So paperwork sounds like a strange title for a post on our martial arts doesn’t it? After all, training is about working out, not money, titles, or especially nonsense like paperwork. Right? Yup. But…. The dojo has to pay rent and other bills and to do that dues need to get collected, deposited, and tracked. Schedules need to get organized and communicated. Visits from teachers involve setting a schedule, collecting waivers and fees, etc.. So while it is indeed not about the paperwork that is a bit of a red herring. The paperwork needs to get done to allow training to happen. That makes it a part of training, not something separate.


Most of the martial artists I know train in small dojo. They have deliberately chosen that environment and seem to share a distrust of the trappings around much of our training here In the west. Unfortunately, that seems to bleed into their approach to everything that, to them, feels like the bits around the edges of training. The paperwork. It seems that paying dues, getting sign up forms in, responding to emails, and doing anything that is outside actually showing up at the dojo to work out is somehow tarred with the same brush as multi-colored gi, glowing bo, and “black belt clubs” that take a fee up front and promise you a black belt in 2 years. It is all “that other stuff”.

Speaking from experience, both mine and that of friends who run small dojo, this “too cool for school” approach to administrative tasks is pretty pervasive. At least it is among those who are not doing said paperwork… It is also a pretty shallow approach to being a karateka. What, really, did he just imply that getting paperwork done is important?!? For a karateka?!? Nope, I didn’t imply it. I stated it, unequivocally.

Why? Two reasons, both core values of our art. 1) Shugyo.  2) Reigi.  Got it? OK, I’ll clarify.

Shugyo can be translated a number of ways but in essence it means continuous and arduous daily practice. It means taking the job at hand and getting it done. Not just the parts you like. In fact it kind of implies that the difficult or unpleasant aspects of the practice are where you will get the most value for your efforts. A friend and I were talking about work the other day and I noted that I like having martial artists at work, they just buckle down and go to it. Ahh, shugyo he replied.  This concept is more important than any technique, but if the idea never leaves the dojo, your training is useless, both to you and to society. For self defense, as well as in your daily life, you have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes up, regardless of what you want to happen. That means in training you do the same. You get it done, quickly, cleanly, and without fuss. Paperwork is a part of training, so you just get it done. You take responsibility for yourself. Period. Or you are skipping out on a part of training that is just as important to understanding the real lessons in the dojo as hitting the makiwara.

Reigi means manners or etiquette. Karate begins and ends in courtesy. This means taking care to be polite, be sincere, and be dedicated to the well being of others. It is simply courteous to get paperwork done promptly. Not doing so shows disrespect for the time and effort of those who are doing the administration. In most small non-profit dojo the sensei, or someone assisting him or her free of charge, takes care of any necessary administration, with no recompense except keeping training going. It is their shugyo… Since the dojo are small there is not usually much, but people not taking care of their end of things can make it time consuming. Remember, every time your sensei has to ask for paperwork twice (or regular things like dues at all), send a follow up email because you did not answer, or hunt down your decision on training with a visiting teacher, it takes time. This is time they could be using to train themselves, or to spend time with their family. It is a gift to you and the dojo, given with reigi in mind. Is that gift valuable to you? By not dealing with your administrative tasks promptly you are stealing  it, telling them their time is not worth your respect. That does not sound like courtesy to me.

It is no accident that in the dojo I have belonged to in Japan not getting your paperwork done was definitely a clearer indicator of a bad martial artist than technique. Technique can be developed, bad attitude or poor character will stunt that. Remember, dues and sign up forms, emails and calls are just a part of it. Wash your gi, show up on time, get the soji done, maintain your health insurance, eat well, pay attention to your dojo mates’, friends’, and family’s life events, find ways to thank those who do things for you, take care of yourself. All these are paperwork. Doing them is training!

Students from Hachinohe Higashi High School perform a calligraphy dance

I am lucky, I have a great group of students, friends, and dojo mates and in general they get their paperwork done. They train well and take responsibility for themselves and each other, so that does not surprise me. But I think it is important to understand training holistically. If training is just punching and kicking, why do it? If it includes an approach to living, to dealing with both emergencies and daily life, that seems like a much more valuable practice to be a part of.

So think holistically. Maintain your training through all its myriad aspects and treat your sensei and training partners with respect. Train hard, train often. Get your paperwork done.

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