What to Expect at Traditional Karate of Bellingham

When you come into a traditional space, it seems foreign—because it is! The dojo has protocols and procedures that are unique to a Japanese-style martial art. We wear plain white gi (uniforms) with belts that signify rank. Bowing and good manners are part of how the students move through the space. Practitioners respond to instruction oftentimes with the word “Ossu!” as a way to indicate that they understand the command and will earnestly work to complete the task. The unique atmosphere creates an awareness of space that is key to self defense.

The emphasis of the instruction is on correct movement. We train various techniques in set forms called kata. We train these forms until a strong mind-body link is forged. We spend much of the time in the beginner levels expanding the mind’s awareness of what the body is doing. The goal is to have a good technique that comes out naturally when the situation demands it.

With a proper attitude, anyone is capable of training in traditional karate. The desire to practice earnestly is the only essential element needed from the student.

Educational Format

Traditional Karate is most similar to the one-room classrooms of old. Before the internationalization of karate, it was typically taught within the families and villages of Okinawa. Clans made sure that the warrior class was conditioned properly to meet the challenges of the society. Various age groups trained together. The benefits of the multigenerational type of forum is manyfold. Young people benefit from seeing mature adults train. In order to train the youngest students, we require that they train with a parent. Teenagers and young adults are learning to work hard. The multigenerational format gives young people the example of hard-working adults to emulate.

Older individuals benefit from having to deal with younger, stronger, faster opponents. This requires advancing skills rather than brawn. Generally after age 30, an individual has already seen their peak physicality. The approach of the young man does not benefit a person forever. It is common to see the old karate master who is able to defeat much younger opponents. The karate master’s multitude of experiences lead to efficient technique rather than raw power. This approach is something that we can all benefit from as we age.

Age Range

We will teach all students 8 years or older. Parents often want their children to be enrolled in karate. For those children between the ages of 8 and 12, we ask that at least one parent enroll with them. Children have significant variation in their motivation to participate over time. The presence of the parent acts as a stabilizing ballast and provides a better interface between the instructor, parent, and child.

For ages 13 to 17, we ask that a parent observe or participate in the initial trial class as well as periodically observing the training on an ongoing basis.

Introductory Class and First Month

The first class is generally a getting to know you as well as to familiarize you with what a dojo is. The class is structured such that everyone trains together. Prospective students will complete the warmups along with everyone else. However, for a new student’s first class, personal instruction is necessary to give you some basic techniques. This includes punches, blocks, and kicks. For the first training sessions, it is best to come with workout clothes.

If you decide to continue, you will be gradually integrated with the general class over the next 4 to 6 weeks. Upon completion of the introductory month, it is appropriate to purchase a gi (uniform) at that point.

General Class Format

  • Warmups—Generally 15 minutes of calisthenics.
  • Standing Basics—Punches, blocks, and kicks that provide building blocks for everything else.
  • Moving Basics—Stance work to train proper movement.
  • Kata (forms)—Set routines that the individual practitioner performs.
  • Bunkai (analysis)—The application or meaning of the kata with a partner. Training the bunkai allows us to work on self-defense techniques safely because both partners know what is going to happen.
  • Kumite (sparring)—Free movement combat. Techniques are more limited for safety. Mouth guards and fistpads are worn.


Like many karate schools, we have a belt ranking system to symbolize advancement. The standards of advancement are the same regardless of age. However, the emphasis is on the responsibility of rank rather than the emotional ego boost. This is much like how the professional world works. With the big job promotion often come additional responsibilities. Maturation is the process of learning to handle more responsibilities.

For those students who come in with previous experience, we ask that they come in with an open mind. The ranking system is a measure of progress within this curriculum and is not a reflection of their ability in the other systems.