(#17 in a continuing series of 84 days in the teaching life of an American sensei in 1999)

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

Dave calls to cancel his private session. It’s his fourth cancellation in a row. Lately, he cancels more classes then he attends. Dave and Dharman had planned to share this lesson. They match up well.

 From time to time, I encourage private students to share lessons with others to bring out different training qualities in one another. To become a talented martial artist you need a diversity of partners; different sizes, different shapes, different skill levels. The noted judo master, 10th dan, Mammoru Shimamoto, speaks of the difference between steak and hamburger. “Steak is like a private lesson,” he says. “It is especially tasty, but pricey. By contrast, you must eat a lot of hamburger to cover the same ground.”

I charged fifty dollars per hour for a new student back in 1999, forty dollars for my long time students. My fee is a bargain, given my thirty years of teaching experience. But such a reasonable fee allows those of modest means to afford privates for years on end.

Dave is a terrific student. He is strong, positive, and open to change. When you consider a student’s progress in martial arts you can’t just look at the quality of the teaching. You must also take into consideration the quality of the student.  I met Dave ten years earlier through a connection with a former roommate while I lived the next town over in Chatham. The thing that immediately struck me about Dave was his hugely positive and optimistic demeanor. He was always ‘up.’ His optimism was all the more poignant when I discovered he suffered from Lupus, was blind in his right eye from a retinal detachment, and had undergone a second corrective knee surgery. Each surgery had set his karate training back one year. But at the end of each year he’d return with his leg braced in steel and plastic and press forward. After years of stop and start training, he had achieved green belt.

Two years ago Dave quit his corporate job to pursue his heart’s calling, his dream to open a fitness/health center. He gave up a financially comfortable $80,000 a year job for a $15,000 Fitness Directorship at the local YMCA. While managing his YMCA duties he became a massage therapist. Next year he plans to move to Georgia to study chiropractic. Despite his drive and ambition he, like many others, struggles with knots in his psyche that holds his dreams at bay. 

Dave told me his initial reason to get involved in karate was to control his anger. That’s not an uncommon desire amongst men.

Last week after massaging a client forty-five minutes away, Dave walked out to his brand new car to find his car battery dead. Today, he calls to say he’s ill. The same barrier that keeps Dave from realizing his dream to become a black belt is the same barrier that prevents him from reaching any of his goals.     

Dave’s life parallels my sister’s. Yesterday she told me that a seventeen-year old driver careened off the street into her yard and crashed into her outdoor, above ground, oil tank alongside her home. The huge puncture oozed two hundred and fifty gallons of oil onto her property. The EPA cleanup cost was $30,000!

There are no coincidences in life. We all accrue cleanup costs. Some of us have to clean up our external disasters. Others, like Dave and my sister, face some internal disorganization. However, when we clean up our interior imbalances, life will unfold with much less friction. Then again, sometimes our car battery dies to prevent us from having further negative experiences.

We all need organizing events in our lives. Why do you think we have so many disciplines available? The more disorganized a society becomes the more disciplines arise to offer remedy.

It’s fine that Dave cancels his session with me today. I have been feeling the stress of my teaching load lately. For the last ten years I have been teaching seven days a week in an unbroken stream from September thru late June. Many students have trained with me consistently for ten to twenty years. So I don’t mind a short break. I’m sure they won’t mind if I miss class once in a while.

“All fields must lay fallow,” a good friend once told me. It’s good advice.