How to be a blackbelt – a journal with Musokai Karate – December 9th 2017

The schedule:

  • Friday 11am – 7:30pm
  • Saturday promotion test
    1. 10am – 11am routine warmup
    2. 11am – 2pm blackbelt promotion test

I left home at 3:30am to catch 6am fly to Utah on Friday December 8th. My excitement to see Shihan Arakaki and other Karateka can’t be described in word but was expressed in my action.

I got to Salt Lake city around 8:30am local time. It was extremely cold compared to Los Angeles (60s F).


Shihan told me that the training would be 11am. He asked when I would arrive. I sensed that he would open the dojo early. I arrived at the dojo around 10am and he was there. That’s Shihan. He’s always very kind.

I have not seen him in two years. However, I always feel very close to him. When I was living in Utah, for more than 6 years I had been going to the dojo to study Musokai Karate under him every week no matter how busy I was. Shihan was very patient to explain complex moves and philosophy behind Musokai Karate. Almost every day I came to the dojo, I was able to spend at least 30 minutes to 2 hours talking to him after the class (6pm to 7:30pm).

The dojo is the same. Shihan has kept it in its condition for such a long time. He equipped it with all equipments needed for Karate training. The dojo has a training room, which can hold up to 40 people. There are 2 changing rooms with shower and restroom: one for men and one for women. Shihan’s office is right by the door, next to the exhibition room where there are cups from competitions, posters, pictures, books. Shihan even designates a seating area for visitors to watch the training.


I entered the dojo. Immediately, I felt peace. Shihan saw me and came over. I bowed with respect to him and he bowed back. Shihan is still in great shape. I have known him for over 12 years and he seems to be ageless. He commits to training Musokai Karate daily and train more than any of his students.

I changed into my gi and started warming up to wait for others to come in.

At 11am, the three people from Japan came to the dojo. They have been in the dojo since Monday for a special training and would take their blackbelt test the next day. They paid their own money to come over from Japan, trained very hard for one week, and would take their promotion test the next day.

I recognized two people as we are connected via facebook. Mr. Keisuke is the youngest of the three. He came from Okinawa.

Mr. Serikawa is the world champion in Karate and the 4th degree blackbelt in another style. He came from Chiba. Mr. Serikawa has his own Karate club in Japan. I got to see a lot of his pictures on facebook and felt like I knew him already.

Mr. Takaichi is the oldest of the three. He also came from Okinawa. At 56 year of age, Mr. Takaichi is very strong and quick.

All three did not speak much English. I don’t speak Japanese. So we communicated via broken English, Japanese, Musokai Karate language.

Coming to the training were also Brian, the 4th degree blackbelt, and David, the 2nd degree blackbelt. Brian took charge of the session.

The last time I came, which was two years ago, I learned new moves and a new kata from Brian.

Shihan was researching deeper into the origin of Karate and made some change to several katas. His attempt to get to the essence of Okinawa Karate is remarkable. Since 1980, which is now over 37 years, Shihan has created many great fighters and extraordinary human beings via his unique method. Shihan was very successful with his full contact tournaments. However, He closed down the popular full-contact competitions he organized in order to focus all his effort into his research.  He dedicated over 15 years to re-study Okinawa Karate when he was already masterful in Karate. His deep study opened him up to the very essence of the art and science of Okinawa Karate. Shihan mastered the art and discovered its science. He also discovered a way to teach it effectively to others in such a way that was thought impossible.

I was lucky to receive direct teachings from him.

When I was actively going to the dojo before moving out of the state, Musokai Karate katas were already extraordinary. The movements were extremely simple and effective. It took me years of practicing and learning from Shihan to be able to move my body the way he taught.

Two years ago, when Brian showed me the new move, I was very impressed and learned it immediately. The moves were much simpler and more effective. It really demonstrated that things can be made simpler and more effective even though it’s already extremely simple and effective.

And once again, Shihan has shown his remarkable ability to make Musokai Karate even more simpler and much more effective from many different aspects. This time, Shihan created a new fighting kata.

The three Japanese students already practiced in the dojo since Monday so they knew the new katas and moves that Brian were showing them.

I was shocked at what I saw. The moves Brian showed made so much sense and at the same time I knew none of them. It was deadly effective. I became a student once again.

I learned the two new Katas from Brian along with two other Japanese students. Shihan took one Japanese student and taught them the secret move with the punching bag once at a time.

We asked Brian to do the katas over and over again so we could capture the video to review later.

We practiced from 11am to 1:30pm. We were supposed to end at 12pm as the noon class usually goes from 11am to 12pm. We kept going till 1:30pm when Shihan asked us if we wanted to break. The training was very intense as usual. The Japanese students took the training very seriously. They wasted no time. They wanted to get the moves completely. I really love training with them.

All of us went to lunch with Shihan for over one hour.

We went right back to the practice. Brian and David trained me and two Japanese students while Shihan trained the other Japanese student.

At 3:30pm, we finished the afternoon session. At that time, I suddenly realized how great workout I had had. Many of my muscles got a chance to exercise again at the high speed and full power.

The three Japanese students went back to their temporary home to take a rest. Shihan asked them to take a rest for their promotion test the next day.

