Training in Japan
I have been asked many times if it is worth the effort and money to make a trip to Japan to further one’s training. Having spent a total of 8 years in Japan, much of that training in Karate-do, I suppose I could help provide some insight into the relative value of this. Ultimately, however, this decision should be a very personal one and the answer for one person may be different from the next.
Some positive points worth consideration:
• There are more high-quality instructors of the traditional Japanese martial arts in Japan than anywhere else in the world.
• There are more high-quality karateka training seriously in Japan than anywhere else.
• With so many people training and so many people teaching, the available number and variety of types of classes is extremely high. You could train several times each day with some great instructors, even specializing in a particular part of training such as kata or kumite.
• Training itself is relatively inexpensive.
• Many people would be impressed to hear that you trained in Japan.
• There can be some wonderful experiences, both during and outside of training.
Some negative points worth consideration:
• If you do not understand the language, your ability to understand the training points may be limited.
• It may take a while to find the best instructors, dojo or schedule for you, personally, since information is not always readily available.
• Japan is a “closed society.” Even if you live there for many years, there are certain circles into which you would never be completely welcome.
• Japan is a very expensive place, in general.
• If you do not travel with anyone else or do not know anyone already there, Japan can be a lonely place to live.
• You could have some bad experiences there, both during and outside of training.
The quality of your training depends on many factors, no matter where you train. Some important ones are:
• The instructor – Does he/she teach in a way that you can learn?
• The people training there – intensity, population (cultural, age, gender, occupational and experience breakdown), size of class, and atmosphere
• Type of training – Some people prefer hard physical training, some prefer to focus on technical aspects, etc.
• Schedule – Having lots of classes is meaningless if you can’t attend them.
• Location – Is the dojo conveniently located?
One of the most important things to consider is what you want to get out of the trip. If you are going simply for the experience—because you want to see what it’s like for yourself—maybe you should just go. If you want to have some intensive training, you may want to treat it as a summer camp (actually, probably only slightly more costly than attending a local camp, when you factor everything in), and make the trip. But if you hope to learn the “secrets of Karate-do,” you may want to save yourself the time, effort and money. It may take you longer to achieve the same level of understanding in Japan than it would somewhere closer to your present home (providing you have a very good instructor in the area you are presently).
If you are looking for a great instructor, there are many points to consider. If you simply want someone to yell at you to go faster, train harder, etc., you could find this type of “instructor” almost anywhere. If you are looking for someone to actually teach you something, perhaps you should do some research on what each particular potential instructor might have to offer in a particular area. Much can be gained from hearing/reading the thoughts of others. But sometimes you really do need to have the experience yourself in order to appreciate the quality of instruction of a particular teacher or the appropriateness of his teaching style for you.
There are many other resources for information about training in Japan, including Karate the Japanese Way (both the website and the book) and 24 Fighting Chickens (again both a website and a book).
Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published December 2002)