Dojo Kun

posted Dec 21, 2013, 11:30 AM by Joanne Johnson   [ updated Jun 24, 2014, 9:21 AM ]

On the wall of virtually all karate dojos in Japan hangs a set of precepts known as the Dojo Kun, said to have originated with an Okinawan Karate Master known as Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815). 

They state the following Maxims:
1. Seek perfection of character,
2. Be faithful,
3. Endeavor,
4. Respect others, and
5. Refrain from violent behavior.

According to karate tradition these are the rules by which a karate-ka is to live.  

Seek Perfection of Character, indicates that the art is more than just physical. Through  rigorous training, the spirit to fight, overcome and succeed in spite of difficulty develops. Along with this fierce spirit should come the realization that one’s skills are increasing, and to employ karate against others dishonors yourself and the Art. The practitioner should seek to subdue his mind as well as conquer the intricacies of body movement. Forging the spirit in the face of adversity will provide lifetime benefits. Even in old age when the body is no longer able to perform as well, the spirit can continue to grow.

Be Faithful, evidences a strong Samurai tradition of feudal loyalty in the martial arts. In this sense, the faith to be shown is true allegiance to one’s instructors and the Art. In return it is the instructors’ responsibility to be loyal and faithful to their students and always teach with the goal of furthering their development. While such strong sentiments seem unusual in the present day, it is unreasonable to expect one’s instructors to extend themselves to teach all they know to one whose dedication to them is fickle or transient. The faith extended to the senseis will be reciprocated in that a greater degree of understanding will be transmitted to the student. This bond between sensei and student is extremely valuable to both and forms the basis of the learning relationship.

Endeavor, refers to the absolute dedicated effort necessary to achieve mastery of the martial art. Although some people, through obvious athletic talent, will appear highly proficient in the Art, in no way is true mastery possible without strenuous, consistent effort. Such efforts must be of a sincere nature and not merely superficial. Serious endeavor on the part of the student will be recognized by the instructor, who will in turn be honored and motivated in his or her own role.

Respect for Others is a common theme in the Japanese martial arts in particular. It is often quoted that “Karate begins and ends with courtesy.” As an outgrowth of the formalized polite etiquette in Japan, dojo rituals are well-defined. It requires that all who enter the dojo pause and bow in memory of past and present Masters of the Art. Before training, members line up clear their minds and with a short meditation and bow from seiza to indicate respect for the instruction to follow as well as the efforts of all members of the dojo. Similarly when engaging in practice with a partner, it always begins and ends with a bow. It should go without saying that any and all bows, once performed, state clearly one’s sincere display of respect for the partner, club, and organization.

Refrain from Violent Behavior remains the responsibility of all competent practitioners as a trained fighter might easily inflict serious injury upon others particularly if angered. The constant and ultimate goal of karate training is self-mastery, including mastery of one's behavior. In extreme situations where it is necessary to defend oneself or other victims, no non-violent alternative may be available. However, the tradition handed down by great teachers indicates that after a life of training, they felt that they had failed if forced to resort to violent action against their fellow man. Today, refraining from violence is hard to explain to Westerners. Some people do take up karate with the ulterior motive of hurting or gaining power over others and wish to learn the necessary skills as quickly as possible. Thankfully, most persons of this disposition fail to go far in karate because they are unable or unwilling to commit the effort necessary or to face truly humble peers who can defeat them in any way without malice.

Adapted from Karate Training: The Samurai Legacy and Modem Practice by R. L Reilly (Charles E. Tuttle Co.)

Martial Arts - Ministry or Club?

posted Jan 8, 2013, 9:58 PM by David Johnson   [ updated Jan 9, 2013, 5:38 AM by Joanne Johnson ]

Since moving to Arkansas, I have particpated in four martial arts clubs that operated under ministry charters. In each one, including that those I have been part of founding, a single question will be raised at some point in its lifecycle: “What is distinctive about this club that makes it a ministry rather than a church sponsored workout?”

