About two years ago, I wrote a post about dojo kun. At that stage, I was training at three different dojo (which I had referred to as dojo dai ichi, dojo dai ni, and dojo dai san, in the order I had started attending them), so I had (in theory) three different dojo Kun. There were many aspects of my training, back then, that were confusing, however the dojo kun were not one of these. I said it then. Having rules has never really bothered me…..so staying between the lines is easy.
Fast forward to today, I am training at one dojo, (dojo dai san), although I attend a sparring class at another dojo (dojo dai ni) once a week, (because sparring is one thing, which I both continue to enjoy, and continue to find confusing and difficult. I am stepping outside my box so I can be stronger within my lines. 🙂 )
I am also (as I was then) in the midst of grading season. It’s my 5th grading at dojo dai san now, as opposed to my 1st; my third in front of a panel, my first on a panel, and my last (assuming I pass) attempting a kyu belt, (ranks before black belt or dan).
Since the time that I wrote my first dojo kun blog post, there has been a lot more frequent discussion about the dojo Kun in class. Apart from my efforts at (literally) posting them on the wall (see here), we also recite them in Japanese at the end of every class, as well is frequently discussing them in English. I believe this has made a big difference in the spirit, ownership, pride, and general morale within our growing dojo family. Even the smallest members, are able to recite and understand the kun on a basic level.
Reflecting on a personal level on our Dojo kun and want they mean to me now, nearly 3.5 years into my training and 2 years since I first posted on the matter, I would say the following.
In the last six months, as a student, I have been carefully trying to refine my techniques and learn new kata and other skills. I have a strong desire to be able to represent my style and my dojo, which was something that had not really occurred to me much before, because there were too many other things to think about.
I have paid attention to and become acutely aware of the things we do and don’t do in terms of not only style but also behaviour and etiquette, and tradition. My instructor, my Senpai and others within the wider network have all been a positive part of my personal growth, and given me confidence in myself by believing in me and helping me, and this has been instrumental in helping me be very proud to practice our style. I have also been very keen to learn as much as I can about the history of our style, the language, the traditions, the dojo kun, and basically everything I can find out, so that when people ask me, I can be as clear as possible. And people have been asking me……
The last 6 months have also brought about a new role for me; I have been learning how to instruct others in our style, and be a mentor for them. The prospect of doing so both thrilled me and scared me in equal measure, but when I was thrown in front of the proverbial bus (or the literal class), I surprised myself, and was proud that I could do something I had been more than a little apprehensive about. The biggest positive which has come from the experience of teaching though, and the most pride I have felt is watching others I have taught, improve and succeed, take to our dojo, and become part of the family.
Patience has never been my strong suit. Luckily, perseverance (which is an aspect of patience and an alternate meaning of the kanji), is something I am OK with. I am not someone who likes to give up quickly. Perhaps it is that tenacity that has taken me to the point where I find myself now.
However, it has been teaching others, that has not only forced me to be more patient as a teacher, but also made me reflect on how I need to be more patient with myself, as a student. Although I may be learning something considerably more complicated than the basic strike that I watch a beginner struggle with, over, and over again, I know that what I am trying to achieve is not dissimilar. I know that both of us will get there if we stick with it. I know we are all beginners just on different parts of the road. And I know with full 20/20 hindsight that they will get past it, because I have been on that stretch of road!
Patience is also about acceptance of change, acceptance of things you don’t necessarily like, without making a big deal of it. I am certainly getting much better at rolling with the punches (on a metaphorical level).
Dojo etiquette and even general social etiquette is not necessarily something which comes naturally to everyone. It certainly did not come naturally to me. When I reflected on Courtesy a year ago, and when I helped write our dojo’s student manual (which included a section on Etiquette, and also on the kun and putting the kun in practice), I researched as extensively as I could and spoke to many karate-ka. I had only scratched the surface. Recently when I edited the manual a year after I first help put it together, I made several changes. No doubt the next edition I will make more. The manual is not and cannot be comprehensive, in this regard, and I have found myself in many delicate situations in the last 6 months where my words would not have provided the framework for me to decide how to act. That said, I am usually certain of how not to act, how not to respond, and so can then reflect on appropriate courses of action and ask for guidance from there. So even if I am not sure how to be courteous all of the time, I at least know how not to be rude and disrespectful!
Courtesy is not simply a matter of respect but more a code of conduct for the right way to act, react, refrain from taking action. It takes all sorts to make up the world. Different strokes for different folks. We are not going to agree with everything everyone has to say, irrespective of our feelings about them. Being courteous is listening to and accepting difference without judgement and about feeling comfortable to present an opinion without being judged impolitely. Courtesy leads to concord, concord leads to a positive learning environment, and a positive general environment produces happy and successful students. And, let’s face it: the world in which we all get along is by far and away the more pleasant one, than the one where we don’t.
Spirit isn’t something you can see, but more something you can feel. The spirit of Karate is alive and well within the dojo. Having a shared focus and purpose, leaving personal issues outside, training hard, and taking pride in what we do, ensures this.
Outside the dojo, it’s more personal. For me, I find kata practice is where I find this feeling is the strongest. Performing kata (even on my own), I feel like I am connected to something bigger, something greater than me. However, I also find myself thinking, reflecting and even sometimes dreaming about karate, more often than I am not, even when I am not physically doing anything karate related. I guess the karate spirit is now intertwined with my own, as a part of my psyche if you like, whether I want it there or not!
My instructor asked me today if I liked karate…..(I think that was kind of rhetorical, because the answer is more than evident!). He then asked what I liked about karate and why I liked it. It was more difficult to answer and hard (even for me) to put into words. Perhaps this is because it is more a feeling I have inside when I train and when I think about karate. The closest I could come was that Karate was something that demands my focus so that I can’t think about anything else (a positive thing for a compulsive multi-tasker) and that Karate completes me like the last piece of the puzzle that you didn’t realise was lost until you found it and put it in.