The other day I looked at the bruises on my forearms from a low-ranked person repeatedly blocking me in a drill and as I did so I looked a little deeper. I remembered a few weeks ago a black belt allowed me to work him into an incredibly vulnerable position – I slowly mimed the fatal blow I could’ve dealt. When one is Sempai or Sensei, one often makes oneself vulnerable to a lower-ranked student. We take risks so that others can learn. In a way, we give up our bodies.
A few months ago, a black belt told me about one of my many responsibilities that I will have for the rest of my Karate career. If I get hurt, I’m in trouble. If my lower-ranked partner gets hurt, I’m in trouble. The responsibility for our safety lies more on me as the senior. In essence, the junior’s safety is more important than the senior’s safety. We are diminished so that they are protected.
Those of us who are senior in rank even sort of give up our names because most often in the dojo we are called only by our titles, “Sempai,” or “Sensei.” Thus the students become more important than ourselves. Yes, the title is held in high regard. Nonetheless, giving up one’s own name and calling one’s students by their names is humbling (in a good way of course).
I believe this mix of honor and humility is balanced. Yes, I can assign pushups, I can do a bit of leading and teaching, I have a title and the authority that comes with that title, and I am a role model. But at the same time, I am expected to risk my body so that others may learn. Sometimes it takes awhile for new students to learn my name because it isn’t spoken often in class. I am both honored by the juniors and humbled from lifting them up in turn. I find it interesting that this realization came not from peaceful meditation but from a somewhat painful classroom experience.