As Soon As You Line Up, She’s Your Dojo Mate

My husband and I started out karate in adult-only classes. When we later went to mixed-age classes, we learned that adult karate dojo mates always outrank kids. When we led classes in our own program, we had adults line up in front of the children’s line.

It may not seem practical that the taller and bigger adults stood in front of children, obscuring their view of the teacher. In fact, a new karate kid pointed that out to me recently. But we have practical reasons for this format.

For one thing, the kids can have more participating adults to model a good example for them (in addition to the teacher). Adult dojo mates can show the proper spacing for lining up, and self control, self discipline, and hard work during the drills. Adults catch on to the proper form and angles for leg stretches much quicker than most kids do, so they give child students that example, instead of a single teacher showing the mirror image of what they want students to do. 

Another practical reason is, we often have more kids than adults. We don’t want kyu rank (pre-black-belt) adult students to feel like they are joining a children’s karate class (like Dwight Shrute in the TV series, The Office). Also, we have taught dozens of adults who had their own biological or foster children in their karate classes with them. Their time in karate is their time to clear their minds and focus on their own training.

Karate Parent Dojo Mates

Generally, we don’t want parents to have their kids right in front of them when they line up, warm up and do drills. My husband and I are karate parents, and we know that when your young child is in class, you can’t help but concern yourself with what and how your child is doing—whether it’s good, or not so good. As instructors, we would rather guide these children ourselves during class and hold them accountable. We’d rather not have kids’ parents correcting them in class, whether parents are students in class, or they are observing from the sidelines.

This helps child dojo mates to learn accountability for their own actions. If the kiddo has an extremely hard time focusing or participating, then the parent will become aware of that, even if their back is to the child. Then, in occasional circumstances, they might help to redirect their kiddo to participate in class more positively.

Dojo Mate Family Members

If you are a kid attending karate class along with your mother, then as soon as you line up, she’s your dojo mate. From experience, we know that it’s best to not make assumptions about your dojo mates who happen to also be in your immediate family. Instead, bow in, forget about the past, and treat your family-members-who-train-with-you as you treat your instructor and your other dojo mates.

That is, treat them with respect, regard, and when working with them, with self control. In fact, because you have to go home with family members, you are better off treating them with an even higher level of self control. We’ve seen that family members can treat their karateka family members more roughly than they treat their other dojo mates. And that often leads to family-relationship contention.

We have had scores of mixed-generation family members train successfully with us, and for the long run. Our experience has proven that when adult karateka attend class, they are better off just doing their best, leading by example, and lining up with their back to the children. Then they can focus on their own karate training. And the children can receive the positive example of several adults, not solely the teacher.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

Jenifer Tull-Gauger knows what it’s like to be an “old soul” and a painfully quiet kid struggling to fit in. Her journey to 7th degree black belt is a testament of how she found inner strength through traditional karate. Now in leadership for the international U.R.K.A., she heads up a private dojo with her husband.

Jenifer combined her passions for art and writing, with what she’s learned from 23-plus years of teaching karate, to create a children’s character-building picture book series. The Dojo Kun Character Books help children to find their own power in their lives.

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