THE TRAINING SYLLABUS
When Sandokai progressed from a concept to a reality the senior grades sat down and pooled over 100 years of Karate experience. Unlike many groups that split away from their parent body, we decided that it would not be correct etiquette to continue teaching a syllabus from a system that we no longer ascribed to.
Many Karate systems were discussed and the subjective good and bad points of each major style and/or approach to karate examined.
The overwhelming consensus of opinion was towards a traditional style as these tend to promote the psychological and spiritual benefits of martial arts training as well as purely physical/self defence aspects. We wanted Sandokai to offer something to everyone, young or old, male or female, able or not so able. However, each advantage of the main traditional styles could also be seen as a disadvantage in specific circumstances.
For example, we felt that the power and strength of Shotokan was hard to master for the complete novice whereas a higher grade with a reasonable level of fitness, strength and suppleness could meet the demands of Shotokan techniques.
The quick movements and high stances of Wado-Ryu promote early competence (and confidence) and are, perhaps, more encouraging for the beginner/lower grade. At a more senior level, the Wado-Ryu kata have many valuable lessons to teach the advanced student but are not quite "showy" enough to win competitions.
The fluidity of movement and devastating techniques of Goju-Ryu are best studied by higher grades who have the experience to respect their deadly effectiveness, and understand that sometimes sheer brute force is not the most effective route. And so on ...
On the premise that no one art is ideal for all people, we decided to use techniques similar to those found in Wado-Ryu for the first two years of training. This allows the lower grade to attain a satisfactory level of technical proficiency in a wide range of techniques while gradually improving their physical status (stamina, strength and suppleness) to prepare them for the more mentally and physically demanding aspects of other systems.
At brown belt level the student is considered a senior grade, and with a good grounding in basic karate is ready to look at some of the other aspects of karate. The stances lower slightly and the joint locks and breaks of karate systems that predate the formal Karate-Do are learned, and this is reflected in our use of the Goju-Ryu Kata Saipai and Sienshin at brown belt.
Funakoshi Gichin (the acknowledged founder of modern Karate) was well aware of students dropping out of Karate due to staleness - the same old stuff, over and over again. After two years of training most techniques are taken on board (though not necessarily mastered!) and the shift in emphasis from basic techniques to some of the original Okinawan concepts has the secondary benefit of reviving the interest of a long term student and presenting a new set of challenges.
The requirements for black belt involve a new shift in emphasis. After three years of training the Karateka should have the physical ability to perform karate techniques with strength, power and focus. The training regimen focuses more on the application of power and blocks are replaced by powerful strikes, designed to disable an attacker in one movement.
Hopefully, this produces a black belt with a more rounded knowledge of karate, it's varying styles and emphases than the "average" karateka.
To promote this eclectic martial arts approach we also give black belts a free choice of kata in their gradings as well as the set kata, and expect those taking 3rd Dan to perform a free choice Kata from outside our syllabus.
An (advanced) Kata from any style/martial art is acceptable, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, whatever ... as long as it is performed well!
The Sandokai syllabus has been designed to be a progressive set of requirements, each belt building on techniques mastered in the previous gradings.
The first grading is relatively simple to boost the confidence and self esteem of the student - though it doesn't seem that simple when you are learning it and/or performing your techniques in front of the grading panel!
Subsequent gradings increase in technical complexity, and the examiners look for more than just being capable of performing the physical movements prescribed in the syllabus. The syllabus has been carefully designed so new techniques are also found in the kata and ippon kumite. Attitude, etiquette, control, improvisation and commitment all have an increasing role in grading examinations as you work your way up the ranks.
All 1st Dan students are given three months to complete a questionnaire on Karate History, First Aid, the Sandokai Syllabus and Training Methodologies. This is intended as a learning experience, a preparation for being a Dan grade and not a test of knowledge. All Black Belt candidates should get 100% for the questionnaire, and 500% for the increase in knowledge that came from researching the answers!
Grades of 4th Dan and above are awarded for services to Karate generally and Sandokai specifically. As an award, senior grades are used to thank those who have put in time and effort beyond merely regular training, and are only awarded to those who deserve promotion - for whatever reason. Initially, it is a jury of your peers who decide your worth and propose you for promotion.
The Sandokai syllabus is a framework designed to guide the student into a lifetime career in the martial arts, enabling all to find their own niche within the system while stressing technical excellence and etiquette. It is designed to be constantly challenging, yet rewarding.
We have many students who have been training for decades and are still learning!
Sandokai also takes on board the premise that you can never stand still - you go forwards or you go backwards. The martial arts (as with everything) are constantly growing and evolving. Sandokai's techniques, training methodologies and concepts are also evolving. As new bodies of knowledge emerge from Sport Science, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomechanics and other relevant sciences, Sandokai will adopt and adapt to provide a system that is safe, efficient and effective.
The syllabus is not cast in stone though. It is a framework we work within rather than a strict mandate.
We would rather someone who was less supple than the rest of his/her class showed a good kick mid-level than struggle to throw a poor kick in the general direction of head-level.
We do appreciate that not everyone is the same, but we expect you to do your best - making the most of your strengths while still trying to overcome your weaknesses.
To date, the overall consensus seems to be that we are achieving our aim of moulding raw students into quality martial artists - capable and composed.
It seems to work for us ...