More Old Friends

So it seems like this is a time for seeing old friends and teachers. I started training Goju Ryu and Matayoshi lineage kobudo early in 1986. I was a new student at UMass Amherst, and Kimo Wall sensei was teaching there. To be honest, I chose my first karate class based on schedule. I knew nothing about karate, except what I had seen in the movies, and I thought it would be cool to learn. There were other karate classes at UMass; knowing what I know now about the quality of that instruction I believe that if I had taken one of those classes I wouldn’t have continued. Instead, I happened into Kimo sensei’s class, and started on a path I still travel. I trained under him, in that class and then in daily club practices, until he moved in 1989. Now I see Kimo sensei just about every year. It is always good to see him, and I always learn something.

The dojo here will be 25 years old next year, and we have had a lot of people through it in that time. Some were originally students from UMass. Priorities change and not everyone keeps training, but one of the best parts of sensei’s visits is the old friends that come out to see him. These are people I sweat (and occasionally bled) with. We shared a part of our lives and it is always good to see them. Of course a large part of sensei’s visit is training time, but equally important is seeing these old friends. It is something of a theme in my posts lately, but I believe the relationships we develop around our training are at least as important as the training itself.

With Kimo sensei, May 2014

With Kimo sensei, May 2014

Why? On a practical level, training takes close personal interaction. If you don’t have long, strong relationships in the dojo, it is hard for me to see how you can possibly have learned much from your teacher. To get through the foundational movements and into the meat of practice takes time. The practice can be dangerous, so it also takes trust. When I see people who have switched teachers every few years, or who have a lot of seminar instruction in their “resume”, I have to wonder: do they really know much? Because they probably have not had the opportunity to learn.

Some people feel Kuden, or oral teachings, are secrets. Nonsense. They are what I call proper instruction. Of course your kuden are oral- your teacher tells them to you. Of course they only get revealed at certain points- a good teacher gives students information that will help at the right time. And of course they don’t get shared with everyone. Passing on the details of one’s art is a personal thing. If I know you, see you share a passion, have discipline and dedication, and I respect you, I will give you everything I can. But if I don’t know you why should I share what has taken me decades of time, effort, and treasure to learn? For money? I don’t think so. Kuden are personal training tips, details that make the waza work, context. They are passed down or learned through hard work. Who is going to share them with someone they don’t know?

That does not mean that you and your sensei need to be best buddies. But it does mean you get to know each other. Kimo sensei and I have known each other since I was 18 (and he was younger than I am now). We share a fair bit of history. Do we always see eye to eye? Probably not. But we respect each other. A lot of the “kuden” he has shared with me have not been in the dojo. They have been over chicken and rice in San Juan, or in his living room in Yokota, or after breakfast in my kitchen. Places we would not have been if I had started studying with him last year, or we had just met at a seminar.

So for training purposes, these relationships are important. But that is only the beginning, in my opinion. Who besides family have you kept in your life for 20 or 30 years? One of the things that I find invaluable about training is that when you find people to share the passion of our practice with you may also find friends, the kind of friends you will still be sharing your life with decades from now. These relationships are rare.

Kimo sensei spent about a week here, and he is off traveling around the US again. It is always great to see him. He was my first teacher, and I have him to thank for my introduction to the arts. When he is here we share old stories and see old friends. We train, and I get some insight on the dojo here and our practice. But most importantly we get to renew these relationships, take time together and with other friends from the dojo. Seeing him reminds me to be glad I have people like my dojo mates in my life, and to look forward to the next 30 years. And I’ll also look forward to seeing Kimo sensei the next time he’s in town.

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