In traditional Japanese dojo, each new year is celebrated with the Kagami Biraki. This event is usually tied to the hatsugeiko (first practice of the year) and may be heavily ritualized. One of the components of the ceremony involves a round of sake, first offered to the dojo shrine and then to each of the attendees. However, that's not where it stops.
Both the Japanese and Okinawan cultures are known for their alcoholism, and so it only makes sense that it would permeate the culture of the dojo as well. The first time I experienced alcohol in the dojo was at a Daito Ryu seminar in 2014. We opened the seminar with a round of sake, and broke continually to refuel our "aiki juice." Apparently this was pretty tame as I heard stories at this event of training sessions where they would in fact set up a full bar in the dojo, and after each round of taking ukemi they'd stop for another shot before getting back in line to be thrown. I later learned that Okamoto Seigo (founder of Daito Ryu Roppokai) himself was an avid aficionado of adult beverages, and when asked why he trained so often with Horikawa, he joked that he wanted to get away from his wife and they served alcohol. I think Okamoto actually gave one of his students a "Menkyo Kaiden" in sake drinking. I would've loved to have trained with him, and one of my biggest regrets is not getting the chance before he passed.
The only other dojo I've even seen this level of personal connection is in that of my teacher, Steven Hatfield. Hatfield sensei is actually adamantly against alcohol consumption period, let alone in the dojo, but he is involved in his students' lives on the deepest levels and the bonds it has created are unparalleled. I knew that as my school developed, I wanted the same familial bonds among my group.
While I had always taken a personal interest in my students' lives, it was rare that we would hang out when class was over or talk much outside of it. After training with the Daito Ryu group regularly and seeing the connection they had, one night after class I asked everyone to stay and broke out a bottle of sake. Since that night, I have watched my group develop into the family I envisioned as it has become a regular practice. While I am sure these bonds could've been created without the sake, it certainly didn't hurt.
This tradition of students breaking ranks to sit around with a drink after class is certainly not unique to the Daito Ryu groups I've visited or my dojo. In one article on Japan's drinking culture, a man only identified as Kevin states, "I belong to a martial arts group and drinking after training was a ritual each time..." (view source). There is even a bar in Okinawa exclusive to martial artists called "The Dojo."
Or what about this quote from Motobu Choki, "It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The art (i.e. karate) of someone who is too serious has no flavor" (view source). There was also a series of articles published in "Ryukyu Shinpo" from 1915 praising the life of Itosu Anko that mentions that he and his close friend Asato were described as "people who often frequented the red light districts" and enjoyed drinking.
Before my detractors twist my words and rush to say I am now advocating prostitution based on these examples, let me completely disavow such practices and state that the quotes and actions of these men are only included here to demonstrate just how deep seeded the connection between alcohol and martial arts is despite the fact we view the arts as nothing more than Kiddie Karate today.
Of course, I believe that if you are commercial business catering to children then the culture of your school should reflect that. The identity of the school should be shaped by the target audience it hopes to attract. For my school, Trio Martial Arts Academy, that target is a small group of like-minded individuals willing to train hard and create bonds that last a lifetime. We are the "Island of Misfit Toys," and that's how I want it to stay.
Please be aware that there are, of course, negative effects of alcohol consumption that we are all familiar with. Therefore, one should drink responsibility and at their own risk. These include but are not limited to:
- Alcohol negatively effects performance 25 to 48 hours after the last drink.
- The reduction in quality of training and sleep in the period after its consumption, may cause a reduction in performance over the days following this period.
- Interferes with the loading of carbohydrates in muscles (muscle glycogen synthesis)
- Lengthens the recovery and rehabilitation from injury.
- The liver treats alcohol like a poison.
- Drinkers throw up to prevent death by alcohol toxicity
- Alcohol is a solvent that adversely affects every human cell except fat
- Alcohol is a depressant (blocks acetylcholine = decreased serotonin)
- Alcohol leads to decreased GABA, leading to anxiety and depression symptoms long after drinking
- Reduces motor coordination for up to 12 to 18 hours after drinking.
- Results in decreased aerobic capacity and negative impact on endurance for up to 48 hours after the last drink has been consumed.
- Can cut supplies of vitamins to below normal levels.
- The body excretes calcium at twice the normal rate.