If you’re here, you’re already thinking about working out (karate-style) from home. So what’s involved? What do you need to know or do?
To gi or not to gi
One of the first questions considered by many is, “If I’m working out alone at home, should I wear a gi?”
Like all my answers, it depends. Are you trying to maintain a dojo look or feel in your home training? Will others be involved besides you? Most importantly, what do you WANT to wear?
In most instances, I say be comfortable and wear something that will enhance and not inhibit your workout. Loose-fitting pants work best that allow you to kick. Beyond that (gi top vs. tee), it’s totally up to you.
There’s no one to see. No one to demand adherence to the dojo dress code. No one to criticize or judge you when you don’t.
But still, the issue of clothing matters, particularly if you plan on getting back on the dojo floor with a full class one day.
Because dressing like a karateka, wearing gi, belt and all, will make you FEEL like you are at practice, even if you aren’t.
Nevertheless, know that I don’t wear a gi unless I’m in a dojo, seminar or teaching a class online. Changing clothes to work out can be a pain if you work from home. But if you have to change anyway, a gi is a nice choice, and identifies you to whoever may see that you take your art and rank seriously, even when there’s no one around to see it.
Observing dojo formalities
Assuming you’re working out by yourself and not with a sensei online, you can do pretty much whatever you want.
Formalities often can go out the window when you’re alone. But bowing onto the practice floor (even just a section of a room used for other purposes) is a good idea just to show respect to your art. and of course, when doing kata, following the traditional josge/rei/mokuso/mokusoyame/name/yoi is always recommended.
After all, this is traditional karate you’re practicing, not just working on a few techniques. So get and stay in the habit of doing all the formalities every chance you get — just to stay in practice and establish the habit so you will act accordingly when you return to the dojo.
Structuring your workout
I’ve laid out the traditional class guide in our Principles linked above; formal warmups, basics, basics with movement, etc.
But I’ve found that often I cut to the chase when working out alone or training my son.
That means a formal warm up and stretching session gives way to the essentials I need to stay minimally fit and capable of doing the art. In may case, it’s a few pushups, some squats to warm up the legs, maybe some situps, and stretching.
It’s not that I’m avoiding a full jumbi undo. It’s that I usually don’t work out as long at home as in the dojo, so I like to cut to the chase.
Have a plan before you start as to what you want to do. I try to incorporate kata at some point, usually working on one or two kata several times through, then practicing specific sections of each that I feel need more attention.
Basics with movement are good exercises to incorporate any time. Pay careful attention to your stances. Use correct form on your technique. Don’t let bad habits start to develop.
Kumite, whether one-steps or jiyu, require a partner. But you can do your own prearranged movements like you would with a partner, or practice combinations across the floor.
Envisioning a partner across from you, though, is essential to improve. For you’ve got to train as if they’re really there, adjusting your distancing and technique as you would if they were.
As for kumite, practice combinations against a tree, pad or dummy if you can. Even if it’s in the air against an invisible opponent, always train as if you were actually sparring, with appropriate speed, power, movement and focus.
Length of workout
I would normally run classes between 1.5 – 2 hours, but that’s a long time to work out at home without having someone to follow along with.
Instead, I generally play it by ear, going anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes, sometimes more, based on how hard I’m pushing myself and what I’m working on.
Separate skills vs conditioning
I’ve practiced alone for many years (decades), and I found that training time in techniques, kata, combinations and supplemental work is best done separate and apart from my conditioning.
Since I try to train at karate 3 days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday), the off days are reserved for conditioning when I feel the need. Admittedly conditioning remains an issue, but I just don’t seem to have the motivation to spend 20+ minutes exercising before getting to work.
Working out at home isn’t like working out at the dojo. The adrenaline and sense of competition is missing. So is the instructor barking orders.
Nevertheless, you’ve got to know your capabilities, both physically and in all other regards.
As you age, you may find some things harder than before — like stretching. Flexibility is hard to regain if you’ve had any time off. Be patient and take it slow.
Joints don’t lubricate as well. Wear and tear from the years may impact your practice, particularly for knees, hips, shoulders and feet.
Your practice should accommodate your physical limitations. Don’t try to do high kicks if you’re tight or at risk of pulling a hamstring or groin.
Know the right way, then adapt it to what you can do rather than don’t do it at all. If that means a higher stance, or adapting a punch or block to guard a balky shoulder, then do it.
Be flexible in your kata, too. Small spaces work. You just have to adjust your position on the floor. Work on a section until you don’t have room to advance or do your technique, then move to where you can and finish.
Whatever you do, just do it. It’s that simple. Get off the couch and practice. It may be hard, but you’ll glad you did.
Then do it again on your next scheduled workout day.
Don’t quit. Find a way.