By Jenifer Tull-Gauger Shihan, 4th Dan
Once, a friend of mine tried our week-long Karate Intro Program. We’ll call her Mary. At a young 60 years old she did fine.
I never know what to expect when a student steps on the mat for the first time at East Valley Martial Arts – Kenshin Kan. My aim is to challenge students, but not overwhelm them. Anyway, Mary was fit enough to follow the warm-up and coordinated enough to perform the basics. She worked hard.
I was proud of her, as I am of any student who, first of all steps out onto the mat with an open mind to try something new, and second of all participates fully in finishing the Intro Program. It’s a bonus that Mary’s classes went well with respect, hard work, and with Mary learning the basics. Then her training fell in the round file.
“I enjoyed doing karate with you,” Mary said. “But I won’t be continuing.”
“Oh,” I listened. (One good thing I had learned from her was to pause and listen.)
Mary went on, “I told my daughter I was doing karate and she laughed. ‘Mom, you’re 60 years old!’ she said.”
“Oh,” I listened more, but that was all Mary had to say. “Well, we’ll miss you.” What more is there to say when someone has already made their decision? That was the end of Mary’s training.
Later, I wished I had asked, “And what rank is your daughter and how many decades has she been in martial arts?” Of course that would have been a sarcastic and rhetorical question, because her daughter obviously didn’t study.
If Mary’s daughter was a traditional martial artist, she would have learned to have an open mind. She would know that perceived limitations are like lead weights we carry and that the right mind-set and hard work blow away limitations. If the daughter had done much karate, she would have seen from a woman’s point of view what a powerful, freeing confidence-builder the martial arts are. She would have consequently become a promoter of all females training in karate, regardless of age.
On the one hand, Mary’s daughter had no business questioning or scoffing at her mother doing karate, since she had never stepped foot on the mat. On the other hand, our dojo wants students who are strong enough within themselves to stand up to scorn and to continue doing what they not only enjoy but what is also good for them.
It’s not easy to be a living example of the Dojo Kun. It’s not a common or well-known lifestyle. We will meet many people who haven’t a clue as to what traditional martial arts are all about. Some will want to learn more. Great! Tell them all about it.
Others will make karate training their joke of the day. Let it roll off your back like water off a duck. Those people make fun of others because they are trying (and failing) to feel better about themselves. It’s sad, so try to be compassionate. I know first-hand that it’s difficult to respond to comments from people who don’t understand traditional martial arts. Just remember, Karateka (Karate practitioners) are becoming stronger, faster, fitter and more able with every class; therefore they have reason to feel great about themselves (humbly of course).
Being a karateka is not easy. But it sure as heck is a super-awesome-priceless-life-changing-magic-adventure. I wouldn’t want to go back to living any other way.