Beginners Start Here

Welcome, white belt. Yeah, you. With or without a gi (uniform), you’re still a beginner. So here’s what you need to know.

First, karate training is all about developing character — in all its forms. After all, traditional karate training started in Japanese schools and was used to instill desirable characteristics in students.

Character starts long before you get to the dojo, and never ends. The intangibles of that character will be built as you go along. These formalities of the traditional class will help you do it.

Second, you’re working out from home, so it’s easy to skip the formalities. Try to incorporate them into your training so you won’t be out of place when you do get to the dojo.

Show a little respect

Karate is all about respect. Respect for your teacher (sensei). For the head of your karate system (shihan). For its founder (shomen). And for your fellow classmates.

To show respect we bow.

Bowing (without command) is traditional etiquette as you enter onto and leave the dojo practice floor. Get used to doing it where you work out at home.

Class starts with everyone lining up left to right, from highest to lowest. Your sensei is at the front of the class. On command they kneel into seiza. Then the sensei gives three commands, then to bow on “rei” (pronounced “ray”).

  • Shomen ni taishi te (bow to the founder). Rei.
  • Sensei ni taishi te (bow to teacher). Rei.
  • Otagai ni (bow to each other). Rei.

Then Sensei tells students to line up for jumbi undo (warm up, conditioning and stretching exercises), which are performed in a group. Students spread out in rows and columns, highest ranks in front lines, lowest to the rear.

We also bow at other times during class, including:

  • before and after performing kata;
  • during practice with a partner in kumite (before AND after).

Bowing, other than from seiza at beginning and end of class, is done from a standing position. Legs straight. Heels touching. Feet 45°. Hands down along sides of legs. This stance is called misubi dachi.

Ready posture

Before performing any action is is customary for the instructor to put students into a ready posture. It is nearly always used in kata, kumite and any exercises with a partner, and sometimes in kihon when practicing basics.

Before that, the command (except in kihon) is given to snap to attention is josge (pronounced “jose-gay”). Sensei gives the command to bow. Rei. Eyes open, facing front. Bend forward at the waist to approximate 45°, then straighten.

Next, sensei issues the command to move into a ready posture (heiko dachi), evenly weighted with feet parallel shoulders distance wide. Yoi.

The hands move to your centerline in front of groin, palms facing body, right overlapping left. Hands are then made into fists and pulled to the sides (generally with moderate tension and audible exhale). The knees bend slightly and student gets ready to move.

Stepping back

After completing the exercise(s), the command is given to step back (yame) to the bowing posture with heels together. Hands again overlap, palms up, right under left, touching at the same time the heels touch. Then as you straighten, the palms turn toward the floor and push downward toward the groin (as if blocking a groin kick). Hands then return to the sides in preparation for the command to bow (rei).

Closing the eyes

Before kata is performed, we first are commanded to attention (josge).

Then we bow (rei).

Then sensei gives the command to close the eyes for a brief period of concentration on the kata to be performed. Mokuso.

Then on command (mokuso yame) the eyes are opened. And upon command, state the name of the kata (gekisai ichi for your first one).

Finally, you’re told to begin (hajime), and you step out and start performing your kata to the best of your ability.

Mokuso and mokuso yame are also given before and after meditating from seiza or other seated posture at the end of class.

The rest of the terms will come as you go through class. Just be patient. You’ll get them eventually.

What to practice first

Since you’re training at home, and probably alone, it’s hard to know what to do first.

Start with a thorough warm up. You’ll find one on the Digital Dojo page to use to start.

At first do all the exercises to warm up and develop your flexibility and conditioning. As you progress, you may concentrate on those you find most useful to your needs.

After warm ups, then practice basics. Concentrate on learning the first few stances, blocks, punches and kicks. Then once you’ve got them reasonably down, add in some more. You can find these in our basics reference forums.

Practice each technique 10 times, alternating arms/legs. Kiai (loud shout) on the 10th movement (ju). I use hi-eee´ or oooos, but you can use any loud, gutteral (emanating from the lower abdomen) shout.

Start with learning these stances.

  • sanchin
  • zenkutsu dachi
  • shiko dachi
  • neko ashi dachi

Then focus on these techniques to use with them:

  • upper block
  • middle block
  • lower block
  • front punch
  • close punch
  • front kick
  • groin kick

After that, just keep adding to them. Master each movement as best you can. Then start to use them in combination, then with stances, then with stances moving across the floor.

Ahhh, so much to learn. But you have to start somewhere.

Keep at it. Don’t get discouraged. Remember, it’s your character you’re working on most, and the ability to set your mind to any task and stay with it until completion is essential in life, as well as in karate.

Mind over body is the goal. Setting your intention is key to mastering your mind. Self-discipline enables you to do it.

Got second thoughts? Read this ==> What’s holding you back?

If not, your training starts now.