Senseis Say Funny Things

Granted, in martial arts classes we expect a certain level of discipline and focus. We can have that and still have fun and even laugh when senseis say funny things. This may be because it’s summer or a holiday week. Or it may be just to change things up: here are some of my true dojo humor stories. I apologize in advance for my dry, unique sense of humor. Over time, I have learned that funny is a subjective thing.

My first sensei was Michael Newland (now a kyoshi), and one true story that involved him was when I was still a kyu rank (before black belt). This was a class where I was doing some partner work and Sensei was going around the room helping students out. When he got to me and my partner, it was my turn to respond to my partner’s attack. First I blocked, and then as I moved forward to deliver the counter technique, my foot got stuck and rubbed on the mat, making an audible noise. That “sticky” footwork caused me to accidentally bump my foot into my partner’s foot. (My motion was still relatively graceful and Sensei was looking at my hands.) I said, “Sorry,” (to my partner).

Sensei said, “Oh, that’s okay,” lightheartedly as he walked away. At first I was confused as to why he’d responded. Then I realized that my foot rubbing on the mat had sounded like a fart.

I just smiled, told my partner I meant sorry for hitting his foot, and kept on training.

Advanced karate students doing partner work
As a brown belt I occasionally heard senseis say funny things.

Senseis Say Funny Things Still

Fast forward to me being a teacher, in the not too distant past. It was a similar situation where the tables were turned. My students were partnered up and working in pairs while I went around to each to see how they were doing. When I approached two 13-year-old boys I saw they were barely keeping it together. Their lips were tightly sealed and they were both struck with a case of trying not to laugh out loud with tears in their eyes. They just kind of stood there with bellies shaking with bottled up laughter.

I asked, “What’s going on? Are you guys farting?”

One teen said, “That’s even funnier,” as his laughter escaped.  

They both couldn’t help but laugh, but to their credit they pulled it together and got back to training.

Later, I got to be in another senseis say funny things story. I supervised a drill with a group of karate kids and teens. Each person had a turn to stand in the middle and kick the large body-shield targets that all the other students held. One of the teens kicked the target held by the youngest student who was seven. She kicked his target so lightly that her foot barely touched it.

I said, “He’s not made out of raw eggs shells, you can kick it a little harder.”

The teens and kids laughed, while a few said, “What?”

Karate teacher giving a child student instruction as he kicks a large target held by another student.
Instructing a student on his kick.

Kaichos and Senseis Say Funny Things

Allan Amor Kaicho has given me a lot of examples of senseis say funny things stories. But there are two that stick in my head the most. And they are not specific stories. He has used both of these phrases that made me laugh more than once. One is quoting Rex in the movie Napoleon Dynamite, “You think anybody wants a roundhouse kick to the face while I’m wearing these bad boys? Fugget-about-it.” (See the movie clip here.) The other is quoting Kevin Hart, “Say it with your chest!” Kaicho has said this to encourage students to stand up straight, chin up, chest out, with good posture, pride and deliberation.

It’s okay for senseis to say funny things. It’s okay to have fun while learning martial arts. In fact, we learn and retain our lessons better when we are relaxed and having fun.

-Jenifer Tull-Gauger

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