Dojo Dreams Continue

A world-class dojo, here? You’d better believe it.

Where do I begin? Honestly, my obsession with martial arts training took over The Writing Life blog for nearly three years. Other than publishing a book, I wanted nothing more than to train my heart out, racking up as many hours with my esteemed teacher as possible. That’s the short version. The longer version can be gleaned here (a summary of years spent training, with additional hyperlinks) and here (a real-time write-up of my green belt test from some time ago).

So when Brad and I first met and began falling in love, I found myself making the 2 hour drive from Celo to Manville more and more often. Over mountain passes, through a few cities, through Moccasin Gap, and down into the community of Manville I went, crossing two state lines and listening to books on Audible along the way. Just before the final turn of the drive, I’d pass a humble looking glass-front shop that read JAPAN KARATE in old, wet lettering. The front windows displayed tiers of trophies and, for many months, I wrote the place off. My teacher never trained for points, never held scoring or tournament fighting in high esteem. It had its uses, sure, but his passion lay with the traditional mind-body-spirit training of ancient Okinawa. As a result, mine did too.

But after helping my little nephew E train for his junior black belt test, I could no longer ignore the doors of JAPAN KARATE whenever I drove by. By September, Brad and I made the decision to spend 3/4 of the year at his place in Manville so he can get in-state tuition, and reside at my Airstream in Celo for summers. I packed up, moved most things to his place, and passed JAPAN KARATE on a regular basis.

Driving through town, the doors that read Seishen Kai beckoned. I knew enough to understand there was a good chance the karateka on the other side of that door were training a style not too terribly different than my own, Shuri Ryu. Still, I doubted the dojo was active, looking rather rough on the outside and on a small town block filled with closed-up shops, defunct businesses, and a few straggling attempts with limited hours. One night, feeling totally overwhelmed and overbooked, I decided I needed to do something for myself. Typical me–I added one more commitment to the list. I called the dojo. Shihan Baker answered, and thus began a series of long conversations that took place over several weeks, leading up to my first entrance into his dojo last night.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you my hands trembled a bit as I bowed onto the mat. Lying if I didn’t tell you I doubted I’d never find another teacher as incredible, skilled, enlightened, and passionate as Hanshi (now O Sensei) ever again. Lying if I didn’t tell you I worried about entering this world after three years with no training whatsoever. But perhaps it’s better not to talk about those things anyway. What really matters is that for three hours, I remained focused and attentive–completely drawn in. The words came back to me–sempai, shihan, dachi, giri, waza…a familiar language and somewhat familiar style, as I did my best to learn quickly and keep up. Stay tuned for more posts, if you’re ready to ride the wave with me again. If my experience in martial arts has taught me anything so far, it’s that life in the dojo never disappoints…

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