#34 in a continuing series

84 days in the teaching life of an American sensei in 1999

and Tim await their semi-private at 6:45 pm. Both men have been consistently training
for ten years. We call Bob, ‘The Bear.’ Bears, like Bob, can only be killed if
you attack them while they sleep. Bob is a formidable-sized, skilled brown
belt. Tim is the middle of three brothers, one year into his shodan, an
attorney, and a white-zone practitioner. His youngest brother, Greg, a blue
belt, hasn’t attended class for over six months.

In an odd coincidence, another private student, Jay,
tells me that he was talking with a Hung Gar expert, Tony F. Tony asked Jay if
I had a student named Greg. Apparently this Greg, which he knew had some martial
arts experience, had gotten into a scuffle with one of Tony’s students. Someone
got an assault and battery charge. I suppose anything is possible.

Bob and Tim are working on Chinto
applications; standing grappling, strikes and take-downs. Their class goes well.

finish seven hours of lessons for the day. I am tired, and happy to be done
teaching. I’ll start teaching tomorrow again bright and early.

Saturday, January 16

Snowfall during the night.

am Saturday. Amelia calls. Her car is snowbound in her driveway ten minutes
away. “Unless I get a ride,” she says, “I’ll have to cancel John’s class.”

“I understand.” Changeability is the
quirky nature of people and private sessions. She calls right back. “We’re coming. A friend’s going to drive us.”

They arrive only to get their car stuck again,
this time on my inclined driveway.

Seven-year old Jonathan and I spend time
on the basic I Form, similar to the popular Pinan forms. Like Bobby the day before, Jonathan’s been inconsistent in class and
unable to put his kata moves together. The work is slower. John can’t process as

Ben and his mom, Dianne, show up. Two months ago Ben was dumped from his Sunday
semi-private group. It caused rifts among the parents and the three boys
involved. Ben now studies solo every other Saturday, unless I can convince
twelve year old John Brooks to join Ben.

I often find it more practical and meaningful
for young private students to work with a peer.

Ben gets excited when I tell him about
candle striking. What boy doesn’t want to try punching out a candle flame?

His father Larry picks him up.

I have one hour for lunch before heading
off to my group YMCA classes. Dharman comes in looking out of sorts, hair disheveled.

“You look like you’ve just had an
existential sparring match,” I comment.

“Julie and I got into it,” he confirms his
distress with his girlfriend.

Inward emotional struggles can leave a
person looking swollen as if they had been in an actual street fight.

Y Group Class

The beginners tonight have good training focus.
The group feels particularly cohesive. Thirteen students in all.

Beginning students train in the basics for 6-7
months before moving on to any complicated floor patterns. Children
attend three, ten-week sessions in the traditional kicks, blocks and punches, followed
by ten more weeks in hands-on practical self-defense techniques including wrist
escapes, resistant stance work, etc.

The average age of children in martial arts has been
dropping for about ten years now. When I first began study at Bank Street in
Summit, 1968, the School would not register any child under seven years old.
Today, the debate rages over the appropriate age to teach children. The bar
continually lowers, drawing in many more three to five year olds.

Six year-old Grace O, standing all of three
foot two inches on the front line, is fired up again and yells off the
numbers. Her red-headed side kick, Annie, is absent today. Grace, is
unabashedly authentic. During roll call she yells out, “HERE!”

“How are you Grace?” I ask.

“I’m WOW!
she says

I never stifle a child’s spontaneity. I
may run the risk of allowing kids to become a bit unruly but after thirty years
of teaching, few children have been able to take advantage of me. Grace’s exuberance
is refreshing. But she’s a bit too loud. I ask her to count softer. Instead, she
yells out her responses at the top of her lungs. When I mention to her that she
seems alert and energized she blurts out “I’m WOW!”  

What a great way to go through life.