University of the Philippines Association of Karate


Karate Survival 101 

by Sheng Banzon

About Sheng:    Sheng is the pioneering chairperson of the UP Association of Karate (UPAK). Karate Survival 101 was written right after UPAK was founded in April 2003

      So, you're a new karateka. Well, congratulations! You'll now experience the joys and pains of karate. But!!! There's always the but! And i'm telling you, the but part in karatedo is no ordinary but. Take it from someone who's been slapped right in the face by that but.

    The but is this: karate isn't a stroll through the park. I'm not saying this to scare you. It's just the way it is. We're talking about long hours of physical and mental training, bumps and bruises all over the body, Fractures and sprains, a nagging voice in the head telling you to quit, et cetera, et cetera. This is a tough call.

    You either have to be brave, determined, or masochistic to go ahead. None of the above? Well, you just have to stick your foot in the water and give it a try, right? After all, karate is a way of life. You learn things in life as you go along (and in this case, you get beaten up in the process). It's always a risk to try, and besides, you aren't gonna die trying.

    We UPAK people don't necessarily wish to leave you lying in the dust. Come on! Why would we? The more, the merrier! So here it is, straight from me to you, a crash course on karate survival! It's a hard life, but who says were sending you off without any help? This will tell you everything about starting life as a karateka, from gi-washing (if you don't know what a gi is, then you really are new at this) to living the dojo kun. If you Have any questions after this, then you're a hopeless case, kidding! Just e-mail me ( or ask me in person, and I'll try my best to help! Yoshu!


The dojo kun

    This is the first thing you have to know. In fact, you have to know it by heart, since we recite it after every training session. The dojo kun is the set of training precepts of Master Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate. As karatekas, we must strictly follow these principles; ergo, we should live according to its morals.

    Each principle starts with hitotsu (one). Doesn't Master Funakoshi know how to count? Of course he does! It's just that he believes that each principle should be given equal importance. No item is more important than any other, so each item is number one.

    One. Seek perfection of character.

    Hitotsu. Jinkaku kansei ni tsutomoro koto.

    One. be faithful.

    Hitotsu. Makoto no michi wo mamoru koto.

    One. Endeavor.

    Hitotsu. Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.

    One. Respect others.

    Hitotsu. Reigi o omonzuru koto.

    One. Refrain from violent behavior.

    Hitotsu. Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto.

    You don't have to memorize the japanese version just yet, but it's a good thing if you're familiar with it. Just make sure you memorize the English version.

Do you know how to count?

    If your Sensei asks you, do you know how to count? Don't go, one, two, three. Your sensei isn't pulling your leg. What he means to ask is, do you know how to count in Japanese? sheesh

    I'm gonna teach you right now. It's actually pretty simple, once you get the hang of it. It's only one of the many things you need to memorize.

ichi, ni, san, shi, go, roku, shichi, hachi, kyu, ju. The pronunciation is ich, ni, san, shi, go, rok, sich, hach, ku, ju. There you go. Now you know how to count, okay?

Basic commands

    There are many commands in karate, and your Sensei will be the one who's gonna run through it for you. However, for your sake, I will explain the commands which I think you should be aware of.

    Kiritsu. This is pronounced kirits. It means assemble or form. If your Sensei hollers kiritsu, you better assemble along with the whole class in front of him pronto, as in pronto.

    Kiotsuke. My memory is failing me, but I'm pretty sure this means attention. If your Sensei says kiotsuke, you should stand up straight, with your feet forming a v-shape and both arms vertical on the sides of your body. Remember to look straight ahead. No necessary movements, please.

    Rei. Rei means bow. It's sort of hard to explain how to execute a proper bow, so during the first training session, ask a senior to show you how to do it. I must tell you, though, take your time when bowing. Don't do it like a head-banger or a dog in the dashboard, okay?

