Friday, May 7, 2010

What's in a Name?

I haven't shared this before, but for the first karate class after my shodan test, I actually forgot to pack a gi in my gear bag (ironically, I'd been dreaming about forgetting my gi for weeks before the grading, too)! Running back to my house made me a few minutes late for class. When I got back to the dojo, Sensei F had the class stop what they were doing (with a "Courtesy to Sensei!" command) and bow in my direction - the norm whenever a black belt enters the dojo. But because the rank was so new (as in all of two days old), I stopped, turned around and prepared to bow to whatever dan was entering after me (duh!). I wasn't thinking of myself as a "sensei" yet.

When I first started teaching as a college adjunct instructor many years back, hearing "Professor H" from my students literally made me pause for a split second and try to figure out who the heck they were talking to (duh again!) - because I wasn't really thinking of myself as a professor yet. Putting PowerPoint presentations together, grading mountains of papers and making up exam questions have all helped changed my view, but I still giggle a bit on the inside when I hear "professor" before my name.

When I was having all the dreams about forgetting my gi last year, Sensei S questioned me on what I thought the dreams meant. "Is there magic in that gi or do you get power from your belt?" he asked. His point - about the uniform having no affect on the karateka I was - was well taken. Perhaps the same point can be made about one's name...

The few times Sensei S has had to call and leave me a voicemail, he's said "Hey there, this is K." Not once has he ever referred to himself as "Sensei S." Funny thing is that I've only ever heard Sensei J call him "Sensei" - never by his first name. And these are two of the most amazing practitioners and teachers I know, but still the black belts they wrap around their waists to train in have no stripes or way to signify that they are sixth- and fourth-dans respectively. Maybe they are the most humble, too...

Whether my sensei refers to himself by his first name or last, it doesn't change who he is, what he's done and the amount of respect he's afforded on the mat. Even if all his students developed amnesia and could only refer to him as "Hey, you!" he'd still be the same great instructor and man of Tao.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, I'm sure of it :-)


  1. Great post! After more than a year teaching, I still giggle inside when the whole class choruses "Good morning F Sensei"! (My real name also begins with an F - best letter ever ;) I think it takes time to grow into any kind of teacher role, but after a year I bet you feel like a black belt now!

    I forgot my belt once and Sensei leant me his spare black one - VERY embarrassing!

  2. I forgot my brown belt recently when I turned up to help with the junior class. Sensei leant me a white belt which caused much amusement amongst the children who thought I'd been demoted!

  3. My first class with Sensei S found me without my black belt. I'd only had it for a few weeks and I remember the horror when I reached in my bag and realized I didn't have it. I thought I'd lost it - before I remembered locking it in the equipment closet at another class a few days before. I went belt-less and felt like a ninny, but it was a great class :-)

    But that old adage about the obi just holding your gi top closed/keeping your gi pants up is true, though as my jacket kept flying open even with the little strings on the side tied...