The dojo

I just felt like writing down a few paragraphs about the dojo and what we do there.

We call it “karate” but it seems not to be directly derived from recognized schools of Okinawan karate. In fact, where and from whom James Mitose learned his martial arts seems to be uncertain. The Tracys’ version of it is known as Tracy kenpo and is the original basis for the Lavallee school’s program. But they’ve added elements of other martial arts styles, too, such as muay thai, Brazilian jiujitsu, and American boxing. (The Fort Lauderdale dojo at least seems to be moving away from kenpo quite a bit more than we are; I’m not sure what’s up with that.)

From the Tracys, Lavallee’s inherited the white-yellow-orange-purple-blue-green-brown-black belt sequence but they split the three brown belt levels into brown, red, and high red. (That’s for adults and older kids. The very young kids, under about age 7 — “Li’l Champions” — have their own belt system.)

Classes are split by age group (Li’l Champions, Junior, and Adult) and, for Junior and Adult, by belt: one class for white, yellow, and orange belts, another for the rest. Partly that’s for the obvious reason that you want to teach more advanced material to the latter and more basic material to the former. However, there’s more to it than that. In an oversimplified way of stating it, the advanced class is learning karate (or whatever it is); the basic class is getting prepared for the advanced class. Of course the basic class learns basic karate, but a lot of time is spent toward preparation. In the Junior basic class there’s a good deal of emphasis on getting the kids to learn to focus, to behave and learn dojo etiquette, to develop an appropriate attitude, all of which they need to progress in the advanced class. There’s less of that needed for the adults, but the adults do often need to prepare in a way the kids generally don’t: physically. A lot of the Adult basic class time is devoted just to getting into shape. Some of that is done with karate activity — punches, kicks, and so forth — but a lot is just plain old pushups, crunches, leg lifts, and so forth. One week each month is designated as Fitness Week, but it’s just a little more emphasis on fitness than in the other weeks.

Belt advancement is based on time, attendance, and specific learning goals. For the first several belts, at least, you’re required to learn one kata, three holds and grabs, and a kick sequence. The latter is easy enough that it doesn’t get much attention. For yellow belt the kata is Appreciation Form — essentially just a sequence of eight blocks in horse stance — and the holds and grabs are front choke, back choke, and single lapel. (You’re learning to defend against those, of course, not to do them!) For orange belt, kenpo kata Short One and double lapel, straight on wrist grab, and crossover wrist grab. For purple, kenpo kata Long One and double wrist grab, side shoulder grab, and hammer lock. After that, well, I’m not sure yet. Kenny’s started learning Short Three.

If you look for advice on selecting a martial arts dojo they usually tell you to avoid any that require a long term contract, and that’s probably wise. Unfortunately (or was it?) we didn’t ask the right questions when we signed Kenny up, and didn’t find out about the contract right away. At Lavallee’s you sign up for six months, after which if you want to continue, there’s a contract covering nominally three years of lessons at a fixed total fee, though they say it’s really for however long it takes you to get to black belt. (And what the financial arrangement is after black belt, I don’t know.) Had I known that when Kenny started I might’ve lobbied to go somewhere else, but I just assumed it’d continue in six month increments, and by the time six months were up and I learned otherwise, Kenny was pretty much in love with the dojo — and honestly, so was I: I liked the teachers and program a lot, and far from wanting to pull Kenny out of it, I wanted to sign myself up for it. So we signed the contract, Kenny got his black gi (versus the white one they give you for the first six months), and I started up too. Who knows, maybe if we’d looked elsewhere we would’ve found a dojo we liked just as well, or better, with no long term contracts. But maybe not. I honestly think we’re in the right place for our particular needs. At the moment. Around early September I’ll have been there six months, and I’ll need to decide if I still feel that way…

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