Midtown Karate Dojo
So I've been training for a year now, so I thought I'd finally review my school. Also, someone in YMAS was complaining that their weren't enough reviews (wah wah wah).
First, the good:
Good, solid 'traditional' Okinawan Karate of the Matsubayashi variety. There are 14 scheduled classes per week, including mornings (before work, Saturdays and Sundays), Lunch time 3 days a week, and evennings 5 days a week. And once you earn a green belt, you have full access to the dojo when not in use, so you can meet up with other people from the dojo and train on your own.
Each class is taught by a different instructor. All instructors are ni-dan and above. This is a plus and a minus. The plus is that you have many perspectives, and can choose and work on what works best for you. The dojo is also the honbu of a organization of 25 schools, so you can actually train in various places in New York, and if you are traveling, you may very well be close to an affiliate school.
Kata makes up 60% of instruction. This is good if you are into the technical aspects of kata. It is aerobic, and oddly enough, gives a little muscle tone.
There is an emphasis on tanren, which means you will progressively be doing more and more knuckle push ups, hitting the makiwara, arm and leg conditioning (strength and ability to withstand blows). Leg strength is also emphasized through knee bends and holding jigotai stance.
The striking instruction is about 75% punching and 25% kicking. Elbows and knees, shuto are also included.
Beginners are taught 'pre-arranged' sparring drills meant to teach fighting sequences. Unfortunately, for the first 10 months, you are stuck learning a single sequence. when you become a green belt, you learn a second sequence, which you perfect over the course of the year. A bit to slow for my taste.
Once you are a green belt, you do one step 'free sparring' that gets progressivley harder and faster as time goes on. You don't start real free sparring until you are an upper brown (about 2.5 years after starting training).
Classes are uber small, so you get a lot of personal attention.
Big emphasis on Tai Sabaki
The bad (or worse, depending on perspective)
Too much emphasis on kata, not enough application. Like I said, kata is 60% of every class. Bunkai however is practiced only 2-3 times a month. There are few instructors that create training drills to make the kata relevent. This is evident in the one step sparring where even though you've done literally thousands of kata, you are a bumbling idiot when you don't know whats comming ahead of time.
The pre-arranged drills are the best part of the style, but, they are done not frequently enough. The drills are static and never change. No variation is permitted. You spend 8-10 months on a single fighting sequence. Thats like a boxer spending 8 months on 'jab-cross-hook'.
No emphasise on combinations. the one kata that teaches combos, is the kata that gets the least bunkai practice. You are literally learning to block-strike-block-strike-block-strike.
Each time slot on the schedule is taught by a different instructor. Although the teaching is for the most part uniform, all too often, there are some differences in the minutae of technique. So, if you are training with an instructor for the first time, he or she may literally be inclinded to spend 45 minutes with you on white belt basics, which you'll have to un-learn when you go back to train under your regular instructor.
Zero grappling. Not even the stand up - Krotty grappling. There are some grabs and pulls to off balance your opponent, but you don't get to drill them until you are upper brown.
Free sparring is officially considered detrimental to your training.
More on the ratings:
Equipment: We have one heavy bag that is not hung up, a makiwara that is too loose to be effective for punching, and a single kicking pad with broken straps.
Weapons: Brown belt and above only. No free sparring EVAR. Some pre-arranged fighting sequences. Bo, sai, tonfa and nunchuk (the director's kobudo is kama, but I have yet to see a single senpai using kama.)
The place is small, but the number of students are so small, that it doesn't matter. I literally train with 1-5 other people max. The largest class is Tuesday nights when the director teaches. 15 - 20 in that class and it gets a little tight.
Atmosphere: Everybody is nice. Very nice. sometimes, too nice. Geez. Not much challenging of the status quo. Everybody is just happy to be doing kata kata kata.
Kids: There aren't that many kids at my school because its in Mid-town. People usually train right after work. However, when kids do come, they train along with the adults since its mostly kata anyway. I don't know the official policy, but I have never seen a kid with a rank any higher than green in my org. I have yet to meet a brown belt or a black belt under 20 years of age.
We pay lip-service to zazen. Literally one minute before and one minute after class - maybe only 60% of the time. Not a whole lot of chi talk.
One final note, I can't be absolutely certain, but in all probability, no one makes any profit off of this dojo. Imagine a school in the middle of mid-town manhattan, 14 instructors and small class sizes. There are testing fees, but nobody is getting rich off of them, I'm sure. mostly to pay for the boards, cement blocks, new belt. I think all instructors are volunteers.
They really love what they do. Some of the instructors are willing to hint at the severe limitations of the training methods, and some will even hint at having cross trained, but nothing official.
Okay, I don't know what kind of crazy firewall this, but I'm not allowed to edit with the ratings.
Well, here they are:
Gym size: 6
Instructor Student Ratio: 8
Striking instruction: 4
I don't know my brother, that doesn't sound great to me. There are too many good places to train in NYC. I guess there are people who just want to "learn karate" and are not actually interested in learning to fight but that never made too much sense to me. Good review though.
That doesn't sound particularly appetizing.
There's a checkbox to click, otherwise the ratings don't save.
Yeah, I know. I've been at my school as long as I've been on Bullshido, so I know better.
My biggest limitation is time. With kids that need me to be there to help with homework and cooking dinner, I'm limited in my training options. Their schedule is the biggest seller for me.
I work on the East side and ALL THE GOOD FRIGGIN SCHOOLS ARE ON THE WEST. I'll be trying out Bwarrior with Baynor Martinez. SamboSteve used to teach at his school. USKBA kickboxer.
I have no problem leaving the school, but I feel bad for my instructors. I know they are volunteers. The classes are so small I've practically received private training for a year and when I leave, the class size will be even smaller.
I know I shouldn't let that determine where I train, but these guys are nice guys. They want to progress faster, but its not part of the official "curriculum". They don't dare step on the director's toes.
Anywhoo, enough bishin. I'm probably starting at Bwarrior after the holidays. I'll let you know how they compare. Sambo Steve had good things to say about him, so I'm optimistic.
By any chance, did anyone from Bullshido stop by yesterday? Maybe its just coincidence, but before class started, a tall guy was talking to the director. Apparently a former student. All I heard was 'garble garble garble MMA garble garble Ground and Pound garble garble Trainng'.
For a minute, I thought to myself, Is this what a dojo storm looks like?
In my experience, a dojo storm looks grainy and filled with mustaches. A shaky camera, 80's shorts, and shouting and/or staring Brazilians are common.
The true meaning of Traditional Karate
Your interpretation of this school is very interesting yet some what misguided. It is very common for beginner students to feel that they are not getting enough of practical training and too much kata. It is not explained to the new student that these feelings may occur because Traditional Karate is not for everyone. Students that stay with Traditional karate for a very long time usually do not question their instructors, and certainly do not question the effectiveness of excessive kata training. If you think of a Master and Student few centuries ago, there was no tolerance for questioning. In most cases the student had to prove to the Master that he or she was worthy of teaching. Trust me my friend, if you train kata on a regular basis 3 or 4 times a week, there is no other deadlier form of defense. The interpretation of the techniques withing the kata is something that one can only undertake after decades of rigorous training. Consistent kata training at various speed and power is all one needs to be a very deadly fighter. Another thing to remember is that true karate only shows itself when it is justifiably used.
Fighting is a physical skill, much like swimming. If it would take me decades to learn how to swim in one school when other places could have me showing reasonable proficiency after a few months I would not go to that school. People who don't like to be questioned are frequently short of answers. I actually met the original poster at a Throwdown, he's an awesome guy. I hope he has moved on.