#23 in a continuing series— 84 days in the teaching life of an
American sensei in 1999. Real people-Real events

Thursday, January 14, 1999

and icy rain is falling today. Dharman tells me that Roberto was lackluster
during his pretest review for brown belt last night.

“No spark in his applications,” Darren reports.

agree.” Roberto looked flat. Roberto began study with me at around age
seven. He joined the dojo in the wake of his sister, Patricia’s, meteroic rise.
Patricia was a natural at karate, also charming and outgoing. Roberto was
quiet, almost timid, an invisible child in the class. He lacked speed and what
we call the fire – the abilIty to
strongly and intensely commit oneself. Now, at sixteen, Roberto’s hormones light
up his movements. He is gaining raw power, but he still lacks buyu, martial authority. The work ahead
will require delicate guidance to maneuver him out of this slump. I am going to
test him for brown belt shortly. His mother called me to confide that her son
is losing momentum. He hasn’t been promoted in a long time nor has he shown any
appreciable growth in his art. He’s simply adrift.

martial stories highlight only the gifted and the talented, the champions, and the
survivors. This is a narrow view. It does not tell the full story of the many
hundreds more students who constantly flow through a dojo. And each story is
unique. In the day-to-day martial process many stories will never be told. And
in the end only a few are chosen as the standouts.  Sometimes this is the instructor’s fault. Most
of the time it’s just the way of life. People are affected by so many
variables. According to U.S. martial statistics, 85% of enrolling students will
drop their disciplines after the first six months to a year of training. 

Usually the announcement of a test date will
spark a student to put in extra training, but Roberto doesn’t appear to be
rising to the ocassion. Then again, I haven’t turned the heat up.