Kangeiko (寒稽古)

kangeiko cobra kai

03 Jan


Kangeiko (寒稽古)

“Cold Training”

🥶 🧊 😓 🥋 👊 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️

Konnichiwa (こんにちは). It’s your favorite CommonSensei® coming at ya with another ZENsational life skill ⛩️. As you follow “the way” (道) towards enlightenment, enjoy the journey towards earning a “Black Belt in Life.”

Ever heard of kangeiko?

If not, that’s ok.  It’s an obscure tradition that gained popularity at the at the turn of century.  Certain martial artists would “rough it” mid-winter by training outside on the coldest days… on purpose 🥶.  Think polar bear plunge only with punches, kicks, and loud yelling 😂. Kangeiko is commonly translated as just “cold training” or “winter training.” At my (Allegheny Shotokan Viola Karate) dōjō, we observe kangeiko as a spiritual cleansing of sorts. This “Spartan” like workout is a test of mental fortitude and physical discipline as students are pushed to overcome the elements.

kangeiko cold training
Gabby and Bill Viola perform Tekki Shodan during the 2021 Kangeiko

It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly when these frigid trainings were created, but we do know that “kangeiko” as its practiced in Japanese martial arts was popularized by the Kodokan (circa the winter of 1894-1895).  Kodokan judo of course was founded by Kanō, Jigorō, a friend of Funakoshi, Gichin.  Legend has it, Kanō would open his dojo doors during the absolute coldest days of winter to introduce shugyo.  More on shugyo later.

Today we continue the ritual at our dōjō as a way to start the New Year off with renewed spirit.  It goes along with other “spirt forging” shugyo traditions such as its sister summer training (sochu geiko) and New Year ’s Eve (Toshi Goshi geiko).  

It doesn’t have to snow… in 2020 instead of a blizzard ❄️ we got freezing rain 🌨️. We decided, why not use the weather to our advantage! Balancing a cup of icy cold water is a great tool to train both body stability and balance. Performing kihon, while holding the 🥤(without spilling it) turned out to be fun and challenging 🥋 👊. Spoiler alert, we had a few frozen hands 😂.

kangeiko 1
My daughter Gabby throwing a yoko geri while holding a cup of water collecting freezing rain 🥶 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️and self-balancing at our 2021 Kangeiko.

However, it wasn’t until recently that most folks ever heard of kangeiko… and we have Cobra Kai 🐍 to thank. Watching Johnny, Daniel, and the gang on Netflix has become a guilty pleasure of mine, and if you haven’t tuned in it’s definitely binge-worthy.  While their karate is subpar at best, like millions other, I tune in for the nostalgia.  It doesn’t disappoint.  It also interjects some pretty interesting cultural traditions that only keen budoka pick up on. I love hidden gems 💎 💎 💎.   

Kangeiko in Cobra Kai

Cobra Kai Season 2 Ep. 7 “Lull” (2018)

“Since it’s not hot enough for you guys to experience Shochu-Geiko, I asked a buddy of mine if we can use his freezer room, there we will experience KangeikoShochu-Geiko and Kangeiko is a Japanese exercise where you train during either the hottest time for Shochu, or coldest time for Kan, of the year.  Both are about pushing yourself to your limit.  The fight won’t always come to you when it’s comfortable. Let’s go.” 

-Daniel LaRusso

cobra kai

Cobra Kai Easter Egg 🥚:

Daniel calls in a favor to a “friend” so his Miyagi-do pupils can train in a meat locker.  Super sleuths will notice the packaging labels read: “Fernandez Meat Company.” Wait a minute… Fernandez, Fernandez, that sounds familiar???  Fans of the original Karate Kid remember Freddy Fernandez, Daniel’s first buddy upon arriving to Southern California.  The two met as Daniel front thrust kicked open a door at South Seas apartment in Reseda.  Coincidentally, the Allegheny Shotokan Dojo in the 1980’s was in fact an old meat locker.  The changing room was the old freezer area, and Sensei rarely turned on the heat. It was kangeiko every day in those days.

freddy fernandez karate kid
The Karate Kid (1984) CR: Columbia Pictures

Let’s break down kangeiko

Here we will get a better understanding of this cool 🧊 (pun intended) tradition. First we will breakdown the three kanji (symbols) that make up the word:


  1.  寒 = cold (kan)
  2.   = think/consider (kei) *also known as kangaeru 考える
  3.   = old (ko)

Kan (寒) by itself is simply means cold, and keiko (稽古) means practice or training.  Voilà:  “Cold Training.”  *When all three kanji come together it becomes kangeiko (the “k” changes to “g” just to confuse us Westerners).

We could stop right there, and for most causal martial artists, that definition is adequate.  However, I can’t help but dive deeper into the essence.  Spoiler, keiko isn’t just practice.

