PART 3 IN A CONTINUING SERIES
Welcome To My Dojo
I have learned from students as many lessons as I have passed along. I owe gratitude to them for the richness, substance and sustainability of my life. We sensei of the world are just big students in teacher’s garb, hoping to find like-minded soul-travelers on our trek.
Too often the karate sensei gets put on a pedestal. Some students seek the perfect and flawless, zen-refined shifu that you see in the movies. That’s the one who stylishly vanquishes his enemies with the flick of a finger. Truthfully, I have to expend effort. I get tired. I can get frustrated. And sometimes the martial family quarrels. Not everyone may see eye to eye. A fierce resistance to certain ideas about growth is not uncommon. As a sensei, I must also confront my own dilemma’s, which occasionally push me to the edge of existential precipices, but I never quit moving. I never stop looking for those rare answers behind the answers. I am passionately committed to sharpening the blade of my discipline. This is the way of the Doka.
The determination you bring to your path defines your warriorhood.
My path, and the path I teach, is a pursuit for authenticity –a reality that is clad in both mundane and magnificent garb. Student and teacher are yin/yang mates in this quest. The sensei is called out to provoke a student’s freedom and fuller expression. The student’s drive to discover is balanced by the teacher’s desire to reveal. This makes a good teacher a feast and a celebration of human endeavor. The good student is also the nurturer of the secrets, the seeds of wisdom. The student is also precious seed to the wise sensei.
The individual goals in martial study are as varied as the student’s thumbprints. Some want practical, self-protective skills to keep bad people and bad events away form them. An enemy, whether on the inside or the outside of our skins, is still a force to be reckoned. Some aim to build a general security grid for mind or body. Some just seek a balanced life. They want less fear, less inhibition. Everyone at the core is looking to cross some thresholds of self-hood.
Still others seek the plain truth of life. They want to explore its light and dark nature. I keep the dojo open and light-filled for all these seekers. And I try my best to provide them an engaging, present, and positive mirror when they enter.
A good martial vehicle can transport all the above desires to higher and satisfying ground. But the process by which this action is done, has been rough-handled, minimized, misunderstood, missed entirely by most of the modern American martial society. It’s nobody’s fault. If consciousness were like vision, then you can only see to the depth of your present consciousness. Sadly, in most American dojos, the richest dimensions of study are entirely out of sight. The present consciousness is a bit dim, and sadly, getting dimmer.
The Buddhist teacher/author, Taisen Deshimaru, pointed out that everyone has a front and a back. This is true of the martial arts and the martial artists that pursue them. Each of us possesses a light and a dark side with many shades in between. One side may be alive and vital while the other is wounded, disorganized, or isolated. One side may focus on termination, the other on revival. One side may foster ego-driven competition, the other, soul-driven cooperation.
I stand against and discourage the pursuits of martial training for the purpose of committing spiritual or material crimes against one’s self or others.
I have always had a strong urge to write about my art, chronicle my insights, and record the daily events that shape so much of my everyday experiences and those of my student body. It’s not that the events that occur daily in the dojo are extraordinarily stimulating compared to the incredible cleverness of the media to arouse us. Rather, I write simply because they occur. In my mind this is extraordinary, that intelligent movement occurs with or without anyone’s guidance and input. Marital life just happens!
I think curious readers and novice participants could benefit hearing the long story, the day-to-day currents, from those of us who have walked deep into martial frontier, so they may better adjust their compass should they decide to trek into its back country.
We have many clever books that show us how to control, maim, and injure the ugly, often faceless, opponent. But these books and their scribes leave me desperate for real insights into why we really have to resort to such violence in the first place. Why aren’t there more writings showing us clever, spiritually defusing tactics? Then we have the books that offer insightful stories, but again, we are left with an uncrossable precipice for claiming such realities for our own lives. I don’t take the ‘why’ of training for granted. I know the obvious reasons why. That’s not why I train.
Ignorance is the cause of many problems when you don’t understand how you got into a conflict in the first place. Why are you doing martial arts as an individual, as a club, a dojo, dojang, as a nation, as a civilization? How did we get here? What has brought us to this study?
It’s important that you frequently ask yourself, “Why am I doing martial arts now?” You may be surprised how your answer changes over time.
I joke about the pat responses students give to this question, “I do it for self-defense.” To which I promptly ask, “What ‘self’? Why does it need defending?”
Within the gross curriculum of any martial art lies a ‘venerable’ art, an obscured, art-within-an-art. Like the clam hiding the pearl, the venerable art lays inside the hard-shelled bio-mechanics of one’s waza (technique). Inside this shell lies the heart of study. If you are lucky, you will discover your own rare and ever-present, authentic pearly core.
Early in my sensei-hood I discovered that I could enthuse and communicate martial wisdom. This was to be my special life talent. So I fervently set myself to live up to this task.
The advent of 1999 felt like a major turning point in my career as a teacher. I was forty-eight years old. Karate had been the central driving force in my life since I was a teenager. I was the number three sensei in a 1,000 man dojo at 21 years old. That was some responsibility! As I aged, and because I aged, a spiritual calling began to beckon me. I found this rising spirituality flowing into my life and my art. I am not alone in following this siren. In the backwater country of mainstream martial arts is a growing spiritual force infiltrating its ranks. The spiritual path is, quite frankly, the high path in martial arts. Other wiser Asian cultures who evolved into this awareness long before us, watch us clumsily manage our spiritual essences. American superficiality has kept our martial culture at large from embracing Asian Mindfulness Traditions easily. Martial art, as Lao Tzu might say is, ‘the Way and the Power.’ For in the Way lies immense power. Don’t wait for the high art to find you. You must go into your study and capture it, alive, for yourself.
Martial arts is not the only way. It exists for those especially equipped to walk its path.
Walk with me a bit further in my next post
Check out INTERVIEW with the SOUL POLISHER at the link below: