Karate Values, American Values

Americans do not usually see themselves, when they are in the United States, as representatives of their country. They see themselves as individuals who are different from all other individuals, whether those others are Americans or foreigners.

Americans may say they have no culture, since they often conceive of culture as an overlay of arbitrary customs to be found only in other countries.

Individual Americans may think they chose their own values, rather than having had their values and the assumptions on which they are based imposed on them by the society in which they were born. If you ask them to tell you something about “American culture,” they may be unable to answer and they may even deny that there is an “American culture.”
(from Handbook for Foreign Students and Scholars)

Karate Informality

A few minutes prior to the start of class, karateka (students) enter through the front door, immediately bowing to the sensei (teacher) and/or the kamidana (dojo shrine). The karateka remove their shoes, and enter the changing room to don their training uniforms.
The uniform, or dogi, consists of white pants, white jacket, and a special belt (obi). The left side of the jacket should always be folded over the right side.
When properly dressed, the karateka sit quietly in a neat row, waiting for sensei to start the lesson. They sit in the seiza position, with legs folded under them, following dojo protocol.

Karate Individuality

Class begins with a group bow. Students then move a few steps apart, to execute a set of synchronized warm-up exercises. Everyone counts out loud together, in Japanese.
After warm-ups, the students execute their katas in unison. Those who move too quickly, or too slowly, or who kiai (shout) at the wrong time are reprimanded for their lack of “focus” (kime).
Following kata practice, sensei demonstrates bunkai: self-defense applications for individual movements within the kata. The group is now broken into pairs, so that students can repeat the demonstration. Improvisation and creativity are generally discouraged in this portion of class.

Karate Equality

Near the end of class, intermediate and advanced students may spend time sparring together. When feasible, students of a similar rank will be paired together. This rank is made obvious by the specially colored belt they wear at all times. Popular colors include orange, green, brown and black.
When circumstances require it, students of unequal rank will spar together. Kohai (the junior student) is expected to lose to sempai (the senior student); otherwise, an “accidental” injury to kohai may occur.
Finally, class is over, and the students reassemble in a straight line on the mat, facing straight ahead. Seating is dictated by rank, with the senior practitioners at one end of the line. Thus, seating roughly matches the arrangement of student names posted on the wall for public viewing.
Class is closed with another group bow. Students should not raise their heads until indicated by sempai. After class, junior members may be held responsible for sweeping the mat, and cleaning other public areas of the dojo.

What do you think are American values? Are they, or should they be reflected in the structure and practice of American karate?

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