Let’s dig in:

Kei (稽) all by itself means “thinking.” I personally like “contemplating.”

Ko (古) all by itself means “old.” Yup, the same ko as in kobudō 古武道 or koryū 古流.

So what does “contemplating the old” have to do with karate kicks in the snow?!?

You see, a keiko it is actually a time of reflection and refinement.  It is a period to contemplate all of the past lessons. Kata is often referred to the blueprint of karate and keiko is it’s history book. In keiko, we look to the past for answers, as thinking in the “now.” It’s interesting that keiko by definition has no sense of physical practice or discipline in it? 

Other terms to digest are renshū and tanren

Renshū (練習): learn and practice the same thing over and over again to increase completeness. (you can flip it to read Shuren)

  • Ren (練) practice, gloss, train, drill, polish, refine
  • Shu (習) learn

Tanren (鍛練): means hardening, tempering, toughening, and drilling

  • Tan (鍛) work out, forge, harden, hammer, steel and practice.
  • Ren (練) practice, gloss, train, drill, polish, refine

To me, all of the terms are a type of “practice” but the emphasis is different. I think of renshū as repetition, tanren as conditioning, and keiko as thinking.

In fact, there is a Japanese idiom called “Keiko-syoukon” (稽古照今)

It means,

“Learn from the past and make use of it in the present.” 

This is Keiko

So, the next time you suit up for karate “practice” don’t just focus on repetition or conditioning, instead ask yourself how you can improve today? With a growth mindset, keiko can embrace shoshin (beginners mind) and welcome improvement—evolution.

Always be open to learning from the past, preparing for the future, and living in the present! 

FYI:  when we suit up, the correct term for our attire is actually keikogi 稽古着, not just gi.  Now you know!

*An important caveat.  The pronunciation of many words in Japanese have different kanji (symbols).  It’s all about context.  Take keiko for instance:  In fact keiko can reference a rehearsal (as in playing the Viola) or even study time.  But other pronunciation of kei can include:  慶 (kei) meaning “celebrate”, 敬 (kei) meaning “respect”, 啓 (kei) meaning “open, begin” or 恵 (kei) meaning “favour, benefit” combined with 子 (ko) meaning “child”.  

When a training becomes extreme, it transforms into shugyo.  In our case kan (寒) or cold is a way to push a student past the normal limits of their ability. ⬇️⬇️⬇️

Shugyō (修行) “Forge the spirit” 😤

I first learned of the term shugyo from one of my father’s senior black belts, Sensei Ray Walters. Although shugyō is engrained into the fabric of our dōjō philosophy, it wasn’t until he introduced me to the book “Living the Martial Way” (Forrest Morgan) that I really grasped its authentic meaning. PS, I’ve had the opportunity to train with Sensei Morgan, and I highly recommend his work.

  • Shu (修) means: ascetic practices or discipline
  • Gyo (行) means: to go or act (a journey)

Shugyo (修行) as I like to describe it is, “conducting oneself in a way that inspires mastery.” It is an extreme training that fosters enlightenment. In the karate community, you may hear the phrase “tighten the slack” tossed around. It means toughen the body, and polish the spirit. Simplest terms, its a karate cleanse by one of the most intense workouts of the year. A gut (hara) check, where you push yourself to the limit! 👊

In the words of Johny Lawrence, shugyō would be “Bad Ass.” How’s this for an extreme training 😂:

Cobra Kai version of shugyō 😂😂😂 ⬆️

Shugyo were popular among bushi (samurai). Today, many dōjō uphold the tradition musha shugyō (武者修行).  A popular image is budoka doing kata under icy cold waterfalls. Here is a modern adaptation that the JKA does. Love it! 🥶 🧊 😓 🥋 👊 🌨️ 🏔️ ❄️

I believe shugyō can spark enlightenment. Be it extreme heat, cold, or just crazy intensity, it can be a means to an end… senshin.

READ MORE: 6-Shin (samurai spirits) 🎍

  1. 🤩 Shoshin:    (初心)  Beginner’s Mind 
  2. 😤 Fudōshin:  (不動心) Immovable Mind
  3. 🚨 Zanshin:     (残心) Alert Mind
  4. ☮️ Heijōshin:  (平常心) Peaceful mind
  5. ✈️ Mushin:     (無心) Automatic Mind
  6. 🤯 Senshin:     (先心) Enlightened Mind

Read about Mokuso

“Welcome to my dojo of life skills. Dōjō literally means “place of the way.” This blog shares my “,” or Violosophy.” PS, Dō (道) is pronounced like cookie “dough.” 

viola karate dojo

Arigato ありがとう Thanks, Sensei Bill


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