Talk at the Dojo

I call the dojo upon waking, finally ready to express what’s been on my mind about the training for the past two months. Hanshi’s wife Dori answers and we chat, then she hands Hanshi the phone.

“Sure, I can talk,” he says. “How soon can you get here?”

“I can be there in ten minutes,” I say. “But I’ll have to leave for work by 11:40.” It’s his blue eyes that I’m thinking of, how it’s always best to do things like this in person but how utterly penetrating his vision is. As though he can read my thoughts.

“That’ll be fine, Katey. I have a patient at 11 so I’ll set the needles in and we can talk while the patient is resting. See you in a few…”

Fair enough.

All the way there I try to remember how I worded things in my mind, but my brain is a mess of interrupted sentences. When I enter the training hall, Hanshi comes around the corner to the lobby in full scrubs (he is an acupuncturist by day). I bow, a gesture he takes note of but wags off, meaning there’s no need to be so formal.

We’re not two sentences into the conversation and I’m already crying. I talk about May, how hard it was, how we barely seem to be doing karate basics anymore and that when we do, it’s at black belt speed and I can’t keep up. I say it’s making me sloppy and it’s hard to keep my commitment and qi up when I’m constantly the lowest ranked in the class and asked to do more than I know how to do.

I talk about how much respect I have for him, his abilities to teach, the diverse demands of our small classes, and how grateful I am that he is in our community. I tell him I’ve spent hundreds on PT and hours and hours on exercises and appointments to try and heal my knees, all for the opportunity to keep training with him.

Then I confess about my ego. I say I think I should be in the kid’s class because they actually practice karate basics and 100% karate all the time. I say I think I’d be better off in that class (where there’s another blue belt, for example) but—and I laugh a little here—those kids could kick my butt because they’re actually training in karate when they come to the dojo and, based on adult classes the past two months, I am not.

He listens wholeheartedly, nodding and offering feedback here and there. He tells me how hard it has been to start a school in a community where, for whatever reasons, people don’t seem interested in what he’s doing. There is no conception of precisely how skilled he is and how much he has to offer our community. He’s called all the area schools and they don’t want demonstrations, for example. People join and then leave, because they just want punch and hit monkey-see monkey-do basics, rather than the mind-body-spirit training.

And then he says he’s sorry that it’s been so frustrating for me. He says the other students in my class (all above me) are chomping at the bit for more techniques and more jui jitsu, and he has to balance that out with karate basics and newcomers as they arrive. I’m getting lost in the middle. “You’re right,” he says. “We do need to get back to some of those basics.” And he also says, “But there will be nights when you walk in here and it’s going to be all jui jitsu, all the way.”

I nod—of course this is fine. I’d be find if he told me we’d only practice takedowns for the next twelve months. Whatever he decides to offer, I will respect…the point of today was to let him know what positions his decisions are putting me in, namely—the sacrifice of my karate basics, missing out in the opportunity to train in those basics with fellow karateka, and the continued experience of being given new techniques that are over my head.

We come up with a solution. We’ll start doing more actual karate in karate class, but additionally, I’ll come to kids class on Tuesdays (my day off) as an assistant. I will help him but also get to practice the basic moves with the kids when we do drills. I will do the same thing on Saturdays (before my shift at work).

We end with a bow and he pats me on the back, a gentle smile across his face. “Remember: You’re doing better than you think you are. And also, don’t worry so much. Just try not to worry, ok?”

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