John Miller Karate Circle at Kyoto University

This semester I continued attending my CIP from last semester, which was a Karate circle at Kyoto university. It is rather informal group, where attendance is not strictly required. However there is a core group of about six students who regularly attend both two hour sessions each week. After a month break, it was great to be able to reconnect with reconnect with friends I had made last semester.

There were several foreign exchange students from other countries, including France, Germany and China. This made the circle approximately half Japanese and half foreign. While this did sometimes weaken the initiative to speak Japanese, there were plenty of opportunities to speak to the Japanese members. I great opportunity I had was serving almost as an interpreter between  my German friend Henrik, who does not speak Japanese well and the Kyoto University students who do not speak English well.

Continuing with the same CIP into the second semester was advantageous in my opinion because I was able to deepen relationships I had made the previous semester. Last semester, I did not spend much time outside of the dojo with the other members, however this year, we went on several outings together, including hiking Mt Atago and going to izakayas. I had a number of memorable conversations with my friend Henrik during those trips. He told me several fascinating stories of his great grandfather who was an officer in the German army during WWII. We were then able to ask Japanese students about their perceptions of the war and how the war is viewed differently between Germany, Japan and the United States.

Another aspect of Japanese culture I was able to observe was the importance of gift giving. The club president made cookies for all the members on Valentine’s Day, which was very nice. Last week, we wrote special appreciation messages for those who graduated in March after several years in the circle.  


4 thoughts on “John Miller Karate Circle at Kyoto University

  1. I am fascinated that you did Karate as your CIP! As I took a semester of Karate college class a few years ago, I was curious how Karate classes were organized in Japan; remembering my class, it was quite physically demanding but rewarding. As you wrote, it is interesting that karate became the common interest of Japanese and foreigners in Japan, so that they could meet and bond together. I think such a common interest is important to build a new relationship, especially away from one’s own home.

    Thank you for sharing your experience!

    • Hi Sean,

      Thank you commenting on my CIP. Martial arts in Japan is indeed a very interesting culture. I have heard from Japanese students as well as Americans who have trained in higher level martial arts programs that official clubs, such as the Kyoto University team are very stringent. I am only a member of a circle so it is much more laid back. However clubs will often train three or four times a week for several hours at a time. Kohai and expected to speak in Keigo to their senpai even if there is only a small age difference. If you are up for it, perhaps it would be a good Japanese cultural opportunity for you!

  2. Have you taken martial arts in the states? I am curious as to the difference in how practice is run. That is really cool how you got to really get close with this group. It sounds really tight knit and supportive. The interpreting is also a type of practice we really don’t get in class, so that is always a plus. How did your relationship deepen with everyone this semester?

  3. Henrik sounds like a real character, it’s fortunate you got the chance to meet him and your other friends through this circle- acting as an interpreter I think definitely sharpens your Japanese even more than normal conversations in Japanese, as you have to switch back and forth so rapidly and with a greater degree of precision. Do you think you’ll continue when you return to UChicago?