Tora Dojo was established in New York City in 1967 by Grand Master Prof. Harvey (Chaim) Sober of Yeshiva University. Tora Dojo has been taught in Israel since 1982, with classes in karate, tai-chi and self-defense available in various locations throughout the country. Tora Dojo is an eclectic system in which the student studying karate begins his training with Japanese karate techniques. Elements from Okinawan and Korean systems are also introduced before the black belt level. After black belt, the system becomes a Chinese system. Tai chi. pa kwa, white crane, hungar and other Chinese systems are learned. Tora Dojo is a classical martial arts system, emphasizing breathing and meditation in addition to the physical training.
“Tora” is the Japanese word for “tiger”, and “Dojo” means “school of martial arts” or “gates of learning.” The name is also indicative of the system’s Jewish orientation (as in Torah). Tora Dojo wsa founded at Yeshiva University in New York as a Jewish self-defense organization. Prof. Sober incorporates Jewish philosophical concepts within the system, comparing Jewish principles of meditation with those found in Taoism and Buddhism.
Karate (“the art of the empty hand”) is a fighting art that uses bare hands and feet, though weapon use is also part of the training. The origins of Karate began when the Chinese, and later the Japanese, occupied the island of Okinawa, prohibiting the use of weapons. The Okinawans developed both empty hand fighting and the use of farming implements as weapons. This style of fighting was also influenced by similar Chinese techniques which originated from those practiced at the Shaolin temple by Buddhist monks. The founder of modern Karate, the Japanese Funakoshi Gichin (1869–1957), tried to unite between the diverse Okinawan styles, and spread them throughout Japan.
Course of study: The student begins his training by learning basic techniques (stances, blocks, strikes and kicks). Once he is proficient with these techniques a controlled form of fighting is studied in order to better understand the use of these techniques against an opponent. In addition, “kata” is studied. Kata is a combination of pre-determined techniques which simulate a fight against multiple opponents. Through the practice of kata the student learns to control and perfect his technique. The katas gradually become more and more complex and are the basis for the ranking system. Once control is attained, the student begins free sparring. Students also learn to break cement blocks. The importance of breaking is to demonstrate to the student the ability to transfer energy fully to an inanimate object. Emphasis is also placed on learning practical self-defense.
Being a traditional martial arts system, Tora Dojo emphasizes breathing and meditation. “Chi Gung” exercises – use of breathing, movement and meditation to help develop and circulate “chi” (life force or vital energy), which can be used for fighting or healing – are practiced at the end of each lesson.
It should be emphasized that what is central to our training is the attempt to attain balance and control in our lives, which is learned by means of the physical and meditative aspects of the martial arts. The student is strengthened, both mentally and physically, and develops a sense of self-awareness. It is important for the student to avoid conflict as much as possible, and to use his technique only in instances of self-defense.
Tai Chi Chuan
Tai Chi Chuan (”grand ultimate fist”) is one of the three internal Chinese styles of martial arts. Its foundation is credited to the Taoist Chang San Feng more than 800 years ago. It consists of slow, connected movements that are practiced as a form of moving meditation. Its practice reduces tension, slows down the breath, clears the mind and produces long-term benefits to health. A strong emphasis is placed on the circulation of chi. Physically, students learn to yield so that the attacker is overcome by his own force. It is not ordinarily regarded as a practical self-defense system, though the movements have self-defense applications and practitioners can achieve great power in their techniques.
Course of study: The student begins by learning basic tai chi movement, which is slow, controlled and relaxed. Breathing and chi gung exercises are also emphasized.
Once the student is proficient with the basic technique, the first tai chi form is taught. Tora Dojo teaches several styles of tai chi, beginning with the study of the Yang style. Both the Yang short form (60 moves, as taught by Cheng Man-Ch’ing) and the Yang long form (100 moves) are taught. Later, sword motion is learned, followed by a Yang straight sword and broad sword form. Two 2-man Yang forms are also taught, which help the student better understand the applications of the tai chi technique as a fighting art. It should be emphasized that, although tai chi is a martial art, we do not practice tai chi for fighting, but rather as a form of moving meditation.
We also emphasize non-competitive “Push Hands,” a traditional exercise practiced in couples, in order to better understand certain tai chi principles that cannot be learned in the solo forms. In solo forms the student learns to control his movement and reach a meditative state. In Push Hands the student develops sensitivity to his partner’s movement, learns to control his own ego, and better understands the tai chi principles of yin and yang, while attempting to control his partner’s movement as well.
At a later stage, some students choose to learn additional tai chi and internal forms, including Chen, Wu, Sun, Swimming Dragon and ba gua.
Self-defense is taught as an integral part of our martial arts classes. In addition, self-defense classes for non-martial artists are offered upon request. Self-defense courses are generally comprised of a limited number of classes in which a few basic techniques are taught that are effective for most attack situations. A strong emphasis is placed on “awareness” (including awareness exercises), which enables the student to learn to avoid most of the crisis situations before they occur. Classes are organized for either mixed groups or separately for women (mother/daughter or teenage girls).
Seminars and Exhibitions
- Prof. Sober visits Israel annually and leads intensive training seminars for the black belts and tai chi practitioners in the system.
- Karate students from all the Tora Dojo branches meet in an annual 2-day seminar in which many aspects of training are practiced.
- Herman Kauz, one of the top students of Cheng Man-Ch’ing (who brought tai chi to the US in the 1960s), visits Israel annually and leads a tai chi seminar focusing on “Push Hands.” Although organized for Tora Dojo, this seminar is open to practitioners from other tai chi systems as well.
- Every two to three years Tora Dojo performs an exhibition open to the public, in which advanced kata, fighting, weapons and stone breaking are demonstrated.