Back when I was a second dan Black Belt I remember a conversation with my Sensei about my future. I cannot remember the specific time or date, but the thread of the chat is still clear in my mind.
We had finished training and were getting changed next to the stage after the Wednesday class. Merv’ spoke to me with a certainty about when I would teach my own dojo. Strangely I remember there being an underlying assurance from us both that this would happen.
(In-fact, it felt inevitable). At that point, the only detail we seemed to disagree on was when I would start.
I remember saying that I would probably take the plunge when I was 34. At that time, I was probably around 24 years old. Merv was certain that it would be sooner. But at the time I felt I still had a lot to learn and I was focused on my Squad duties and competing. I remember feeling that I would need to be at least a 3rd Dan Black Belt to have enough experience to successfully run a club.
As it happened m Sensei was right, and in 2009 when I was 31, I started my karate club in Petersfield. He had correctly identified in me the need to Lead and the inevitability of my role as a Sensei began in earnest.
I have often pondered and considered at what point a person becomes Wise.
It is not transactional and certainly does not happen overnight.
I believe wisdom develops and matures along with a person’s experience. This is true as much of life as it is karate. I picture wisdom as a mature tree unfazed by changes in its surroundings which continues to grow and flourish regardless of setback or challenge.
I took over the club from Pete who had started the club one year previously. His decision to retire from his position had unsettled the membership and on my first official night in charge I had two members training and (by coincidence) an Adult who had trained as a child came along to watch.
When I started, I had one simple intention.
To teach classes I would want to train in!
I am now in my twelfth year of Leading the dojo and it is important that I reflect and revisit this intention to make sure I am still on track. As we find ourselves entrenched in our most recent lockdown, clarity of my intention feels more important than ever.
Despite the early enthusiasm for Zoom and online classes. I can sense and feel the frustration of many of our students. It is especially hard for those who home school all day in front of a screen or those parents working from home with the burden of Zoom meetings and calls all day. It is really-hard to not attach negative associations to all things Zoom or Virtual.
I know that we just want to be back in our actual Dojos!
Without asking my Sensei I am not sure how he knew I would progress to leading a dojo. Perhaps it was experience or his sense of me as a person. Perhaps his wisdom simply informed his subconscious, and he knew it was inevitable?
What I am sure of is that without me knowing it he prepared me for it. We had many lengthy discussions and he provided coaching feedback that laid the foundation for my step-up to Sensei. I can clearly hear him saying two things to me.
‘Matthew. Adapt and Overcome!’, And make sure you ‘Turn the Disadvantage into an Advantage’.
Now is the time to really appreciate those sentiments and use them as fuel for our motivation. I am certain that I became Sensei as I have a desire to Lead. I like responsibility and feel empowered when I help people achieve. Whether in work or karate I have always found myself in positions of responsibility.
My base strategy is always the same.
To lead from the front and provide a positive example.
Having a good long-standing relationship with ones Sensei is not unlike the bond between a parent and child. It is inevitable that their will be times of disagreement and rebellion (sorry Sensei) but as the old saying goes ‘you never forget a good teacher’. It is often in times of challenge that the quality of lessons learnt is most appreciated.
Like you all I am tired of online interactions. The novelty has worn off. I miss punching and kicking real-people and feeling the pressure when they return the compliment. I long for the reassurance I feel when I successfully deal with an aggressor in training and overcome the attack. Most of all I miss the community, and strangely when I became Sensei that is the one-thing I did not realise I was creating…… it just happened!
To Lead my students through this time I have realised that it is extremely important that I recognise the feelings of everyone including myself. We can all grow through this experience and be wiser as a result.
Not all of karate’s lessons are physical.
So, for those of you struggling with motivation for Zoom classes I want you to know that ‘I get it!’
Regardless, it is my job to encourage you along and do my job.
I must lead!
f they wrote job descriptions for karate Instructor’s, they would be pretty-daunting. A job for life as a Mentor and Role Model. But for those who truly wish to follow the path it is rewarding beyond compare.
Once I started teaching, I committed to the Long-Term care of my Students. I take that very seriously. I have had challenges and not always been at my best over the last 12 years, but it is now that I feel obliged to deliver as a Sensei the truest possible sense.
Nobody in the Karate world saw this Pandemic coming. Life is vastly different for us all. But despite the multitude of challenges Karate still offers us all a constant.
In 2009 I chose to become a Sensei. Now in 2021 I chose to make the best of what I can.
I will work on explosive power in limited space. Improve technique, flow and relaxation and exit this Pandemic nightmare with karate that has continued to grow regardless.
I know it is hard, but we must adapt and overcome and become wiser as a consequence.
See you in the dojo, (albeit for now online). Osu.