My husband (still getting used to saying that) hates to chat on the phone, me, completely the opposite, I can chat and chat! Any way, the phone rang one night this week and it was one of my favourite Aussies! While we chatted about life the universe and everything,…I was hit by a thought-a good karate club is an amazing place… a place that is, in essence, pretty unusual in today’s world and the more I think about it, completely underestimated.
Of course all this depends on the type of dojo and the Sensei and all that, but when it works, the value that is added to everyone’s life, well that’s the point… it can be a incredible! If you think about it, in very few other sports do you get so many people from different walks of life at different ages, all in the same room. Moreover, we even remove every last semblance of the ‘real world’ and put people in white pyjamas.
I didn’t notice any of this growing up, but thinking about it, when I started, in the Community Centre in Ballincollig, the Sensei’s Dad was someone who helped me a lot. I remember getting a gi for the first time, now I was incredibly self conscious as a child, I felt like a sausage in a gi…in no way comfortable. Today, being in a gi is the time I feel most like myself, most happy and at my centre, however that first time.. it wasn’t good.
So incredibly nervous and unsure of how to do the basics, tie my gi jacket, tie the huge belt… Sensei’s Dad was my saviour. He didn’t say anything, just took me through the belt tying steps and told me that ‘now I looked the part’ and more importantly, ‘that suit really suits you’. I cannot describe how that made me feel… so much better.
As I grew with the dojo and moved through the normal phases of life, exams, part time work, training for gradings I had so much support. Now I have to admit, I wasn’t an easy child… well I think so anyway… I was very stubborn and not always open to hearing the message when I felt I was being talked at. But you know what, the people in the dojo made me the person I am today.
I remember one night specifically, now at this time I was in University and had all the freedom that brings, had a boyfriend and life was about experiences and fun. One of my seniors saw that I could do with some advice and in the dark of the Irish countryside, as I headed to thumb a lift home (because you could do that then in Ireland) stopped me and through the conversation helped me and that has stayed with me to this day. It also resulted in a boyfriend being dumped… 🙂
Looking at at the dynamics of a dojo, such a grouping is entirely unusual, sure there are rules and ranks, but there is also the natural culling of those who don’t fit the accepted behavioural norms. I have seen this so many times, the ‘elders’ of the dojo (not just the Sensei) look out for the culture of the dojo…. where else does this happen? Let me give you a scenario…
I’ve seen a person show up at a dojo and ask all the wrong questions. Like the competition pedigree of the Sensei, the grading cadance of students (he of course asked this in a much less sophisticated manner) and (the clanger) how long would it take him to ‘convert’ his blackbelt to our style. Now I questioned this person at length and whilst he was from the Birmingham area and was a Shotokan blackbelt, after 30 minutes of conversation, all I know is that he knows nobody who I know in Birmingham and I had no idea who awarded him his blackbelt. I had over 30 years of Shotokan experience and trained in Birmingham a lot… there are few that I don’t know in the area. However… he took liberties, he was not a consummate karateka and he interacted in a way with students that both I and the others in the dojo didn’t like. It wasn’t right and the students who voiced their concerns were right to do so and after some ‘experiences’, well he hasn’t come back. Nothing was ever discussed by the seniors… there was just an acknowledgement that something wasn’t right and dojo members were being mistreated.
That’s why I love the way dojos come together, and it doesn’t need to be such an example of force, it can be that someone is ‘down’, I’ve seen situations where someone doesn’t ‘seem themselves’, and you can be guaranteed someone in the dojo will have a word, offer support and guidance. It really is a unique setting.
I wonder if that is because we are all trying to better ourselves, we have a collective goal and the strength of the dojo is make up of the health of the members. We always talk about how karate gives discipline and confidence, but more than that, the dojo gives much more. I’ve seen kids go from well, kids where they are on the cusp of joining the adult classes, and can become over confident to the realisation that they have a lot to learn in the adults classes to then really starting to blossom and becoming a mentor for the younger kids. It is incredible.
In today’s world, this is well, this is really needed isn’t it?