Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Thursdays With Sensei...

Remember the book "Tuesdays with Morie"? Well, I have my own blog version I'm calling "Thursdays With Sensei"!
This past week, the gentleman who usually helps with the kids’ class was feeling “puny” as a former co-worker of mine used to say. So, I volunteered to help with the kids’ class. The kids were learning to fall properly. I know – it’s more of a judo thing than a taekwondo thing, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

I was watching the kids fall properly when Sensei walked into the dojo. Normally, when he enters the dojo, we all stop what we’re doing and bow, but Sensei almost always tries to catch the eye of one of the two senseis he trained to signal to them to “carry on” instead of bowing to him.

Since I am trying to get a website up and going for our school, he walked over to me immediately to let me know he had received my e-mail asking for an accurate history of our school. I have some info, but it is somewhat sketchy. He said he would get that to me. He said something, I don’t remember what, that prompted me to say, “I’m just trying to help for what it’s worth” (in regards to helping with the kids’ class). He turned to walk away but then turned back and commented that, “when teaching, you also learn.” And a truer statement could not be uttered. I totally agree with that and said so.

And I was especially blessed in that Sensei stuck around for quite a bit after that and we talked about quite an array of subjects relating to martial arts. When I told him I was, in fact, learning quite a bit from the kids falling class because since I had been attending, the adults had not had a “falling” class. Sensei looked a bit surprised, but then said some people did not consider learning to fall productive because it didn’t work toward gaining a belt in Tae Kwon Do. I asked if he thought there were many in our school who felt that way – that it was all about the belt. He said, no, not the people who came to class every week like me. But he said there are a few people to whom it really does matter a lot. I said, on the contrary, I felt all the martial arts fed off of each other and that one could learn from all disciplines. Sensei brought up how Bruce Lee was of that school of thought. He said, if you practice strictly one art – Tae Kwon Do, for example, that you may learn to kick and punch, but if someone happens to be better than you – and there is ALWAYS someone better than you – you had better know how to fall without getting hurt so you're able to get back up quickly to use that Tae Kwon Do again. Great point, don’t you think? I cannot imagine anyone thinking otherwise…

Sensei then kind of brought our conversation back full circle to the issue of belts and testing. Surprisingly, he said he used to be very nervous when it was time to test. He said when he was coming up, his sensei did not give much of a “heads up” to when you’d be testing. He said he would be going along and feeling pretty good about his skills and then his sensei would say it was time to test. He said, “I got nervous and disappeared for a few days.” But then he came right back and nailed it. He said that this is why he suggests that a candidate for testing not practice the day before the actual test…to give them a chance to let their body and mind take over what they know. Alleviate the nerves a bit.

We talked about the small differences that can make or break a competitor in a kata competition. Sensei reiterated what he had taught us the previous week – how a kata we do in class cannot be “just” done the way we do it in class if we were in a competition. We would have to show that “something extra”, which could be almost anything. If two competitors executed the same kata in almost the same way, something would have to stand out differentiating the two. It may be something as seemingly inconsequential as one person wearing an ill-fitting gi, or a dingy or very wrinkled gi. If their performance was almost identical to another person’s – Which one do you think would win? I commented that attitude could play a big part in that as well. Sensei responded passionately, “Oh, yeah – attitude makes a BIG difference! It can be the one thing – like the dingy gi – that can make you stand out from the others in competition. And depending on the nature of that attitude, that could be in a positive way or a negative way.”

And about that time, being completely immersed in our conversation, we noticed it was time to bow the children’s class out, and almost time for the adult class to begin. So we ended our chat session for that evening.

Sensei and I probably discussed even more subjects as well, but these were the ones that really struck home with me. I mean, So many of the things he revealed about himself – the nerves he felt when preparing to test and showing a little disappointment - albeit without showing judgment - at knowing a few were “all about the rank and belt”. This was all so eye-opening for me. I guess I know that everyone is nervous – at least to a certain extent - when they test. But you just don’t think in terms of your Sensei ever having been in your shoes, when in fact he has walked in your shoes, and it has made him what he is today. And whether he reads this blog or not – this is how I truly feel – what he is today is a great teacher and a great person as well. And I value his opinions and viewpoints on not just martial arts subjects, but in other life issues as well.

Looking forward to many more “Thursdays with Sensei”…


Ikigai said...

Little insights such as this can be very valuable.

Of course, martial arts training in general seems to be a gathering of tidbits, don't you think?

Martial Arts Mom said...'re exactly right! That is one of those thoughts that all of a sudden occurs to you as you get older (and hopefully wiser!:)that you've always just "known" but never really realized. (Does that make sense? I know what I mean anyway! LOL) But Ikigai, you always say thing such as those realizations and I think that is why I love your blog and YOUR insights. Thanks so much for the comment and your well-written blog!

Michele said...

When I began my training, I would often have the opportunity to be around the black belts because of my husband (he earned his shodan shortly after I started). I was new to karate so I would observe and listen. There were many things that I did not understand until years later. When I look back, these are some of my fondest karate memories.

You have a wonderful perspective in your training. Enjoy your "Thursdays With Sensei"!

Meg said...

It sounds like you had a very productive conversation with your sensei. I love his comment about "when teaching, you also learn."
You have a wise instructor. It is wonderful that he's willing to share his thoughts.

Martial Arts Mom said...

He really is a great person. I look up to him so much.