United States Karate Center - Reston VA
This is a review of the United States Karate Center in Reston, VA. (DC metro area)
Let me start by saying that I thought hard about putting this in the traditional Korean MA school reviews sub-forum but I don't think its more appropriate to be here due to the heavy focus on grappling. If mods feel differently, please feel free to move it over there.
First I will give the basic stats, then a tl/dr review for anyone interested.
* Sparring/Aliveness: I rated this a 7 due to the fact that there is stand up sparring and grappling mixed at a medium contact. You will not get G&p'd into a coma but you will be banged around with enough contact to kill a tooth (I did) if you find a willing partner. Grappling to submission tapout or choke out (again without blackouts) will happen.
* Equipment: 7 respectable array of equipment, good mats, loaner headgear (students still bring their own pads), kicking pads/targets, wavebags. The heavy bag and speed bags are gone now and this is not a boxing gym or pro MMA level. No cage/ring etc. I thought 7 made the most sense.
* Gym Size: 8-9, my estimate is that the studio is > 1000 sq Feet based on the mat size but I am not 100% certain. Professional commercial space. (you can judge from the picture I attached)
* Atmosphere/Attitude: 9 I gave it a 9 because I really like Master Thomas' attitude and most of the students are very friendly, supportive, and openly helpful. However I couldn't give it a 10 because I feel that it could be better with more active students (see review)
* Striking Instruction: 8 because there is a heavy emphasis on striking effectively. You will never see the amount of heavy leg kicking in a normal korean martial arts studio. Striking practiced for power in a "non-alive" sense with striking pads to work technique as well as alive with drills and sparring. Power breaking (multiple boards through cinder-blocks) is also part of the curriculum.
* Grappling Instruction: 7 - there is a heavy emphasis in most classes on grappling but also most classes are not "alive" and focusing on rolling. A full range of techniques from the 4 basic positions are taught (in and out of mount, in and out of guard). There is light resistance and technique work in almost every class. Sparring class has full on active grappling. You are not going to find butterfly, xguard, rubber guard etc here. I am not 100% sure these things even exist in traditional Aiki Jujutsu but I digress.
* Weapons Instruction: 3 - Mostly compliant drills and forms.
The United States Karate Center is a bit of an enigma since they teach pretty much everything but Japanese Karate. The primary focus is on Hapkido and Aiki Jujutsu. All classes are taught by Master John K. Thomas. The school has been around for 30 years and I think the name primarily derives from a time when martial arts like Hapkido were not well known by name in the US.
I was a student of this school initially from about 1990-1997. For the 1980's and 1990's this school was in my opinion ahead of it's time. We trained in what would be termed here as "Medium Contact" sparring (heavy enough to break a tooth with gloves on), grappling (choking tapouts), and breaking (not the fake kind). Techniques are taught with the intention of being useful in a real encounter. This was pre-mma at the time and light years ahead of the crap TKD schools that were around the area back in the day.
Master Thomas' resume includes:
* Six years Navy SEAL’s combat instructor
* Head instructor special service knife and unarmed combat
* Two U.S. national full-contact championships
* Four titles, no-holds-barred “Unlimited Contact” tournaments
* One U.S. Open Sparring championship
I guess as a result of his experiences there was a heavy emphasis on real world application of martial arts techniques that were alive including heavy contact sparring.
USKC also trains plenty of traditional "non-alive" techniques as part of the curriculum There are forms (including weapons forms starting at gold belt) and the traditional Hapkido standing self defense grab/counters. Other arts that are represented in some form at the school are aikido, judo, and TKD.
Fast forward to 2012-2013 when I was old and fat and looking to get back into Martial Arts. USKC was the first place I thought to return to, both from a familiarity standpoint and also because I knew that there was a sense of aliveness that is rare to find in traditional martial arts studios. (even though I didn't then know what the term aliveness was)
In some ways these days the USKC has evolved and become very "non-traditional." People looking for a Hapkido school might be disappointed on the heavy focus on grappling. I would say at least 50% of the curriculum now revolves around Aiki Jujutsu which to me is great. However, those looking for a Black Belt in 2 years and plenty of larping around with calendar scheduled promotions will not find it here.
Things are perfect by any means. Master Thomas is IMO a great martial artist but not the greatest self promoter. The school attendance is quite low these days making it difficult to get a variety of sparring and rolling partners. In some ways it just doesn't fit the mold of a JiuJutsu school, or a TKD/Hapkido school. Since I started up last year, one guy that had a Hapkido Black Belt from another school already appears to have come and then gone with simply a white belt. Advancement is not quick and not guaranteed in the way that many McDojo's dole it out.
I am lucky to have one guy who is a 2nd degree BB there that comes regularly and is around my size but the sparring classes which used to be packed with people are poorly attended these days. That is a big disappointment.