    Yoi. This means prepare or something like that. This is also hard to explain. Let's start with the legs. From the kiotsuke position, step your left leg first to the left then the right leg to the right so your feet are at least a shoulder apart. Make sure the toes of both feet are pointing straight ahead. Now, I'll explain what you do with your arms. While you are stepping your left leg to the left, ball both hands into fists and cross them in front of you, with the right arm over the left. As you step your right foot to the right, uncross your arms in such a way that they are in front of each thigh and at least a fist away from your body. Difficult to comprehend, right? w\Well, find me and I'll give you a demo.

    That's basically it for now. Oh, when your Sensei gives you instructions, don't forget to answer hai.

The k-triangle

    There are three k's in karate training: kihon, or basic, kata, or form, and kumite, or sparring. If you're a white-belter, you will focus more on kihon and kata. Kumite is for higher belt levels. Kumite is of three kinds: kihon kumite or basic sparring, jyu-ippon kumite or semi-free sparring, and jyu kumite or free sparring.

    The kihon occupies the apex of the triangle, since the two k's are applications of the basic. That's why it is advisable that you focus on perfecting your basic techniques, since it will help you do well in kata and kumite.

The gi

    The gi is the uniform worn by karatekas. It is composed of the actual gi or kimono, and the obi or belt. I'm telling you, this is one heck of a uniform. It's heavy! (well, at least the older version is the newer ones are made from lighter material and the pants are actually garterized now!) You should treat your gi with respect, since it is the outward appearance of your art.Ttherefore, keep it clean at all times!

   Let's talk about washing your gi. I don't really advise you to stuff your gi in the washing machine, although you can do that. Just make sure that your washing machine has a jumbo capacity. If you wash it by hand like I do, make sure you have eaten first. Man, if the thing is heavy when its dry, try to imagine how it if it is wet! You can use a scrubber to wash the dirt off, or you can do the old wine-making routine if you're dead beat: stomp away!

    Also, make sure you wash your gi at least two days before you use it, because it takes forever to dry. You don't want to wear a damp gi during training, do you (though I did that countless times, out of sheer desperation). If you have a spin-dryer, pop the thing in there for a good five minutes, since its somewhat impossible to wring all the water out of the cloth. What else? Oh! you only wash the gi, absolutely not the belt!

Tying the belt

    Sheesh, this gets harder and harder to explain. Okay, let's talk about tying the belt. You have to learn this as early as possible. Don't take after me, I learned to tie the belt properly when I was a green-belter. How embarrassing.

    First, find the center of the belt and place it just below your navel. Wrap both ends of the belt around your waist, making sure to keep the center below your navel. Now cross the end in your left hand over the end in your right and loop in under the belt around your waist. Hold this end with your right hand and hold the other with your right. Pull tight, but don't suffocate yourself just yet. Cross the end in your right hand over the one in your left. Loop the end in your right hand under the end in your left hand. Pull tight.

    There you go. again, if you get confused, just find someone to give you a demonstration. It's actually easy once you get used to it.

Kyu and belt colors

    Each karateka starts on the tenth kyu or first level. as he/she progresses with his/her training, he/she is promoted to a higher kyu. for each kyu, there is a corresponding belt color:

    tenth kyu                white belt                       

    ninth kyu                 yellow belt                       

    eighth kyu               orange belt                      

    seventh kyu             green belt

    sixth kyu                 blue belt (now purple 5)                          

    fifth kyu                  purple (5) belt (now purple 4)

    fourth kyu               purple (4) belt (now brown 3)

    third kyu                 brown (3) belt (now brown 2)

    second kyu            brown (2) belt (now brown 1)

    first kyu                 brown (1) belt

    Now when you reach the first kyu, the next belt color is black (hurrah!). There are ten levels, and each level is called Dan.

Belt promotions

    So just how do you get to wear a colored belt? Of course, you don't want to be stuck with a white belt for years (fortunately, that only happens when you really mess up, really big time. Don't be so nervous).

