So things are finally coming to a head here at my old dojo. I was just about to wrap-up my usual solo practice routine this past Saturday morning when my Sensei came in through the door, a little earlier than usual to get ready for his 9:30 am class. *cringe*
Some context: For the past few months I have been using his dojo for my own personal training during the times when classes are not in session and when I’ll be least likely to run into either him or the other students. This is actually a privilege for any of the black/brown belt students who he has given the dojo keys to. When I came back home last year and I stopped back into the dojo for the first time, one of the first things my Sensei did was hand me those keys. So it’s nothing new or special and I was just taking him up on that opportunity to use the dojo during those off-hours. At least, that’s how I saw it.
Back to that Saturday morning: Almost immediately after I gave my best fake-cheerful “Good morning”, he began questioning me about why I hadn’t shown up to any of the dojo meetings, why I hadn’t helped with the tournaments or classes, etc. I braced myself; used some of the mindfulness skills I’ve been learning in therapy. “Oh no. Here we go.” I thought. Not the way I had envisioned starting my day. I didn’t really say much in response. Just mostly listened to him talk about how he thought maybe he’s being too nice with me and here I am using up resources at the dojo (like water and electricity I guess. Which I don’t really use a lot of, but okay, I get his point. He pays rent on the place, how am I contributing back?). And how “weird” (his word) it is for me not to be involved with the dojo “family” (his word again). Family. That’s really what it’s kinda like isn’t it? When you get involved with a regular group of people who do the same thing. But like within any family, there’s gonna be dissension. The kids are gonna grow up and they’re gonna wanna move their own way. Right? And depending on how tolerant the parents are, they can be accepting of this inevitable fact or rail against it (or disown them). Anyway, so I just mostly listened to him talk about these things, doing my best not to capsize in the ocean of emotions that surged and swelled within me. The only really significant point I made which I didn’t really elaborate on or articulate more clearly was when I told him that I felt there were things “missing” from the training. And that I was simply interested in pursuing a type of practice that searched after and included those “missing” elements. Judging by the hot mess of words that tumbled forth out of this man’s mouth, I’m sure he took that to mean I was accusing him of not knowing how to train his students.
The conversation had to end abruptly because students were starting to come in for the morning class, and so I was sort of left with an ultimatum put forth by him: either come to the next dojo meeting in two weeks and present to the other black belts why I believe my ideas for training should be considered (and prove it somehow) OR return the keys to the dojo and go train somewhere else. The thing is, my teacher doesn’t actually believe I’ll be able to prove to him anything other than what he already believes. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be open to considering other ideas. But my sense, and this is judging by the tone of his comments, is that he does not feel I know what it’s really like to run a dojo as a business (among other things). And he’s right of course. I have zero experience with that. But I do believe that a dojo business can be run with an open mind towards new ideas and new ways of training. My core fundamental concern though is not about whether my ideas will be financially lucrative, but whether or not they will help to keep the art I practice (as do thousands?, millions? of others) “growing, alive, meaningful and relevant”. However, I can see the dialectic here: It takes money to keep a school operating in the public sphere. And I was obviously able to learn karate for myself this way. I get it dude. You need to keep the lights on. But look, I’m not asking you to abandon everything you’ve worked hard to build. I’m simply asking that for the adult students (kids are a bit of a different story), if we could conduct our training so that we can be exposed to relevant information which will help us to clearly figure out the combative meaning, significance and consequence of our art. And why not? Why would you not allow for this flow of information? Is it because you’re the final authority?
So I’m feeling worried about the decision I have to make. (Okay, actually I’m feeling really fuckin’ mad and worried. What the fuck is up with this dude? Why does he keep consistently and belligerantly putting me down? WTF man? What kind of teacher are you? Ugh! My analysis is that he’s feeling threatened and he’s talking tough out of fear. Fear of losing control). Should I just return those keys now and go train solo somewhere else? Certainly I have that option, I think. The place where we conduct the study group is probably open to that happening (for a small fee at least). I’m really not interested in practicing at any parks again like I did in Detroit and Oakland. That’s only a last resort thing. Worse comes to worse, I’ll be on the concrete floor of my parent’s garage (which I can make work). If I do make the decision to articulate my thoughts, I am going to have to write up my talking points clearly and make it a succinct presentation. I believe this is possible to do. However, I do feel that I am under-qualified/under-skilled to be making these points. The best I can do is speak from my heart about why I feel those “missing” elements in our training are so goddamn important. I’m leaning towards this decision mainly because it’s time I break my silence on the whole matter. Shit has to come out in the open. I mean, we did just elect Donald Trump for President of the United States. Wow. Let the uncomfortable truth be known, if you get what I’m sayin’. My next step would be to consult with my therapist about this matter and come up with some mindfulness strategies for dealing with potential emotional dysregulation as a result of either being rejected or ignored for what I have to say.
Whatever happens, I’m ready for it I think. I mean look, the things I have to present, they’re not new or original, I know that. They’ve been discussed and talked about and practiced by people way more qualified/talented/skilled than me. I’m just an amateur messenger of sorts (a deeply reflective one that is). I have no evil plot to replace my Sensei as head of the dojo. I don’t care about things like that. If anything, I’d like to be a part of the team of instructors that keeps the school thriving long after he’s gone. Ultimately, I just wanna share what I’ve learned. I want to add to and broaden the knowledge base of the students. In this way I think practice can feel more fun and alive and truthful, rather than the monotonous “tradition” and fantasy that I have felt it to be.
But hey, karate or no karate…life goes on dude.