It’s not unusual for me to lead warm-ups at College Dojo (a community college Physical Education class). At such times, College Sensei (instructor) might take attendance, get equipment out, consult with people who are sick or injured, or do other tasks he needs to do. If he finishes quickly, he might then quietly go to the back of the class and follow along with us or warm up on his own. Other times, College Sensei will take the space in line that I just vacated and he’ll do whatever calisthenics I have the rest of the class doing. Recently when College Sensei took the sempai (most highly-ranked student) position in the lines and I took his place in front of the class, half my brain was involved in choreographing, leading, and doing the warm-ups. The other half of my brain was engaged in observing and analyzing. I noticed things I never noticed before.
During the early weeks of each quarter, the vast majority of the college students taking this Karate physical education class are still not used to acknowledging commands with a loud “Osu!” (in this context it’s the equivalent of “Yes, Sir!”) and they don’t quite know how to echo the Japanese counting of each repetition of the warm-up exercises. New students need second-quarter students and more highly ranked karateka (those who study Karate) to model these behaviors. Recently, College Sensei was in “my” spot in line and he was doing an admirably spirited job of modeling dojo (Karate school) etiquette.
I have to admit, hearing College Sensei, one of the more highly ranked karateka in our organization, shouting “Osu!” in response to my commands was, to me, both a little jarring and a tiny bit amusing. Given the vast disparities in rank, experience, knowledge, and ability between him and I it’s like a sergeant giving orders to a general! I hadn’t really noticed my internal response to this situation before. Maybe I’ve led warm ups so often that I now can devote some brain power towards internal reflection and observation.
As I listened and observed while sweating along with the class, I started feeling grateful for College Sensei’s spirited modeling of behavior. I noticed the class growing more confident in responding with “Osu!” More students tried counting in Japanese. I invest quite a lot into my kohai (students who are more junior in rank) and I’m glad to see them learning. College Sensei was helping my kohai along, and their positive response helped me be a cheerful and spirited leader. I really appreciated his support.
Knowing that College Sensei was giving the class a boost made my job as warm-up leader pleasant. I experienced the positive “glow” of doing something together with a whole bunch of other people. This is a very real phenomenon – I’m sure doctors can tell you all about the endorphins that are generated and the physiological responses such as lowered blood pressure. All of this is very healthy for one’s mind and body! I’m not sure I want to know the physical things that lack of spirit does to one’s mind and body. All I know is it’s not fun.
Within the dojo and outside the dojo I’ve been both a student and a teacher when students (including me) are dragging a bit. Nobody’s engaged, nobody’s having fun. New concepts don’t sink into a brain that’s bogged down. The instructor starts to wonder why he or she bothered to come to class. Every class has its “off” days, but these can be turned around if someone takes it on him or herself to support the leader. This is absolutely the job of the senior student(s) but really, everyone should take responsibility. Even one person with good spirit makes a world of difference.
I find it interesting that there are lessons to be learned even during warm-up exercises. Certainly as a student I’ve learned lessons during warm-ups. When I was a teenager I first learned how to lead warm-ups by simply running through our sensei’s usual routine. Of course I learned leadership skills and self-confidence even when all I did was run the class through a warm-up routine I’d memorized. Last year I suddenly found myself in the role of senior student at College Dojo and I’ve gone beyond what I’ve learned as a teen. I’ve been adjusting my leadership style and developing warm-up routines that work for College Dojo. I have a feeling this will be an ongoing process. But now there’s something new in me. I’m starting to think about the psychological things that are going on not just with me but with the whole class. I have a deeper appreciation for how my sensei (plural) are supporting me in my own development. I hope I remember these lessons so one day I can help someone else grow into the role of senior student and, eventually, a sensei.