Better at the Dojo

It’s as though Hanshi can read my mind. Last Thursday (Jeff’s brown belt test) was both fantastic and trying. I felt at once inspired by and challenged by Jeff’s performance. But having to bow off the mat because of my knees defeated my spirit. Hanshi always says we train with mind, body, and spirit and that in his dojo, if he had to pick one that was more important it would be your spirit. I went home that night limping physically and metaphorically.

A day and a half later, on Saturday morning, I showed at up the dojo for kid’s class and adult class before working my 12-6pm at the coffeehouse. Sienna is in summer session at the community college and can’t come to Saturday classes and none of the other senior students were there. This made me sempai, or first student. And honorable and ironic title, if only for sixty minutes, because it fell in such sharp contrast to how I felt Thursday night. We bowed in at the kamiza and I was the one who called out, “Hanshi ni” (“To Hanshi!”) – then bow – and “Rai” (“Courtesy!”) – a chorus of “Osu!” and then Hanshi called, “Sempai ni!” and they all bowed to me, “Osu!”

The kids class has another blue belt, a few oranges, and a few yellows. This means we study basics but break them down both physically and conceptually. There is sparring and combos and kata, as well. We move at a challenging speed, but not fast, and this is how I need to be training right now. When I did the same kata on Saturday at a blue belt speed, my performance and pain levels were both in check. And when Hanshi gave a speech to the kid’s class, I could feel my spirit lift with each point he made.

“It’s easy to get discouraged when you see someone in your class move ahead of you,” he said. “I’ve seen this hundreds of times before and it’s opposite of what you’d expect. One student moves ahead, you think the others would ride that wave and fall in close behind. What we often see is that others feel discouraged and compare their lives to the lives of their fellow students.”

He pauses in his speech and paces back and forth, back and forth, before his row of tiny karateka. He doesn’t look at my directly during his speech, but my heart is breaking open and hanging on every word because the more he talks, the more he lifts my spirit and gives me a way back to my pride in the dojo.

“When I was a brown belt I had a best friend in the dojo and we trained together for years. Then one day he called me up and said, ‘Hey man, you won’t believe what I got last night.’ And I asked him, ‘What?’ And he said that our instructor called him in for his black belt test and he had passed. I was happy for him, but I couldn’t believe it. For weeks I wondered why I hadn’t been called. I compared my life to his and was jealous because he didn’t have work weekends like I did and he got to train in the weight room with our instructor, something I never had time for. It wasn’t until six months later when my call came and I passed, but more importantly I learned that I was called because I was ready and that for me, and my life, that’s what mattered.”

[Of course, if I could remember this all verbatim it would be much more eloquent.]

With my spirit lifted and my body feeling tired but strong after a solid sixty minute class, we bowed out and the kids left the dojo. And for whatever reasons, nobody else showed for adult class, giving me a private lesson with Hanshi.

“Let’s work kata. What do you have questions about?” he asked.

“Empi sho, Sir.”

“Ok, then, we’ll work that.”

And we did. Step by meticulous step. Slow and steady. Pain free.

And afterwards, he had me work Anaku kata, which he was very impressed with.

I left the dojo feeling recharged. And today I called my MD to schedule and MRI so I can be prepared when I see the orthopedic surgeon in BigCity in September. Today I also had an acupuncture appointment for my knees and went on a short hike with the dog. And I have pain now (typical after a treatment) but most importantly, I have hope.

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