I will confess, as I have followed KFCI and KBKK facebook postings, I have felt some inferiority at times. When Sensei Buddy Duke was posting every couple of weeks that they baptized another batch of kids at his club, I was wondering “what are we doing wrong?”. Most of our people are churched and (presumably) saved, so what sets us apart from any other volunteer community club? In my opinion, having a prayer and short devotional time does not make one a ministry.

When I looked up the definition of ministry, I found this definition nestled in amongst the church and government references: a person or thing through which something is accomplished . Unfortunately, the word “something” is rather vague, so I did what any good strategic thinker would do: I listed what “somethings” we do.

Not all ministry is about reaching the unchurched. While “outreach” ministries are necessary, the church fails when it brings people in the door with promises of support but does not or cannot follow through. Perhaps our ministry is not a “foot”, but is more of a “hand” or “heart” ministry?

Many of our people work out with us simply because it is a fun way to get some physical exercise. If this is all that we are, then we do not warrant the title of “ministry”. In my opinion, a good workout followed by a brief devotional and prayer is not sufficient to qualify one's work as ministry. However, as you will see later, this does not negate our role as a ministry.

Many of our people come to us for more serious reasons than a good workout. They are looking for a kind of “something” you can't get from a sermon or pastoral visit.

We are temporal creatures. While we can take a great deal of comfort from the scriptures, that is often not enough. Right after his biggest triumph, Elijah was suicidal. When you read Pauls letters chronologically as personal letters without dissection, you realize that he wrote some of his epistles in the midst of a personal crisis that nearly undermined his faith. Even Jesus felt abandoned and lost at times – “eloi lama sabachthani”.

Shortly before the Bethel Baptist club closed, we had a family walk in and start training with us. The first night they came, the 9 year old announced that his brother had nearly killed him, and vividly described the experience of being slowly strangled. Later, we found out that the brother was in juvenile detention for that incident. For this family, we offered a place where the teenaged brother could safely work through his anger (under supervsion of adult black belts, after he was back home), and the younger brother could be trained in skills to escape and survive another attack (safely separated from his brother).

Another time, a young boy from a concerned christian family, matter-of-factly related incidents where he had been victimized by his teenaged brother – for example, one time he was blind sided and knocked out with a chair, and another time he was threatened by having a knife pressed to his face. He almost immediately brushed those events off as “teenagers are just like that”.

As we talked, it became apparent that he was resigned to behaving the same way as his brother when he became a teen. He had memorized 1 Cor 10:13 many times before at church and VBS, but you could see his eyes pop when we read it together and noted that there was no exemption for teenagers. The way his face lit up when he realized that being a teenager did not mean he would automatically be the sort of person to hold a knife to a smaller kids face was priceless.

Our impacts as a ministry are not limited to children, either. Too often, churches are not prepared to deal with people who have been victims of serious assaults. We have both men and women come through our doors regularly who have been victims of various forms of assault, both random and systematic. These people are looking to restore their self confidence and/or ensure that they do not become victims again.

For those who “just come for a good workout”, I ask you to remember that every time you partner with someone you are ministering to them. When the rape victim you unknowingly work with perfects his or her escape, you have had a role in their healing. You have helped to save the life of the child that learns to use taisabaki and nikyo to evade a much larger attacker. When the shy person develops the confidence to look people in the eye as he or she walks own the street, you have had a part in making them less likely to be target for violence.

To wrap this up, a ministry is “a person or thing through which something is accomplished”. There are three “somethings” that we accomplish at Living Water Martial Arts:

  1. teaching of physical and mental skills to prevent victimization

  2. build or rebuild self confidence of people

  3. reinforce patterns of self discpline and healthy way to direct emotions

Teaching and perfecting the physical and mental skills of self defence are one tool in our arsenal. While we may not be reaching unsaved families this year, we are meeting a particular set of needs that many churches struggle with – a pragmatic set of tools of dealing with the reality and effects of certain types of violence in our society within the bounds of scripture. Everyone who participates, regardless of age or rank, has opportunity to minister to others, even if you do so unknowingly.

