Yard Work and Karate

Do you remember the old (1984) Karate Kid movie?

Daniel, the main character, slaved for four days in Mr. Miyagi’s house and yard.  Mr. Miyagi, Daniel’s Sensei, kept fussing at him to do everything in a certain way.  All the while, Daniel was building muscle memory for Karate without even knowing it.

What is it really like to work in a Sensei’s yard?


One of the black belts in our organization was moving and needed help sprucing up in preparation for selling his house.  Another black belt called for a work party.  I happened to have the Saturday free, so I packed up my tools, put on my grubbiest clothes and mud boots, and off I went.

Senseis are incredibly skilled at Karate and are usually good leaders.  But they’re also regular folks.  Sure there might be a few trophies and a pile of Black Belt Magazines in their garages, but other than that, they live just like you and me.  They have neighbors and friends, and from time to time, they need help.  Just like everyone else.  After a few hours of yard work, they ache too.  And some of them use baby talk when speaking to dogs.

But what about wax on, wax off?  Were there some secret karate moves I learned without knowing it?  I did learn two new skills that will prove valuable throughout the rest of my life.  I learned to pick up stray stones and put them onto a piece of cardboard instead of tossing each one back into the border.  I learned how to use a pressure washer to get moss and bird poo off a garage door.  I suppose one could use the pressure washer as a weapon – that would sting!



I think the best thing about the time I spent working was getting to know the Senseis as human beings.  The “normal” formalities expected in a dojo were loosened.  Conversations flowed – sometimes about karate, sometimes about fitness in general, sometimes about just whatever.  I was the lowest ranked present and one of two colored belts, but it was OK for me to take initiative and make suggestions about the work that needed doing.

Did I learn any Karate at all?  Well, after the day’s work was done, three of us did “geek out” by talking about Karate.  The discussion eventually turned to  an advanced kata which was a bit beyond me.  But that’s OK.   I had fun watching my Sensei in street clothes teaching an advanced student from another dojo.   A wild rabbit in the park across the alley watched them too.


So that’s what it’s like to spend a day working in Sensei’s yard.   I’m not more gifted in Karate as a result.  Nobody used reiki on me to ease the ache in my muscles.  But I do know this – I have friends.  That’s what I gained, and it’s priceless.

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

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