respect to our God, our country, our founder, our Sensei, to our training partners, and everyone who has come before.
Karate is a contact sport and our partners need to responsible for each other for each other’s safety and well being. Partners need each other to   learn and to progress.  Partners must demonstrate respect, a proper mindset, and a proper attitude when training. Bowing is your way of expressing your respect to others. After the exercise we bow thanking each other for not violating the trust and respect.
Bowing is also a form of meditation of sorts, you must have presence in bowing, you must be present in the time, in the moment. If it is done in sincerity, it is correct. If it is done absent-mindedly, it is incorrect. It is a good thing even if you have to rush to the bathroom to bow sincerely because it trains you in the right attitude and to keep your composure even in case of an emergency.


The Dojo


The dōjō is unlike any other place used for sports practice.

A dōjō (道場) is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the Way”. It is a special place (“jo”) where we study the Way (“do”). A place dedicated to not only our improvement in Karate, but the Way of life in general.


A martial arts dōjō is considered special and is well cared for by its users. Shoes are not worn in a dōjō. In many styles it is traditional to conduct a ritual cleaning (sōji) of the dōjō at the beginning and/or end of each training session. Besides the obvious hygienic benefits of regular cleaning it also serves to reinforce the fact that dōjō is supposed to be supported and managed by the student body.

Initially, dōjōs were adjunct to temples, so a respectful attitude is expected to be applied while in the dōjō.

The front of the dōjō is called the shomen. Japanese tradition holds that places, and even certain objects, should be respected. This is the case for such a place as a dōjō – and the shomen is the focal point of that respect. This is where important symbols are placed. Sometimes a kamidana is also present at the shomen. This is a shinto altar (shinto is the native religion of Japan), however, as we may not all be Japanese and have no such religious affiliation, there may be no kamidana . Instead other items of respect may be displayed.

The items at the shomen are unique to each martial art and each dōjō . Typically, a national flag may be hung or a photo of Sensei’s instructor or a scroll of the martial arts style.

The place for studying the Way requires the utmost respect. We bow when we  enter and exit the dōjō  and toward the shomen at the beginning and end of class to show our respect to the art, its history, and the contributions made by masters of the art – both past and present.

Because Karate begins and ends with respect.

Just like life.