Martial Arts Instructor responds to Connecticut Tragedy

posted Dec 15, 2012, 5:30 PM by David Johnson   [ updated Jan 8, 2013, 9:56 PM ]

Over the past few weeks, a number of thoughts have been crystallizing in my head, with the encouragement of current events.

As martial arts instructors, whenever there is a tragic crime committed against children, the parents of our students invariably make a point of thanking us for teaching their kids to defend themselves. With every “thank you”, the burden of what we teach becomes more solid.

The events of the past few weeks are:

  • In New Town, Connecticut, a lone gunman shot up a kindergarten class, killing 27 people

  • Just a few blocks from my home a little girl was brutally murdered by her neighbor,

  • One of my students has started to talk candidly to me about how his teen aged brother treats him

Because of a strip of colored cloth I wear, I am expected to have answers. Instead, I have questions and uncertainty like anyone else. However, it occurs to me as I am writing that my questions and uncertainty focus a bit differently than the general public.

New Town, Connecticut, 2012

I will digress to define a few terms that I will be using through this article. A “hard target” is a place where an attacker can expect to meet heavy resistance and have a difficult time. A “soft target” is a place where an attacker can expect almost no resistance, and what ever resistance there is will be ineffective. For our purposes, a police station would be a hard target, whereas a preschool would be a soft target.   

“Ranged” refers to stuff that happens a long ways away, whereas “melee” refers to stuff that happens when the combatants are able to touch each other. Guns and arrows are examples of ranged weapons, knives, swords, and ones own body are all examples of melee weapons.

Attackers are not trying to challenge their ability. They are trying to cause as much damage as possible for as long as possible. They will not go after a hard target where they would be quickly frustrated and subdued, they will go after a soft target. They will prefer ranged weapons that give them time and distance to react, over melee weapons that keep them entangled with their victims. Just because they are not entirely sane, does not mean they are stupid.

In Connecticut, my question centers not on “why did this happen”, but on “how can we minimize the impact when this happens again”. In other words, I start with the premise that attacks on soft targets are inevitable, if unpredictable, and should be planned for. For me, the question moves almost immediately from the philosophical to the technical.

I am a proponent of the idea that part of the normal training for school teachers should be concealed weapons, with the understanding that they are responsible for the safety of our children that are in their care. Since we cannot predict when and where a nutcase will attack, all teachers need to be prepared and equipped for defense.

From the perspective of a person intent on causing harm, the modern school could not be better designed physically and socially to be the ultimate playground. Once the perimeter is breached, there is nothing to stop the attacker except running out of ammunition. In most classrooms, there is no way for people to escape except through the attacker's line of attack. Whether the mode of attack is a gun, a knife, or bare hands, the result is the same.

Students and teachers are conditioned by the well-intended “zero tolerance” policies to be compliant and not look out for their own safety. As a result, when under stress, they freeze in place and become easier targets.

Ironically, the Harry Potter books offer a general principle for keeping a school safe. The fictional Hogwarts, teaching middle through high school levels, was constructed first and foremost as a fortress with aggressively active defenses, with multiple fallback positions that give defenders familiar with the environment the ability to retreat safely while continuing to defend, and final means of escape should the building be completely taken. While we cannot deploy magical statuary on the school grounds to hammer would-be intruders intent on harm, the principle of aggressive defense in layers is a standard strategy when faced with potentially overwhelming force.

Speaking from a purely technical perspective, in order to prevent tragedies like this one, new schools should be built with layered defenses that can be actively protected. If the “buzz in” lockout is defeated, the next layer should also provide obstacles to the gunman. At every step, when the school is under attack, the building structure should provide obstacles to the attacker and opportunities to the defender. We should be able to evacuate each layer of the structure quickly and with impunity as the attacker advances.