    To move to a higher kyu, you have to take examinations. This is how it goes: when your Sensei feels like you've mastered your lessons, he/she will give you an examination permit. You have to pay an examination fee (it gets more expensive as you move up the ladder, but its worth it), then a panel of black belters will give you the exam. You must perform all the techniques and your kata. They will grade you according to your performance (one being the highest, five being the lowest). If you pass, then you're off to the next level!

    What happens if you don't pass? Well tough luck. You need to go through your lessons again. After some time, your Sensei will give you another permit, then you can try again. You're always welcome to try your best; that's the only way you're gonna get to the top.


    For a particular level, there is a set of lessons. Let me give an overview of the lessons in the tenth kyu. First, you have the kihon. This consists of the punches, blocks, kicks, and stances. For the tenth kyu there are two punches, four blocks, one kick, and one stance to master. There are also Japanese terms you have to remember. Then you have one kata. After you have mastered these, you can take the exam for the next level. If you pass, then you have to master a new set of lessons.

    Just because you've successfully passed one level doesn't mean you forget your past lessons. That's not the way it works! Remember that the basics are the foundations of the more advanced lessons, so you have to always remember your lessons from the lower levels.

    Some Senseis give their students advanced lessons. For instance, there are instructors who teach their students the basics of kumite even when they are only white belters. Some students who show great potential in kata are also given advanced kata classes. Just always do your best, and everything will pay off.

Warm-up, cool-down and strengthening

    Warming up and cooling down are as important as learning how to punch, block and kick correctly. since we undergo rigorous training, you have to make sure that every part of your body is properly stretched before you start the session. This helps to prevent severe body pains and injuries. Cooling down relaxes your body. It re-adjusts your body back to its normal pace. It's normal to have sore muscles the day after training, especially when your body is only starting to get used to working out (you know, it even hurts to laugh that sort of thing), but you'll get used to it as time passes.

    Strengthening. Well, it's pretty dumb if I say that it strengthens your muscles, but there's actually no other way to put it. Examples of strengthening exercises are push-ups, sit-ups, crunches, leg lifts, straddles, et cetera, et cetera. They're pretty tough and hard on the body, but the more you feel the pain, the closer you are to doing it right.

    I must warn you about the push-ups. They're not like ordinary push-ups wherein your elbows stick outward as you lower yourself closer to the ground. Karate push-ups are modified to make your life hell. I've been training for around three years, and its only recently that I executed a proper karate push-up.

    If you want to practice, I'll tell you how to do it. Go down on a push-up position. Your feet should be a shoulder apart from each other; same goes for your arms. Make sure your butt isn't sticking out or dangling; your body should be perfectly inclined. Then, bend your elbows in such a way that your arms brush against the sides of your body. Your chest should be almost touching the ground. No part of your body must touch the floor; it should be properly suspended. And then, push yourself up again, the arms still brushing the sides of the body.

    There ya go. Good luck! Don't overwork yourself, it's really difficult.

If it hurts, say so immediately

    Karate is a contact sport, so you really can't avoid injuries. We do try our best to prevent them by wearing proper gear during kumite competitions.

    However, you can get injured while practicing kihon. Cramps are common, but if they recur constantly, have yourself checked by a doctor right away. Also, if you're not properly warmed-up, you have a higher tendency to sprain your muscles and fracture or break your bones.    

    You certainly want to prevent that if you want to continue karate for the next few years or so.

    If you suffer from the aftermath of previous injuries, consult your doctor first if its healthy for you to practice karate. You might need special body supports or braces. Make sure your Sensei is aware of these problems. If a part of your body that has been previously injured begins to give you trouble, say so immediately. Don't risk your health.

    As for bruises and sprains, make sure you take care of them immediately. Get a bucket of ice and submerge the part of the body with the bruise or sprain for fifteen minutes, then elevate. This will take care of sprains and bruises the size of Fuji apples. Don't get a cow over small bruises; they disappear in a couple of days.

The forbidden luxury

    What can I say about foot scrubs? They're nice, relaxing, and they work wonders for a callus-padded foot. However, I advise you to avoid them.

