In my last post, I was just getting into the advantage of finding a dojo that's affiliated with one of the major organizations. This is true in karate, aikido, judo, whatever. The best argument for this outlook is the concept of the baseline - a sort of ISO-9000 for the martial arts. You need to be sure that what your new sensei is teaching you is the actual art, as set forth by its founder.
For example, any idiot can put on a black hakama and claim the rank of 10th degree black belt in some obscure form of aikido. You know, his master granted him the secret scrolls of the art on his deathbed, and there were no other heirs, thus he is now the Secret Soke of Who-Flung-Dung Aikido.
You can protect yourself from this kind of charlatan by asking to see his certification from the Aikikai, the Yoshinkai, the Japan Aikido Association or one of its subordinate groups, etcetera.
If a dojo, on the other hand, belongs to its own federation or association – or to none at all – you’re more likely to be befuddled and confused by what you experience elsewhere. Worse yet, they’re likely to wonder what the heck you’re doing, when they see your non-standard aikido. If your school is a founding member of its very own, special “Association” or whatever, with no connection to a more mainstream baseline, chances are you’ve landed smack in the middle of your sensei’s attempt to build an empire around himself. See my post about arrogance in the martial arts, below.
But if that connection exists, then you’re less likely to have the kinds of experiences I mentioned above. Sensei Diamond and her little ninjas or whatever, didn’t belong to the Japan Karate Association. Even if they had their own group, there was no connection to the baseline, so she was free to live in whatever fantasy world she chose. In a few years, I expect we’ll see her teaching karate to cats.
There are a lot of people doing karate right now – we’re talking tens of millions – and only four or five serious, internationally-recognized organizations regulating and overseeing them. This is a representative list, and I’m by no means singling out or bashing any group I’ve left off. These are examples of my point. The founders and leaders of most of the other majors came from JKA – to the extent that “JKA” is considered to be a style of Shotokan karate today, much like the Aikikai in
World Shorin Ryu Karate Federation
International Isshin Ryu Karate Association
Worldwide, the Shotokan style of karate is probably best represented with the JKA, SKIF and ISKF. The JKA was the first real karate federation in the world, having been founded by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of modern karate. JKA and SKIF both claim to be the largest karate organization in the world.
Founded in 1978 by senior JKA sensei after an acrimonious split, SKIF has more than 2.5 million members today, with member dojo all around the world. Both the JKA and SKIF are headquartered in Tokyo.
ISKF was founded in 1977 as part of the JKA and broke away from that organization in 2007. They are headquartered in Philadelphia.
Another major American group for Shotokan is SKA (Shotokan Karate of America), which was founded in 1955, has some 140 dojo in the US and elsewhere, and is headquartered in California.
There are literally hundreds of smaller organizations out there, either regulating or promoting or something-else-ing karate, especially here in the US. I’ve listed some of them here. Some of these groups will be members of JKA or one of the other majors, while some of them aren't. It’s not my intent with this blog to point out which groups are worthwhile and which aren’t, so do your own research:
American Karate Federation
United Karate Federation
Black Karate Federation
USA National Karate Federation
United States Karate Federation
American Karate Association
National Karate Association
International Karate Association
Traditional Karate Association
American Okinawan Karate Association
United Karate Associations International
As a general rule, I’m suspicious of an organization that promotes itself too grandly, such as by naming itself something like “United Okinawan Brotherhood of Martial Arts Masters.” To me a title like this screams untrustworthy. It just feels like they're trying too hard to impress, as if they're accustomed to their awesomeness being challenged.
By contrast, organizations like the Wado Kai, which is the group within the JKA dedicated to the practice of Wado Ryu style karate, provide a solid baseline for that style’s adherents around the world. Likewise Shito Kai for Shito Ryu karate, and similarly Goju Kai, for Goju Ryu karate.
Smaller groups should be somehow affiliated with one of the majors. So look for the seal of approval of one of the major groups. Independent schools and small (say, 5 or 10 schools) independent associations should be avoided. Otherwise, who's setting the baseline? How does the student in one of these schools know that the karate he's learning there is actually the karate that the rest of the karate world recognizes? How do you know your aikido isn't just something your sensei made up?
And knowing better - that's the baseline.