In the mid 1600's, Vauban engineered systems of fortifications that could be easily defended, then abandoned with impunity once their usefulness had ended. Even today, Vauban's fortifications are impressive. His doctrines of defense in layers and detached forts are now considered standard military doctrine. (Example:

The school in question had a lockout system in place, which the gunman was able to defeat rather easily. Once the gunman had defeated the lockout system, the only tools left to defend the students were the bodies of the school staff. The school principal and psychologist both rushed the gunman, and neither succeeded in disarming him. Both died for their courage.

Unlike the movies, possession of a black belt does not mean one can dodge bullets or magically perform gymnastic feats while perfectly targeting an opponents hands to disarm them. Had I been there, the reality is that, even if I could get close enough, at best I would have an optimistic 50/50 chance of disarming the gunman without being shot myself. But, being real life, the odds are very much against me getting close enough to the gunman to try to use hand-to-hand techniques to disarm.

In an open space confrontation the person with the longer ranged weapon wins. David used a sling (max range 725 yards) to disable the sword wielding Goliath (max range 2 yards), long enough to kill him. In 2002, the Iraqi airforce didn't even launch because their in-flight radar's range was 25 miles, whereas the American aircraft could engage at 100 miles and, when the MiG was hit, would still be over 30 miles away. While the school is not an open space, it is not a sufficiently confined to negate the advantage of a ranged weapon over an armed or unarmed melee fighter.

After the “buzz-in” lockout device, the first layer of defense in the typical school is that the main entrance goes through or past the school office. Unfortunately, school office staff are neither positioned nor equipped to deal with an armed attacker. They sit behind desks, so they cannot use hand-to-hand techniques even if they were trained to do so, and they are unarmed. The second line of defense is, in effect a deathtrap for any would-be defenders. They cannot even escape without going through the attacker.

However, if the people behind the desks were armed, the situation changes. The office area is still relatively exposed, but with a little rearrangement of furniture, the entrance to the school becomes a deathtrap to the attacker. In a case like this, with a single attacker entering via the front door, the incident ends in the vestibule between the front door and the office.

A Vauban style defense would have also helped in the Columbine massacre. In this case, the attackers planned the operation for at least a year. They pre-planted two propane bombs in the school cafeteria, timed to explode at 11:17, just two minutes after the cafeteria the maximum 500 students served each day were seated. The attackers were going to cherry pick panicked survivors as they left the cafeteria. Had the bombs exploded as planned, the death toll would have been hundreds.

When the attackers pre-positioned propane bombs both failed, the attackers entered the school themselves. They moved from section to section of the school unopposed, playing “peek-a-boo” with cowering students and staff before they killed them, for nearly an hour before they killed themselves. There was no credible defense of the school, and the lone police officer that exchanged shots with them failed to resolve the situation.

A school that was constructed to be defended, with people actively and credibly defending it, will not prevent people from attempting to harm students. But it would have gone a long way towards reducing the amount of harm that could be done. In my opinion, a credible defense means effective ranged weapons in the hands of well trained staff.

Follwup note:

After this posting, it became public knowledge that 30% of US schools already have armed security of some form.

Martial Arts and Survivors of Abuse

posted Jul 26, 2012, 7:38 PM by Joanne Johnson   [ updated Nov 24, 2012, 4:02 PM ]

As a Martial Artist and a survivor of abuse, I have found Martial Arts to be beneficial in my healing journey. But I have also found some instructors and students don't know how to use this knowledge to their own benefit. There are some things that survivors, therapists, and martial arts instructors need to be aware of when considering martial arts training.

Abuse comes in many different ways. There is physical abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Abuse can be a one time occurrence or go on over years. Abuse affects a person in many different ways, such as low self esteem, depression, nightmares, flashbacks, and post traumatic stress disorder. Some impacts can be seen, others are hidden deep inside. The trauma will always be a part of the person's life, and will never go away.

Martial Arts training can help abuse survivors to regain some control over their lives, increase self esteem, and learn how to prevent themselves from being a victim again. But there are a few things you should be aware of, about abuse, both as a teacher and as a student.

