In any given dojo in our organization, classes meet only 2-3 times per week. If a student shows the Senseis he or she is willing to work hard and have a good attitude, the student may ask to visit sister dojos. I’m very privileged to have been granted such permission. Whenever I bow in to a dojo I never know what adventures I’m going to have. Here are some of my favorite memories.
My “home” dojo
As much as I love visiting other dojos and going to seminars and stuff, I try to never take my “home” dojo for granted. It is the place where I do most of my learning and growing. The Senseis have a long way to drive after work, so sometimes they make it to class early, sometimes not. Most often, two men who are both young enough to be my sons help me with kata and kumite before class. So really, I have two Senseis and two Sempais teaching me. I feel very privileged to have four people to help me learn new things and refine stuff I’ve already learned. My fellow students are all very young – the oldest is in his early twenties, the next oldest is my daughter. Half are teens, half are young children.
Before Christmas, we spent three classes exploring the Jiu-Jitsu heritage in our style of Karate (Shindo Jinen-Ryu). This came about when one of my Senseis said it was too bad we didn’t have mats so we could learn this stuff. I know our YMCA pretty well by now, so I was able to tell him where the mats are stored. Sensei’s face lit up like a kid at Christmas when he saw the mats for himself.
The next class we learned how to fall safely. At one point, we were introduced to forward rolls. I’d done them before. A few years ago I performed a very nice forward roll instinctively to avoid crushing a child who had fallen in front of me. I knew the technique was in my memory somewhere, but I wasn’t confident about performing it in class. I started feeling old. Then I reminded myself I was the one who spoke up about the mats, so I was going to have to do all this stuff. It turns out I did just fine.
Later on I was paired up with a teenage girl (not my daughter) for takedowns. I know better than to make things easy – these young women have to know they can use leverage to beat someone bigger and stronger. Sensei saw my partner struggling and stepped in to demonstrate. Boy, was I grateful Sensei had made us practice falling because I didn’t even have time to think before I was on the mats. Some day, if the Lord be willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m going to be that proficient. That scares me a little. It makes me aware that I’d better be a good, responsible person who knows when to use what I know and when to refrain because these techniques are dangerous!
I wish we had class more often than twice a week.
The Hombu dojo
Our organization’s Hombu Dojo is about three hours’ drive from my house. I’ve only been there once, and that was for promotion right before Thanksgiving (2014). I’d love to visit there, maybe even get a chance to take a class under the head of our organization!
I was so nervous before leaving to drive down there that I decided to just pretend I was visiting yet another sister dojo. It wasn’t all that hard to do because I’m acquainted with a good many students and Senseis. I was especially happy to see a couple of out-of-state acquaintances I hadn’t seen since Gasshuku!
So I tried not to think much. I tried to continually concentrate on the techniques, etc. If I did waver in my concentration, this is how my thoughts ran: “Here I am visiting the Hombu Dojo, what a great class we’re having… Focus on the technique… Ignore Sensei S. and Sensei K. scribbling on their clipboards, it’s OK if they’re standing there watching. Not the first time they’ve watched me. Glad they’re here. Focus on the technique…” By the time I got to kata, I really did feel as confident as I do whenever I’m simply visiting another dojo. I was then able to pass along as much encouragement as I could to others (while still respecting dojo etiquette of course).
I could’ve waited to promote locally in mid January 2015, but my Senseis dangled a big, juicy carrot in front of me to get me to travel. After the color-belt promotion came the promotion for brown belts moving to black belt. This was well worth watching! I started thinking seriously about long term goals for sure after watching that promotion. I’d like to learn for as long as I’m physically able. Teaching is in the cards, so I’m thinking the more exposure I get to different dojos, the better equipped I’ll be to deal with teaching a wide variety of people.
Sister Dojo #1
This dojo seems to emphasize sparring, which is my weakest area. I’m looking forward to visiting more in the future! This dojo has a good mix of adults and children.
Sister Dojo #1 is not far from the place where my daughter does her volunteer work. The work is seasonal, so for six Tuesdays in the Fall and six Tuesdays in the Spring, it’s far easier for her and I to grab a bite to eat after her work and toodle on over to this dojo than it is to fight traffic to get to our home dojo barely in time for class.
What is it like being in class under the instruction of a world champion who is the same age as my daughter? Well, I had to remind myself to respect his rank and not play the “old age” card to get out of doing stuff that’s a bit hard for a middle-aged beginner. After awhile, I stopped thinking about his age and mine as I enjoyed learning things I’d never done before.
It was this young Sensei who called for two-against-one sparring (you can read the story here). This was the turning point for my attitude about sparring.
I’ve had classes other two other Senseis at that dojo as well, and enjoyed those classes thoroughly.