    If you're a karateka, calluses are worthwhile investments. They prevent your feet from getting skinned. In my case, I think they also help absorb pressure.

    I stopped training for a while, and I indulged myself in getting foot scrubs. Now I regret that. The first time I trained again and moved forward in stance, it was okay. After a few more laps, I noticed I was trailing blood in the training area.

    Also, make sure your nails (both on your fingers and toes) are immaculately short and clean at all times or at least during training sessions. The women are not allowed to paint their nails.

    I suggest you take care of you feet, especially if you have onion-thick skin. You can buy Mueller tape and Leukoplasts to patch up any scratches. In time, your feet will be able to protect themselves (meaning you've grown yourself enough calluses to withstand scratches). We have unsightly-looking feet, but that's a small price to pay.


    We're not gonna sign you up for competitions right away if you're bothered about that. You'll get a turn in a few months or a year, after you've had enough practice.

    It's probably good if you watch karate competitions even when you're not in the running yet. That way you'll get accustomed to the events. There are two basic categories: kata and kumite. There are different divisions for men and women. There are also different age groups, but in our case, since we are all college students, there's only one age category.

    Kata competitions may be individual or team; same goes for kumite. Scoring systems vary according the type of competition.

    We keep your health in mind when you compete. There's nothing to worry about in kata (do they even get injured in kata competitions?). In kumite, we usually send you off with a helmet and a pair of gloves. I think they're making mouth guards mandatory nowadays even if you're wearing a helmet. Chest plates and shin guards are optional.

    As I've said earlier, its practically impossible to avoid injuries. We can only prevent them. Make sure you warm up before the competition. When you wear the protective gear, see to it that nothing's too tight or too loose. Don't lose your head and heart during competition; stay focused, do your best, and although you might not always win, you'll save yourself the shame.

    If you do get injured, there are first-aid people to take care of you. Just pray that your mother won't go, "ano na namang nangyari sa iyo, anak! Ikaw na bata ka, pipilay-pilay ka na naman! Ano bang pinaggagagawa mo sa sarili mo! Aba'y kung gusto mong magpabugbog, sabihin mo lang sa akin, wala lang medalya!" Gee, I've heard too much of that.

Food and water

It's important that you're up on your feet during training sessions. That's why you better eat before you go to the dojo. Make sure you give your body an allowance of one hour to digest the food you have eaten before training, or else you're going to be green on the face thirty minutes into the session.

There are several ways to keep you from getting tired too quickly. The first one is to warm up properly. That way, your muscles will be able to take the strain longer. The second one is to breathe. Breathe deeply to keep your heartbeat to its normal pace especially during breaks. The third is to walk. Don't sit down during breaks, since it will only relax your muscles all too suddenly. Also, if you're training in an air-conditioned room, step out during breaks.

Always make sure to bring water during training sessions. Oral hydrides are also good because they are absorbed by the body faster. Don't drink too much, though, since too much liquids can make you feel sick.



    When we talk about endurance in Karate, it is not simply physical endurance. Physical endurance is something your body will learn. You can adapt to the rigorous exercises when you train regularly.

    The important thing is mental endurance. Karate is not merely a sport; it is a way of life that requires you to revolve your lifestyle around discipline. For you to survive karate, you must learn how to stick to its principles even when you are outside the dojo.

    Also, during training, the mind is the last part of your body that should suffer exhaustion. As long as your mind is up, you can finish what you have started even if your body is already tired. Karate is learned only when the body is suffering from exhaustion.

    So, that's it! Karate is life-long training, so consider these things a miniscule part of what you have to learn and go through to master this art. Don't forget that you can ask for help, you can read books and guides, you can attend a million classes, but it is up to you to learn.

    What you give to understand life, it will return in different manifestations to motivate you to look within yourself. It's the same with karate.


    We congratulate you for taking the step to journey towards self-discovery and excellence. Welcome to UPAK. 

Copyright sheng2003. All rights reserved. UP Association of Karate