Thursday, November 8, 2012

Second Verse...Same as the First?

Even before Hurricane Sandy did her dance up the US east coast - forcing my family and lots of others in NY, NJ and CT to stay inside our homes for a few days - I'd been in a bit of a funk. I'd told my honey I was having a karate crisis and we'd even chuckled about it, but the sadness of it all was very real to me. See - I've been struggling on the path for a bit, now. Something is definitely missing - and what is there seems quite broken.

Here's an example: My learning school is an hour away from my home. For three and a half years, I planned my schedule around 7PM Tuesday and Thursday night classes, breaking my neck to finish all my work and family stuff so I could get out of my front door by 6PM whenever possible. But in the last few weeks, my mindset has been "If I make it, I make it and if not, well..." On Election Day - after rushing around all day and even hurrying to vote so I could be done on time - I sat in my driveway with my beloved at 5:45PM and told him that I just didn't feel like going. So I didn't. I felt absolutely no guilt or anxiety about my last-minute decision at all - just relief. To me, that speaks volumes.

Yes, gas in my neck of the woods is a crazy $4 a gallon and after transportation to and from is factored in, a two-hour class actually nets me closer to five hours which are huge time and monetary commitments - but those aren't really the reasons I'm staying close to home these days. Being totally honest, it's the actual class itself that's giving me pause.

You may have noticed hints of it in my past few posts, but since writing about it has proven as difficult as talking about it (the latter actually makes me cry), I've tried to sort of kept it out of this space. That's beginning to feel very dishonest these days, so I think I've gotta just write it out already.

For a lot of reasons, my learning place has become a very unfriendly environment. It goes way beyond being gigged for the most minor of things (because I EXPECT to be corrected and taught - that's why I train, after all). The best way I can explain it - and hard as it is for me to say this - I feel like I'm being bullied on the mat. That is NOT what I expect to feel when I'm training in an art I've come to love as much as anything I've ever done in my life.

Does it matter that my sensei is dealing with some seriously tough emotional issues? It shouldn't, but it does, as it is causing some very weird and uncharacteristic behavior from him on the mat. Although I feel very badly about what he's dealing with, I'm just going to say the most politically incorrect thing imaginable: I can't really see what that has to do with the students when we're training. As callused as that sounds, I see it like this: we ALL have crap on our plates. It should be no more acceptable for an instructor to make the envorinment for his/her students an emotional mine field than it would be for a student to do the same to his/her fellow karateka. As hard as it is to do, shouldn't that stuff all be left outside the dojo door along with our shoes and attitudes?

The vibe has definately changed - so much so that there have been many, many classes in the last several months where I've driven home in tears - and that simply shouldn't be. On my desk scrawled on a note pad is a quote I found somewhere and jotted down: "Karate is supposed to be fun. If it feels like work, you're doing it wrong." Right now, it feels like work in a sweat shop. In the middle of sweltering August heat. Without an open window. And it most certainly sucks.

Don't misunderstand - I'm not expecting side-splitting hilarity in class, but I don't think I should be feeling like walking out 15-minutes after bowing in either, because that has never, ever, EVER been my reality. A not-so-great class every now and again is to be expected, but when those occasions become the rule rather than the exception, something may be amiss.

I'm just...tired...but really sad, too. I left a not-so good (instructionally speaking) school for this one - because of the amazing level of instruction and mutual respect, and I've stood by/sallied forth even when not one of my black belt training partners was able to (due to work and life responsibilities) or willing to do the same - but now I can't steel myself to go to class. Three and a half years ago, I thought I'd never have a need to ever even explore another school. Today I'm Googling area dojos. How the heck did I get here...again?!?

Karate is a leisure-time activity - not my profession - but it is very, very important to me. I miss that I'm only teaching these days and barely sharpening the tools in my toolbox or acquiring any new tools. I miss my training partners - even the ones who no longer train there - and I miss the way my school used to be as well, I really do.

Addressing this with my sensei at this point is not an option, as this is not a conversation that can take place over the phone or via text message and I can't make it down before or stay too long after class to chat because of my work schedule and travel time. I keep having the same debate with myself: is the point of a sit-down an attempt for me to help foster change or is it just to make my feelings known in an "I must get this off my chest" sort of way? Is either even productive or necessary? How will that (whatever THAT is) be perceived and received? Experience has burned me badly; it wasn't received well the last time I was here.

Right now, on this Thursday afternoon, I'm watching the clock to figure out what I can juggle/move around in order to be out of here on time to get home and pack my gear bag. Today's not too crazy a day, so it can be done. But the question becomes "Do I want to?" - the same as it was on Tuesday, last Thursday and the week before that as well.

But, as I used to tell my son when he was having issues with his grade school friends, if the same situation keeps happening over and over again, you should take heed. It can't always be everyone else's fault. This is the second time in as many schools where I've felt like I didn't belong or that I've over-stayed my welcome. But it can't always be someone else's fault. I'm sure I have some onus in this as well.

I just don't really know anymore...


  1. If I were in your shoes, I'd take a break and still find a chance to talk with the sensei. I don't know how about you, but for me it's easier to write things out instead of the actual, live conversation. When I'm writing, even if I get emotional, I can still write things - and then later re-read them and see what I missed or what I presented wrong. These things can't be easily identified & fixed in the live conversation.