As a Martial Arts teacher you will notice from time to time that your students might not behave in a way you would expect. Perhaps a student suddenly seems to lose control and go berserk on their training partner. Or perhaps the opposite happens and all of a sudden they pull completely away and withdraw.

Both of these are examples of how a person might react when a traumatic memory is triggered. The best way to describe a trigger is something, person, place, smell, touch, or even emotion that suddenly reminds the person of past abuse and this causes the person to become trapped in their mind back when the abuse was happening, and not in the current situation. In their mind their training partner has become their abuser. This causes a fight or flight response.

So what can you, the teacher, do in this situation. First of all try to give the person space and time to get themselves back under control. Do not touch them, unless you need to prevent them from hurting someone else or themselves. Remind them they are in the present and not stuck in the past. Tell them they are safe. Encourage them to take deep breaths from the diaphragm. Afterward, do not pressure the person to talk about what they are dealing with, as this can trigger them as well. If a student does talk about the abuse, and you are willing, listen, be supportive and not judgmental. Be aware of your own needs and know when hearing someone's story may be traumatic for you the instructor. Be aware that if a minor student does share about abuse it must be reported to the authorities.

There are some ways to make a safe environment for abuse survivors: Always ask before touching someone, or let them initiate the contact. Never force someone to work with a partner, especially on close contact and grappling techniques. If you know a student is a survivor, you can give them advanced warning of when you are working certain self defense techniques. This way they are prepared ahead of time, but be aware some people may use this information to stress and worry till the next class. If you are working a technique the student does find very triggering, partner them with a more experienced martial artist who is aware of the situation, and can handle any difficulty if it should arise. You can also offer classes and workshops specifically focusing on the needs of abuse survivors. These would have a larger focus on self defense, and prevention.

As a Martial Arts student there are somethings you can do to make your martial arts training safer and more effective for you. When starting the martial arts take time to check out several styles and clubs before choosing a club to train with. No two clubs are exactly the same. Look for a club you feel comfortable in. Watch how the instructors treat the students, and each other. Most martial arts clubs will allow you try a class or two for free before signing up, though you will have to sign a liability waiver.

If you are comfortable, tell the instructor you are an abuse survivor. You don't need to give details. This allows the instructor to to be aware of your needs and know how to react in situations. If you are seeing a counselor or therapist, let them know about your martial arts training. Your counselor or therapist may suggest you avoid certain things till you are further along in the healing process.

You should also learn what triggers you. You can use this knowledge in two ways: you can avoid the things that trigger you, or with the help of a more experienced martial artist and counselor or therapist, learn to work through the trigger. For example if a choke hold is triggering, you can work with a partner on ways to get out of the choke hold. This allows your body to re-learn how to react to the situation.

Martial Arts is a wonderful way to help in the healing process of abuse. Survivors can go from being a withdrawn, scared person with low self esteem, to a strong, powerful, in control person who can face the world head on.

My own personal experiences in martial arts have been mostly positive. I discovered once I had mastered the basics of a form, the repetition created a meditative state, that helped me to focus on something other than the memories of the abuse. To this day I still use forms as a method of calming and focusing myself when dealing with strong emotions. I did and still do have some issues doing groundwork with male partners, other than my husband. I am continuing to slowly work past these and continue on the healing journey.

Written by Joanne Johnson

Joanne Johnson has been studying various martial arts since 1993, when a counselor suggested martial arts training might help her deal with her own past abuse. Joanne holds a 1st degree black belt and is an instructor and club manager at Living Water Martial Arts(2011-present). She also is a brown belt in Wado Kai Karate and helped her husband Dave Johnson run the Olds Wado Kai Karate (1996-1998) and NW Arkansas Wado Kai Karate ( 2004-2009). She also co-leads a woman’s recovery group for survivors of abuse. She has been married for 15 years and has 2 children.

This article was published in Karate For Christ International July 2012 Newsletter and the Shintani Wado Kai Karate Federation Sept 2012 Harmonizer.

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