I’ve never been to Japan. I’ve never even so much as trained on tatami mats. This is the type of dojo that is “traditional.” But I have trained in a lot of other dojo and each training space has added to my Karate education even if I’ve only spent an hour or two. Each has contributed to a wealth of memories that I have. Here’s a rundown of where I’ve trained with others. I’ll post about where I do solo practice in a couple of weeks.
1) A former elementary school classroom
I actually started out in a parks & rec Tang Soo Do program for six weeks in 1983. My parents shoved a catalog at me and told me to find something to do. Read more here. The very small school building (built sometime in the 1950s) wasn’t designed for exercise classes but it was adequate. Mirrors were installed to facilitate dance and karate in one room. The building has since been taken over by a theater group. Last time I was there a couple of years ago I looked into the room where I first learned how to make a fist. The room looked the same. Memories flooded my mind – I draw on those same memories when I’m teaching new beginners. I want them to feel empowered and eager to learn more, just like I did.
2) Strip mall dojo
I wasn’t thrilled about doing Karate only twice a week and taking three-week breaks between quarters. My Dad looked into other dojo(s), including the Boeing Employees Karate Association. If he’d chosen BEKA for me I could have been training alongside some of the karateka who are now my sensei. But my Dad felt that a dojo close to our home was a better fit for me, especially because it was run by a lady sensei.
I have to admit that I got spoiled having classes available 3 times per day M-F and a Saturday class. But one huge mistake I made was relying too much on class time for my own development. I now seek balance between my own practice time and time spent in the dojo.
The space was more or less adapted to Karate. A punching bag hung in one corner, and other equipment was stored out in the open. The floor was hardwood and roughly the size of a tournament square (but that would be a tight fit). The dressing rooms were barely adequate, and there was a small office for the sensei. The lobby was tiny, and that was where I taught “first lesson is free” people and brought beginners up to speed so they could join the beginners class.
Today the entire building is a multilingual school for small children. I peeked in the window and the hardwood floor is still there.
3) Major university
OK, it was only for one class, but it still counts as one of the settings in which I’ve done Karate. I needed PE credit. Fencing was full, so I signed up for World Literature and Karate for the semester. Karate was in a small gym with plenty of space. The sensei knew right away I’d had training. I remember we did kihon kata the first day, which is highly unusual for most dojo(s). I wish I could remember what style was taught.
The next day, I went to my first World Literature class and had an unpleasant surprise. The instructor announced that he’d be teaching English Literature instead. I wasn’t too happy with that. A spot in the Fencing class opened up so I dropped Karate for Fencing and took some other class instead of English Literature.
4) Recreation centers
Sharing space with other exercise groups makes for a whole new dynamic. The sensei and/or the sensei’s organization has to work closely with the rec center’s management. Equipment needs to be stored in locked closets. There are often time constraints because other classes are held before and after Karate, which might be offered only two or three times per week. When I finally joined my daughter at the rec center I learned how to practice on my own. I also learned to supplement my learning by attending seminars, visiting sister dojo(s), going to Gasshuku (camp), Godo Renshu (unity training), and competing in tournaments. Now I take it in stride that Karate is offered only 2-3 times per week. In fact, if there’s an imbalance between time spent working on my own and time spent in a formal class I feel anxious and restless.
5) Community College
The building where the Karate class meets was built sometime in the 1960’s and sits downhill from most of the other buildings on campus. The building houses locker rooms, a couple of small offices, a team conference room, and a multipurpose room that is used for many exercise classes. The floor of the college’s multipurpose room is hard, slippery rubber so we must set out tournament mats before class and take them up again after class. The square room easily accommodates a ten-meter by ten-meter matted square with plenty of room to spare. We have locked storage and spacious locker rooms with showers. I happen to be employed on campus in the building next door, so after work I have only a short walk between buildings.
Two quarters of Karate are offered for Physical Education credit. My daughter dropped a class and was looking for PE credit, so she signed up for Karate. I kept finding excuses to watch her. She took the two quarters offered then went on to the rec center program. Three sensei and my daughter kept on nudging me to get back on the mats, so I eventually did. I later came to the college dojo to supplement my training at the rec center. Much to my surprise, in February 2016 circumstances put me in the role of senior student. Now that I’m at san-kyu (“low brown” belt) my credentials finally match my role as assistant to the dojo sensei.