    Why do this (email/letter)? Well, it's not about telling someone to fix their problem or getting it off our chest. We really don't know what might come out from such discussion that this'll lead to, but it may make things clearer for ourselves - or for the sensei, even be eye-openers on either/both side. I think it's worth discussing it, instead of conserving the feeling inside and be hurt by it ever after.

  2. Sensei has dropped the ball. The whole purpose of mokuso at the start is to clear the mind of such stuff and leave it there until the training is over. Having one time happen is understandable but to continually act in this manner is shameful.

    Don't quit. Ask for a moment of his or her time privately. Tell them how you feel and if the response is anything negative then resign from the dojo.


    Charles J.

  3. Warning: Diatribe-ish rant

    I think you know what you need to do and are hoping to hear someone say "Don't worry, it is a phase, just tough it out." This doesn't sound like that situation - it sounds like your instructor is taking out his problem on others. Don't go to class. Don't teach there either, as this is just more exposure. Take some time off for yourself if you think that is all you need. But you need time to distance yourself from the situation long enough to see it clearly - Musashi said it best.

    As Sasha recommends, you need to schedule a time to speak with your teacher. Surely there is a time when they can spare 15 minutes. If you are valued at the dojo then he will make the time to speak with you. If you aren't valued, then why are you going?

    Sorry to be harsh, but being brought to the point of tears is NOT correct. Hard training, doubting your improvement - that is normal.

  4. If the Way didn't have obstacles, it wouldn't be the Way. Having said that, budo has enough obstacles to it already that the spirit of practice should never be one of them. If you have tears from karate, Felicia, it should be from pain of injury. Nothing else. Nothing is worse than a sensei neglecting his students' needs. This is the covenant between them and in the past serious oaths were made to higher powers to show the sincere commitment between master and disciple.

    Your love of karate is deep and couldn't be more clear that you walk the path. That is what makes the situation particularly egregious to me. The training should be a place of safety and comfort and growth, especially for those who commit body and soul. When a sensei cannot foster the growth of a student who WANTS to learn, or worse, stops making it his/her priority - the student must move on.

    At a foundational level, karate is about what you are willing to fight for. The only question that remains is: is this sensei worth fighting for? If so, then you will stand your ground like any true karate-ka, and confront him/her with your dissatisfaction. If your sensei is not worth fighting for, you already have your answer. I wish you the best either way.

  5. Don't be too quick to jump to the conclusion that you bear fault in this, Felicia. Yes, it's something to keep in mind, so that you're not blinded to the possibility, but sometimes people change, dojos change, and luck can be rotten. I spent a long time in college convinced I was somehow toxic, because I had to change roommates three years running. Turned out, I just had really lousy luck, once I had the perspective to look back (and a couple of roommate successes to compare against).

    This doesn't sound like burnout that you could just push through. If you can address this with your sensei, you should - but if you can't, either because it would be unproductive, or you just can't bring yourself to do so, don't stress about it. You said you're looking up other area schools - maybe taking a hiatus from your current dojo and simply trying a class or two at some of your more local places would give you some clarity about what you need and want in your training and from your sensei (whether this one or a new one)?
    Ultimately, it doesn't matter how good the teacher is if he's not a good teacher for you - even if he used to be, even if he might be again in the future. If you, with all your dedication, are dreading going to class, something is very wrong. I wish you every luck in figuring out how to love your karate again.

    1. Sorry, reading this I just wanted to jump in an add another point to Perpetual's comment. More to underline what I think is said.

      Not only do people and dojo's change, but so our needs. We may want to do sport related martial arts, or for the artistic side (like learning chado isn't for competition or some obvious material benefit), or to improve health. If you want to improve health and the practice is too harsh, then another dojo or style or teacher that focuses on that aspect is what you want. I think ALL martial artists shift their focus around in their practice - why would a Sensei be different?

      My main point here is change is not a negative and is not reflective of some failing in you, or in anyone (necessarily), but just a fact of life. If things are static, there is no improvement.

      Keep your chin up!

  6. What a sucky situation Felica. I absolutely agree with what everyone else has said. Your Sensei should be leaving this stuff off the mat. As Charles said, is the point of Mokuso at the beginning just that - the moment where we leave everything that is not karate to one side and focus on the job at hand? If he can't leave his emotional baggage behind for 2 hours while he teaches class then quite frankly he needs to not be teaching class at the moment.

    I can absolutely say one thing for certain in this. Life it too short to spend time doing something that brings us to tears. If you're at that point with your dojo then it's time to leave it behind and move on to pastures new. That's not reflection of fault on your part but an acceptance that things don't last forever. As one door closes another opens - maybe your next dojo is the place you're supposed to be. Fate leads us where it leads us for a reason.

    That said I know that sometimes you just need someone else to say "It's okay to do that/think that/want that". So here's about 6 people telling you that its okay.

    I hope you can make peace with your decision and that great things lie around the next corner of your life.


  7. Thanks for all the great advice, folks. Still figuring things out over here, but taking it all under advisement :-)

    You guys are awesome...