Sister Dojo #2
This dojo seems to emphasize refinement of technique and form. Three times now at this dojo, I’ve learned traditional drills that were recently brought out of mothballs. Two of these are useful for practicing in small spaces. The vast majority of students are adults.
One of the Senseis from this dojo graded me for my very first promotion and invited me to visit. My daughter and I visit this dojo during those weeks when we miss our regular class time due to a holiday or promotion. They meet on different days than our home dojo. I happened to be in the last class of 2014 and the first class of 2015.
The chief instructor invited a high-ranking black belt from out of state to teach the last class of 2014. Attendance was low, and I feel sorry for those who must have been dismayed about hardly anyone showing up, but at the same time, I was gleeful. I love small classes. However, I was a bit nervous when it became obvious class would consist of 5 black belts (including the instructor), a brown belt, and two beginners (including me) who’d had significant prior training. Never mind I knew three out of the five black belts, I was worried about keeping up!
I needn’t have worried. Everyone had something to work on. The guest Sensei had us working on natural movement and drills designed to get us to move smoothly from one thing to another. Because the class was small, we did drills where everyone could participate for the benefit of each in turn. Usually in any given class it’s “us” (students) and “them” (Senseis), but this class was very much about everyone. I’d been told that even black belts have things they need to improve. But it’s one thing to merely hear it and another thing to witness it in a class. This was driven home when I heard the instructor give the same feedback to a black belt that he’d given me just a few moments earlier!
The first class of 2015 was even smaller. It was just the chief instructor, my daughter, another student, and I. It turns out I was the highest ranked student, so I had a significant role in the opening and closing ceremonies. I wasn’t expecting that honor for years, as all our dojos boast quite a number of high-ranked students. I really enjoyed getting lots of feedback. I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a class as small as that, and I really appreciated the extra attention.
Sister Dojo #3
This dojo is on a community college campus, and is where my daughter got her start in Karate. It is where the head of our organization got his start teaching in America. Most students go only one quarter, get their first belt, then disappear. Some stay for two quarters. After that, one must audit or join another dojo. The student body consists mostly of those in their late teens and early twenties.
My daughter and I are auditing this Sensei’s class this quarter. I want to re-visit some things from the “ground” up, and I joke about going to this dojo for “remedial sparring.” My daugther wants to prepare for tournament season by training more than the two days a week we get at our “home” dojo.
A year ago I would sometimes pick up my daughter from the community college after her last class of the day – Karate. Quite often, I would come early and slip into the dojo. My daughter had jumped at the chance to take the class. I envied her – I remembered what it felt like to perform a kata well, to earn a new belt, and to have a strong body. I was so glad my daughter was clearly enjoying herself. I thought, “I’m to old. I’ve got this issue going on with my body. I’m too fat. I’m way out of shape.” My daughter’s Sensei had invited me into the class about a month or two in, but I politely declined, laughing that I’d probably sprain something.
Fast forward twelve months. Earlier this week, when I entered the community college dojo in a gi for the first time, I was the ranking student. My daughter stood in line at my left as the second highest – she and I are auditing together to get some extra training. I’m not usually the ranking student in my home dojo. I hesitated a moment before beginning the opening ceremony not because I couldn’t remember what to do but because it hit me that a year ago I never would’ve believed that I’d be standing there leading the class in the opening ceremony. It was one of those profound moments that goes by in a second or two – no one else knows about it when it happens, but it’s a moment that leaves one changed, empowered, and thankful for those who have helped bring one to that point in time. It’s a moment I’ll savor for a good long time to come. It was a powerful moment, and I let it infuse my voice as I led the class in the opening ceremony.
After class, I thanked the Sensei for allowing me to audit his class. I had to be brief because new students needed to order gis. He seemed tickled pink – I’m thinking he also remembered how things were a year ago 🙂
Each and every Sensei brings something different to the table, and in addition to feedback I receive, I’m filling my training notebook with sketches and descriptions of drills I’ve learned in various places. It can’t hurt to prepare for my future now.
Let’s look at the black belts who have had a hand in my training!
When I was a teenager: 2 seminars, 1 main Sensei, and 1 Sensei who occasionally dropped in.
Since I began again 7 months ago: 12 Senseis leading regular classes, 1 seminar, the main instructor at Gasshuku, and roughly 10 more Senseis who weren’t teaching class but who helped me at one time or another.
Roughly twenty eight black belts in all have had a direct hand in my training. I am deeply honored and, when I think of it, astounded at how these men and women have gifted me with their time.
But it doesn’t stop with the Senseis who are teaching me in person. Please see my post “Help from Others: Encouragement, Teaching, and Support” to see who else has helped me get to where I am now. I am extremely grateful for all of you.