Almost every time I lead the opening ceremony at the college dojo, I marvel at how far I’ve come. I sometimes “see” myself as I was four years ago, sitting on the sidelines eating my heart out.
6) A major employer’s club
Boeing used to have a recreational facility that housed its employee clubs and included a gym, weight room, and an aerobics room. This was where the Boeing Employees Karate Association used to meet from 1987 until last summer. The room was a long rectangle with mirrors along one of the long sides. Best of all was the wood aerobics floor – it was delightfully springy. Alas, what with one thing and another the facility was bulldozed last summer.
Now the dojo meets in a racquetball court at Boeing’s indoor tennis facility. The court is very small and a kiai is deafening what with all the hard surfaces. So we pretend to kiai. No mirrors, obviously. However, it is a place to meet and that’s what counts.
I’ve been visiting BEKA throughout the last three and a half years and I sometimes think about how close I came to being a part of that dojo some 35 years ago.
7) Hombu Dojo
Our Karate organization’s Hombu Dojo (headquarters) is in Oregon just west of Portland. It’s in a strip mall and has ample space for working out, loads of mirrors, a small spectator area, a nice office, two dressing rooms, and a storage loft. Mats are almost always on the floor except when they are needed elsewhere, such as for the local tournament. It takes me four hours to drive there (three hours of actual driving, one hour for breaks). I’m spending more time there because this dojo hosts brown belt training. I consider the Hombu Dojo to be my home away from home.
8) Yoshida Estate
One of my favorite events of the year is Gasshuku, held at Yoshida Gardenview Estate. Doing Karate outside on a huge green lawn – oh yes, it’s wonderful! The beautiful grounds are nestled in a bend of the Sandy River. Tall trees sigh in the breeze. I’ve heard eagles piping. An artificial waterfall soothes me to sleep at night when I’m snugly tucked into my sleeping bag in my tent counting sore muscles as I fall asleep.
If the weather is inclement, there is an indoor space we can use for workouts. The floor is built over a pit that used to be a swimming pool, so the echoes are pretty loud if someone accidentally stomps their foot. Some of us joke about monster spiders below the floor.
9) Tournaments – college gyms & aerospace museum
Tournaments are often in community college gymnasiums. One gym is pretty much like another. The college where I work and play hosts the state qualifier every year. The first time I was inside the gym was in 1974. I was all of four years old and had attended preschool at the college. My Mom had earned an AA degree and I watched her graduation ceremony. I distinctly remember her walking by in her cap and gown. The next time I was in that gym was for my high school graduation. I had no idea that 25 years later I’d be watching my daughter in her first tournament, and the year after that I’d be competing myself.
Speaking of having no clue – a few months after I quit Karate in 1987 I saw the “Spruce Goose” aircraft for the first time. If someone told me then that years later I’d be competing in a tournament under the tail of that aircraft I’d have laughed. An aerospace museum is definitely an interesting venue for a Karate tournament!
10) A garage
Yes, I have trained in a garage. The 3-car garage has mats, mirrors, and weight machines. The parking space in front of the house and garage offers more training space. Uphill sprints can be done on the shared driveway and jogging on the quiet street is pleasant. Some of the lessons which have had tremendous impact on my Karate have been learned there.
11) Other organizations’ dojo(s)
Sometimes dojo(s) of other organizations host seminars that are open to all karateka. It’s interesting being a visitor. Sometimes the space was obviously designed for Karate and sometimes there’s a distinct feeling that the dojo adapted a space as best it could. There might be posh locker rooms and showers or there might be a changing room little bigger than a closet. There might be protocols for opening doors to changing rooms. One might see a chart hanging on a bathroom wall with the names of karateka assigned to specific chores on specific days. Offices might be nonexistent, Spartan, or filled with memorabilia.
The spaces we train in are marvelously diverse. They reflect the diversity of the world of Karate itself. I feel fortunate to have experienced so much. I hope someday to visit online acquaintances at their dojo(s). Maybe someday I’ll train at a dojo in Japan on tatami mats. But even if I never get to experience that, I know there’s plenty of interesting places that will, in their own unique way, help shape my Karate journey even if I only spend a couple of hours there.
I will continue this theme in a couple of weeks by writing about where I practice when I am alone.