Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cracking The Egg

For almost a full year now, I've been training under two different USA Goju instructors at two different dojos. Although my senseis came through the ranks together, they have such different training philosophies that it would be nearly impossible to tell that their mudansha years were shaped by the same sensei unless someone told you.

This week, I've been forced to face some harsh realities about my home dojo. Even beyond the manner in which my first sensei has insisted the underbelts be taught, how yudansha from other styles training with us are treated and the level of instruction my training partners and I have gotten since we graded for shodan last May, Sensei F. and I are not even looking in the same direction now in reference to how karateka at any level should train - and it's all causing me lots of distress. I'm even having trouble sleeping (and I almost NEVER have trouble sleeping!)...

Two of my first-kyu dojo mates are scheduled to grade for shodan at the spring gathering next month. While one of them is truly my training partner - in that we've traveled to other dojos, attended seminars and done kata and self-defense techniques in my driveway together over the past three years - the other doesn't seem to do much training at all outside of the once a week Saturday class. Unfortunately, her blocks, stances and kata all look like she doesn't as as well - so much so that a few of us were asked by Sensei F. after last spring's grading to work with her on her basics as she wasn't quite up to where he thought she should be. A year later, she looks pretty much the same as she did then, but still she will be tossed into the mix to grade for shodan next month. Sensei F.'s main argument as to why is because she's been a loyal dojo member for almost as long as he's been teaching there.

I'm only a shodan, but it seems to me that the awarding of rank should be based on merit, not merely on how long a person has trained. She's trained for 13 years - but 13 years of schooling did not automatically net me a high school diploma (working hard to excel at the required curriculum did, though). Although it should be the same in the dojo, it doesn't seem as if Sensei F. sees it that way at all.

Since he is my sensei, it stands to reason that I should be able to talk to him about both dojo and life stuff (and usually I can, as I have talked in detail with him about some very difficult karate-related things in the past) - so I didn't think speaking to him about my dojo mate's level of preparation for the upcoming grading would be an issue. Unfortunately, it was. He basically blasted me for questioning him and blew off my concerns in a big way. At first I was upset (read: I cried like a baby); but then I was kinda angry. Now I'm just really, really disappointed...

I've rationalized everything that I've experienced in my home dojo over the past year that didn't jibe with budo as just being sensei's way, but I can't do that anymore. I've decided that it's time to call it a day and move on. I can't even tell you how incredibly sad that makes me, but I think it's the right thing for me to do as well as the right time to do it.

I'll have to sit down with him and have a heart-to-heart about why I am where I am, and that makes me horribly uncomfortable - specifically because I'm not sure how it will be received. Never in a million years did I think I'd ever be here - almost afraid to talk to someone who has been like a third parent to me - but here is exactly where I am. My stomach is in knots and I feel incredibly guilty, for some reason.

But I know in my heart of hearts that moving on is what has to be done. It won't be easy, but what's that saying about the shell having to break before the bird can fly? Perhaps it's time to begin the prep for flying on over to a new nest. Hand me that hammer, please...

A friend of mine said it best, though: "Martial arts is to the dojo like faith is to the church. If you have faith and your pastor is not giving you the food you need, find a new church but keep the faith. If your dojo is not feeding but you still have the martial art desire to learn, find a new dojo that feeds you and allows you to continue growing. It's not about the dojo or rhe sensei, its about the student and the learning." (Thanks, Ty :-)


  1. Ow - that's a tough one, Felicia. Good for you for realizing that your home dojo and Sensei weren't feeding your need, or meeting the standards you need met. That's a hard realization to come to, and one many people dodge. Best of luck with finding a new place that is everything you desire.

  2. But he's a nice person, Cindy - which makes it that much tougher. I have a feeling that once I let him know I'm moving on, he will feel like I betrayed him somehow. That hurts my heart so, so much...

  3. Felicia, I think you've made a brave and correct decision. I can really understand how heart breaking it might be, the ties of loyalty being very strong and all that but ultimately we all have to follow our own MA path and if you and your sensei are not longer walking on the same path then you need to go your own way. I'm sure it will all work out for you - good luck.

  4. Thanks, Sue. I'm sure it's the right decision, but it isn't an easy one, unfortunately. Big changes usually aren't easy. I just don't want to follow blindly anymore, y'know? Time to step off that beaten path, I think.

    Glad you made it home safely, BTW :-)

  5. "If your heart is right, your art is right". Listen to it. It will never misguide you. I understand some of your pain and I learned some time ago how hard it can be to leave home. We can all feel it when we come to this realization. It's sometimes difficult for one person to give you all you need. The best instructors already know this and won't make you feel bad when that time comes. If they make it about them and not your growth and development, then you know you should have left a long time ago. When I left first Sensei, Antonio Pireira of Miyama Ryu JuJitsu, at 15, he encouraged me to keep training and learning. It wasn't about what he wanted. It left such an impression on me that years later when I saw him again, I was so thrilled, I instantly became that 15 year old again. When I left my previous dojo after 7 years of training, I received a similar blessing. I've been training with Sense S. for 15 or 16 years now and he has always had his students' best interest at heart. It's always about them and not him. All the best instructors I've met have shared this quality and if yours is like them, you shouldn't fear that he'll say anything negative. If he does, you'll have your answer either way. I'll end with the same sentiment I started, follow your heart, it'll never lead you wrong.

  6. J, you made me cry! Thanks for sharing that. I know you didn't have to, but I'm glad you did.

    "The Talk" hasn't happened yet. Lots of events happening (a tourney he directed and needed help with; upcoming spring grading, etc). When opportunity presented itself, it just didn't seem like the right time. I'm being such a weenie, I know - and that's because I'm not totally confident I'll get the blessing to expand my knowledge and follow a new path as I don't get that now (he knows about my training with Sensei S., BTW). He is not, I fear, like the instructors you've had/have now in that respect. But you know, that's part of why my heart is telling me it's time to head out...

    Missed you in class last evening! Hope to see you again really soon - and thanks for stopping by :-)