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How Important is Consistency

How important is consistency in your dojo? Is it important that all the students do the same things in the same way, or that each student become the best he or she can become? There is an age old tension between these objectives. Actually, it is not "age old," just since about 1900.

Once Karate became public and classes became larger, it became more and more important for there to be consistency within the school or dojo. With the rise of styles (and the resulting competition for students), such consistency became even more important.

If you did a certain movement the wrong way, it could reflect either poor instruction, or even worse, disloyalty. It certainly would not look good for a student from Dojo 1 to move like a student from Dojo 2.

Of course, this is all pretty ridiculous! If you are like me, you are more interested in skill than conforming to a group standard. In addition, I am not loyal to a style per se. If anything, I am loyal to my Sensei (plural) because of my admiration of and affection for them. Style means very, very little to me.

In my particular "style" (Kishaba Juku Shorin-Ryu), we must be the least consistent Karate students in the entire world! Most of us know many ways to do every movement, and how we perform the movement at any given time is more a matter of personal choice at that moment than anything else. As you can imagine, a group performance of kata is not a very uniform thing (unless we agree in advance to move a certain way).

I do not believe in "cookie cutter" Karate. That may be fine for cookies, but not for Karate students. All people are different. Each student has unique strengths and weaknesses. If a small, weak woman moves exactly the same as a large, strong man, then her Karate will not be the move effective for her (and vice versa). Consistency, in that case, will be a disservice to the student.

In our dojo, we want each student to become the very best that he or she can become. And that requires special and long term attention on the part of the instructors to customize the training to accomplish that objective.

Of course, we have a small dojo, with a pretty high ration of yudansha (black belts) to mudansha (non-black belts, or kyu holders). We can afford to spend more time with each student, but even in our case, it requires hard work. A "cookie cutter" approach would be much easier, but we are making Karate students, not cookies.

There is another issue -- sometimes the emphasis on consistency is more a group control thing than a Karate teaching thing. Some Karate instructors spend more time and effort enforcing their domains or kingdoms than actually teaching Karate. Somehow I cannot imagine the early Karate masters (such as Matsumura, Itosu, Higashionna, Motobu, Kyan, etc.) doing this.

The kingdom of Karate is entirely an internal matter.

Anyway, I am not a fan of consistency, even with cookies.


Charles C. Goodin