For the past few months, thoughts have swirled and memories have surfaced. I’ve reflected and even questioned the effectiveness of time spent over the past decade and a half.
Have I done too little, or not enough. Have I been overbearing, or at times too soft? Have my admittedly harsh principles and standards driven students away, or even attracted others to stay and train harder? Have my teaching methods been sufficient to transmit both physical and mental understanding of the details of our art to my students? How have I come this far, and how much farther will I be able to go?
In a time when most would be enjoying this milestone in their martial arts life, I find myself questioning a lot of things. My first thought is: Am I sufficiently passing on my teachers’ art to my own students. Takamiyagi Sensei entrusted to me the propogation of Goshukan-Ryu Karate in the United States when he urged me to begin teaching in 1998. I didn’t feel qualified then (I argued that point with him profusely before finally conceding) and I’m only slightly more comfortable now with the fact that my teacher had enough confidence in me, and saw a future that, to me, was unimaginable at the time. Fifteen years later, I feel that I haven’t done enough; I’m both humbled and driven by the heavy weight of responsibility that was bestowed to be as the first American representative of my teacher and his style.
As I write this, I’m struggling with putting the words down; I intended for this article to be a nice, reminiscence of my first fifteen years as the owner/instructor of my dojo. But as I began writing, my thoughts began to change in mid sentence. Perhaps I’ll write another article on the subject, but for now I’m going to continue to write about what I’m feeling at this moment, so please be warned, if you enjoy my articles for the encouraging undertones, you may be disappointed with this one.
Lately, I’ve noticed the trend of karate students/teachers ‘shopping around’ or jumping from dojo to dojo and even across different systems, styles, and organizations all for the pursuit of paper promotions, titles, and recognition. Although this is becoming increasingly common, I have no tolerance for this type of behavior. What I have become as a karate-ka (karate practitioner) and a sensei (teacher) can only be attributed to two elements. ONE: My teacher’s guidance, leadership, direction, sharing, and tough love (boot in the rear) when I needed it. Takamiyagi Sensei is responsible for my first day as a teacher. Without him it would’ve never happened. TWO: My loyalty to my teacher and dedication to practicing and preserving the ways that he taught me. This loyalty has kept me on the path; no matter where I go from here, it all started with my teacher who cares for me and trusts me enough to represent him and his art.
Over the past fifteen years, there have been extremely challenging economic hardships that would have forced most dojo owners to close their doors; I’m both stubborn and loyal, so I (and my family) endured those tough times and the dojo stayed open. I owe a debt to my Sensei that can never be repaid, (This is called giri in Japanese) but I am duty and honor-bound to continue teaching and sharing for as long as I am able. This hasn’t always been easy or practical; the physical location of my dojo has changed many times over the past fifteen years, and during the most challenging time, we went from dojo to a recreation center, city park, and my backyard, within one year. Times were hard then, and only the most dedicated students stayed; these are the students that understand giri, and the ones that will eventually be entrusted with the responsibility of passing our art to the next generation.
Over the past fifteen years, I have not accumulated a large number of students, nor one single plastic trophy. I have, however, been blessed with a handful of dedicated students; they are my trophies. Their loyalty and dedication to the art, the dojo, and to me shine brighter than any plastic and chrome, and I am so very proud of them. I have also been blessed with a handful of very close friends, fellow teachers, and mentors that share my passion for the old ways; these people are my support system and shining examples for everyone to see and appreciate.
Over the past fifteen years, I’ve been blessed with a supportive wife and children that have been involved with so much more behind the scenes that most people never see, and rarely appreciate. Although a couple of my children don’t share the same passion for the arts that I do, they never complain, and they make me proud every single time they put their gi on and tie that obi around their waist. There have been times that I have been so discouraged and would have quit teaching if not for my wife’s encouragement and intervention. For such a small, quiet woman, she has been a tower of support to me in ways that are unfathomable.
Thank you Takamiyagi Sensei for teaching me, guiding me and having faith in me to see what I couldn’t see in myself. Thank you Izumi for being my rock and my unseen warrior in the shadows; thank you for always staying right beside me and only falling behind just to push me enough to make it over the hills and roadblocks. Thank you Erika, Lisa, Kaori, and Kenji for being wonderful children and fantastic students. You are an encouragement to me every day, and I love you all. Finally, thank you to each and every student that have ever allowed me to teach you; it is a duty and responsibility that I do not take lightly, and I’m looking forward with anticipation to your continued growth and development both in the dojo and in life.