In some ways I am writing this review because I hope people in the area looking for a unique mix of traditional and non-traditional training will come check it out. If you hated this review don't kill me. I don't have any vested interest in this school other than wanting to share it with more people.
Last edited by zerosum79; 1/13/2014 10:39pm at .
Master Thomas Breaking Demos
Last edited by zerosum79; 1/13/2014 10:31pm at .
Reason: I suck at embedding vids
While I hate to be a party pooper and quite liked the review in general, a score of 8 in striking instruction would imply "Pressure-tested, full range striking and proven success in limited restriction, top level competitions or high level self defense situations." Likewise, a score of 7 in grappling instruction would imply success in regional grappling tournaments. Is there any sort of record of students of the school competing (and if so, in what competitions, at what time, with what results)?
First off, thank you for your comment. I appreciate where your are coming from and respect the forum perspective on these ratings.
Originally Posted by Hadzu
I think the points you make are fair so I would like to elaborate on my logic in these two areas. In the end I think it is also fair to say that I was on the fence with a few of these and would not be opposed to revising them based on your's or other's feedback in the forums to ensure that they are apples to apples with other peoples reviews.
The main place where I think our interpretations differed was in the focus on the requirement for competition testing. When reading the sticky I saw the descriptions and read them to say "competition tested" or "tested in high level self defense situations." Based on the way both are currently written in the sticky, I think it only has to fit one of the two to be applicable. (I could be wrong)
Striking: (as outlined in the sticky)
8-9: Pressure-tested, full range striking and proven success in limited restriction, top level competitions or high level self defense situations. (The "or high level self defense situations" being more applicable
I think that there are arguments to be made that based on the instructor's resume (with national level competitions) that these are proven techniques. I will be the first to admit though that these accolades are quite old though and not enough to stand on their own. In the end what tipped my mind from a 7 to an 8 was the fact the combination of the way we drill combined with the emphasis on applying these techniques in a practical setting. Master Thomas' resume also includes a lot of military instruction and as a result I feel that the way we are taught to apply techniques is realistic for self-defense. If you disagree this could easily slip to a 7.
The same goes with grappling:
6-7: Comprehensive grappling with success in local/regional competition or practical application (LEO, military).
I took the 7 rather than the 6 which could be questioned, but felt that the practical application with military background put it into this category. Maybe a 6 is more appropriate since it doesn't fit with both criteria.
Feel free to disagree with my rationale but this is/was my thought process.
Last edited by zerosum79; 1/14/2014 1:50pm at .
As someone that has competed in NoVA on more than one occasion I never seen any one from this academy in the local grappling scene. I think 7 is too high for grappling.
Fair enough; the scoring system is a little fuzzy as is, especially the "high level self defense" bit is very open to interpretation, so I don't fault your scoring at all. What I suppose becomes an issue is that whether or not it's applicable or proven in self-defense is immensely much harder to demonstrate than simple competition performance; that said, self-defense potential *is* featured as a possible scoring criteria, so I will have to trust the judgement of the person who has actually trained there (you) in that regard. Based on your description, regardless of ratings, it sounds like a pretty awesome school; wish we had more like it up here in the frozen north.
Originally Posted by zerosum79
I would be comfortable changing Grappling to a 6.
Originally Posted by Plasma
Plasma - where do you train in this area? I just visited 50/50 BJJ this morning and it seemed like a good school. I am thinking of cross-training at their gym for a year (contracts) to get in as much sparring practice as possible.
Hadzu - We host out of town students frequently with no fees. If by a long shot you are ever in town feel free to stop in.
50/50 BJJ is my home BJJ school, I was there full time from 2011 till last summer. I am currently out of the country for a few years but I make it back on occasion. Will be coming back full time when I move back into the area.
Ryan and Seph provide some of the best grappling instruction in the world.
My son trained at 50/50 for about year, before he left town for college. He was quite happy with Ryan and Seph's skills and the level of training -- very competitive and sparring oriented.
Originally Posted by Plasma
That is what I found as well. Seph was the instructor who ran the class I took. I don't get the impression that Ryan attends many of the beginner classes (at least 7am), but that is not a knock on them. They actually have a very well developed class schedule and it would be impossible for any one instructor to cover them all.
Originally Posted by CapnMunchh
I may do a longer review of the school if I sign up but I liked the structure of the class a lot, and Seph appeared to be a very good instructor.
* We started with some basic warmup skills.
* Then we worked through the technique of an armbar from the guard.
* We followed that by looking at the same technique from the opposite perspective (now in the guard) learning a counter to the same armbar technique.
* We finished with sparring that paired one person at the point of completing the armbar and the other person at the point of completing the counter. The goal was to go about 75% level of effort and see who could finish the technique. (either finish the arm bar or escape the arm bar)