I hear it often. Some of you reading this hear it too. “You guys are old school”. Most say it approvingly- almost as a congratulatory statement. Some say it in an accusatory tone, others say it out of surprise. To me, it’s a compliment, a badge of honor, a non-debatable fact.
What is ‘old school training’?
My definition is simply training in the same manner and using the same methods that were standard practice in the dojo’ in Okinawa decades ago. It doesn’t mean resisting change or keeping a closed mind; it simply means embracing the old, functional methods. I’ll provide a list of examples that I like, and equate with old-school training:
- I like to wear a white karate-gi with only one patch. I have different gi/hakama for iaido, judo, and organizational events. In Japan- there is a term: Shibumi – Simple elegance. I like that principle in everything. No superfluous patches, stripes, or anything else to distract from training, or draw attention to the wearer.
- I like a wood floor. We have mats on our main dojo training area with 100 yr old hardwood underneath, but I prefer training – especially kata- on a wood floor.
- I like training with no shoes, indoors and outdoors. In karate, so many details are in the toes- gripping, turning, balance, and power transfer that is lost when shoes are worn.
- I like to train in a hot dojo in the summer, and a cold dojo in the winter; Extremes help forge discipline of the mind. A disciplined mind creates a disciplines karate-ka.
- I like to sweat.. A LOT. Even in the winter, I like to sweat. If I haven’t soaked my gi and undergarments with sweat during training, I feel as if I haven’t worked hard enough.
- I like training outdoors: I train in the grass, on my patio, or on the roof of my dojo. Training outdoors, in touch with nature, brings me closer to the source.
- I like the old, tried and proven methods and hojo undo equipment. Our dojo has kicking shields, hand targets, heavy bags, benches, barbells and dumbells. We also have makiwara, chi-ishi, ironman training dummy, and at home I have ishi-bako, nigiri ga-me (gripping jars), ishi-sashi (stone locks similar to kettlebells) and various other iron palm and iron finger training equipment. I prefer the older tools to the newer.
- I like contact; lots of contact, solo (with training tools), or partner, soft and hard. Contact is key to learning about your body mechanics, your pain threshold, and pushing your limits.
- I like a simple, functional dojo. We have what we need to train, learn, and grow. The most luxurious item in our dojo is the drink cooler; it keeps the water and gatorade chilled and refreshing. No juice bar. No parents lounge. No flat screen tv’s on the wall.
To be clear, I find absolutely nothing wrong with modern equipment, or wearing a different uniform (if required by your teacher/organization). Air conditioning and heat are great amenities, and perhaps even necessary for any public dojo that wants to attract parents and their children. Varying levels of contact and foam armor (sparring gear) are the norm for many dojo’ in modern times; This is due in part to insurance regulations, but honestly, most people just don’t like getting hit. Flat screen tv’s, wi-fi, and lounges are great amenities, and for my friends that have large, professional karate dojo’- I would even venture to claim that these amenities are a necessary business expense.
Does this mean that you have to stand and choose between old-school and modern? NO. Everyone can embrace some of the ‘old-school’. Even if your dojo has modern and luxurious amenities, your training methods can still be “old-school”. If you are one of those old-school karate-ka, understand that you are in the ever increasing minority; some will question your methods, some will chastise you, some will misunderstand and call you closed-minded. Don’t let it bother you. Take that compliment; wear that badge of honor, and pass it on to the next generation.