I stayed at the dojo with Shihan. I had learned so much from conversing with Shihan. And this time I again learned so much from  him. We talked for almost 2 hours till students for the 6pm class came in.

At 6pm, I went back to the training with the evening class. There were 11 of us.


After the warm-up, which took around 30 minutes, Shihan divided us into groups. I was put into the group to do sparring. Other groups were doing kata and fighting techniques.

The sparring turned out to be extraordinary. We arranged so that each blackbelt took turn to spar with one Japanese student for 2 minutes.

This was the first time I met them. They only trained with Shihan twice per year for the last couples of years when he did his seminars in Japan. Then, they used what they learned from Shihan and trained with each other weekly.

From the first fight, they surprised me how well they had been training. At the same time, they were very humble. They learned new moves and asked us to teach them.

Mr. Serikawa, the world champion, was very strong and agile. In the fight, he was extremely intense. A small opening or a small stop was enough for him to move in. He used the embusen line extremely well and created blind spot that enabled him to attack me at his will. I learned much from those sparrings with him.

We ended the sparring at 7:25pm. The last 5 minutes were for Shihan to walk us through different katas.

The evening session ended at exact 7:30pm. Everyone was very excited and wanted to take a picture to treasure the moment of being together.


We said goodbye to each other and wished each other good rest for the next day’s promotion test.

Musokai Karate’s promotion test is extraordinary in itself.  

It’s an experience that has life-long impact and developed new human being. In my own words, it’s a transformative experience. The person before the test would be different from the person after the test.

For the promotion test, the training room was organized with a table for Shihan and 2 tables for blackbelts so we can seat, observe, and jot down our feedbacks.

I arrived at the dojo around 9:45am on December 9th. At 10am, everyone was there.

Cathy, the 5th degree blackbelt, lined us up. Stephen, the 2nd degree blackbelt, got us started with a drum roll.

Sebastian, the 1st degree blackbelt, warmed us up with regular Musokai routine for roughly 20 minutes.

Shihan then took over to continue the warm up with punching, kicking, and stretching.

At 10:45am, Shihan asked all blackbelts to sit down in the area designated for blackelts. All other belts were asked to sit on chairs at the end of the room.


There were four test takers. Bob Stringham would take the 4th degree blackbelt test. Mr. Serikawa would take the 2nd degree blackbelt test. Mr. Takaichi and Mr. Keisuke would take the 1st degree blackbelt test.

The test takers were lined up in front of Shihan to begin the test.


They performed their stretching tests together. Occasionally, Shihan would give feedback and ask them to correct immediately.


After the stretching test, they continued with the kata performance. Each was asked to perform 3 of their most favorite katas.

Shihan requested them to do their best. And they really showed their best. Their moves were extremely fast and precise. It was a remarkable experience to observe those blackbelt test takers to perform their favorite katas.

The next part of the promotion test was the endurance test. This endurance test is not a trivial one. Each person had to do:

  1. 100 pushups
  2. 500 situps
  3. 2000 front kicks (1000 each leg)
  4. 200 roundhouse kicks (100 each leg)


All four did exceptionally well. There was some struggle along the way but they all overcame it by themselves. This demonstrated their commitments to Musokai Karate and showed how much they had prepared for this blackbelt test.

Another significant fact was that all three Japanese students had been going under intensive trainings for a week. They gave their best everyday and came back the next day the same way.

The last part of the blackbelt test was sparring. This was the most difficult part of the test. Facing another skillful fighter put one really on the court. If one is not careful, one gets hit instantly. Getting hit by another blackbelt could be very devastating, especially when one is tired after the endurance test.

The sparring test began at 11:30am and continued past 2:00pm. Everyone fought extremely hard even though they were very exhausted. Most crossed their own limit and overcame their own internal thoughts after the first or the second fights. After that, they fought without thinking. It’s what I called the mastery state where actions are immediate without any limitation of one’s thought. One’s action suddenly became extremely effective and swift.

Shihan held the ceremony to give blackbelt certificates and belts to all who passed the blackbelt test this year. There were 9 in total: Cathy, Bob, Brian, David, Stephen, Mr. Serikawa, Sebastian, Mr. Takaichi, Mr. Keisuke.


The promotion test officially completed at 2:30pm. We congratulated each other, hugged each other, and celebrated the achievement of those who passed the test. It was a family of many extraordinary members.


It was the extraordinary experience being with extraordinary people and the master. It was a remarkable performance by not only those who took the test but also those who assisted. It has been the best blackbelt promotion test and one that will remain in the heart of those who were there forever.

Congratulations to all the blackbelts who passed the blackbelt test and all who passed their belt tests this year!


P/S: Musokai Karate headquarter is located in Salt Lake city, Utah. There are classes for both adults and kids. If you are looking for a unique training experience and the opportunity to train with the world-class master who not only masters the art but also can teach you to master it, please check out Musokai Karate or its facebook page at

Shihan Arakaki is the author of many best selling books. His English book “The Secrets of Okinawa Karate” is my bible and training manual while I am away from the dojo.

If you are in Salt Lake city, Utah, you and/or your kids are invited to try out one class. Click on the Musokai Karate website for detailed schedule and contact information.


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