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P.S. Then This Happened

Most of you probably read my post the other day about promotion. (If you didn't why the hell not??) But while driving home at 11pm last night, after watching two different sets of promotion candidates do their thing, I realized that I did not get it quite right. Yes it is true, I do not want more stripes on my belt. But it was only after watching the promotion that I could fully articulate what I mean and why.

I got to go for my Shodan because I was training the required amount of years, knew all the material, and my instructor felt I was ready for the challenge. Same with Nidan. And Sandan. And Sensei, although by then it was also about being a teacher. Still, when the time came for each one of those promotions, I felt confident that I deserved it, that I was a better karateka than I had been at the previous one. That I had not just put in the time, but I had progressed, both physically and mentally.

As I sat there last night and watched the two forth degree black belts (Sensei Russell and Sensei Desi) who were testing for their next rank, I realized what was missing from my own training. These men were not just physically impressive. It went beyond their flawless punches (truly I have never seen a basic stomach punch thrown with such precision) and well memorized terminology. Anyone can learn some Japanese words. These two seniors went far beyond that. They exhibited a level of focus and energy that would be impossible for a first degree black belt, even the most gifted athlete. Both of them had spent hours, days, years, truly thinking about each technique they threw, to make each one as real as possible. One of them, Sensei Russell, has made it his latest project to research all of the traditional katas to discover the "bunkai", or the practical application of the techniques. These two men live and breathe the martial arts, even after over 30 years of training. Standing there on the dojo floor in front of me, were two people who fully embody everything that I believe a karate master should be. 

I am not like them.

I am not being self deprecating. I am not saying that so you respond with a slew of encouraging comments. ("Oh Sensei Jennifer, you are amazing, You are fantastic. I worship the ground you walk on." And so on.") I am just stating a fact. I know my katas are nice looking. I know I can snap my gi when I punch. I am really good at remembering combinations and I have memorized an awful lot of Japanese words which are entirely useless outside the four walls of a dojo. I am a perfectly acceptable Sensei and a very good teacher. The kids love me. I feel proud every time I tie on my belt. But I do not do what these men do. I do not research things about karate. I do not put one hundred percent of myself into every class. (Although it is not for lack of trying.) When I am lying in bed at night unable to sleep, I am more likely to be thinking about how kids class went that day or how to finish an omoplata, than the nuances of Taikyoku 1. 

To sum it up, I still DO karate, but I am not TRAINING in it. 

There is not necessarily anything wrong with this. Like I said last time, it is fine for a lifetime martial artist like myself to explore different avenues. It is fine to develop new interests and passions.  For now, it is fine to just take karate class because I love it. It is fine to just keep polishing the things I already have. It is fine to be more focused on teaching than training. So long as I am still giving it my all when I am on the floor. So long as I am not being lazy. So long as I am still, however slowly, trying to make my karate better. Which I am. I promise. Its just that sometimes I am also trying to choke someone with their gi.

It is ok to be more excited right now about learning BJJ than perfecting my karate techniques. But that person does not deserve a karate promotion.  As a teacher, I believe I have grown in leaps and bounds. And I try to get better every day. But as a student, I do not do enough. It is not enough to just attend class. It is not enough to just know all the material. Not at this level. It is not ok to go for Kyoshi just because you are the next one on the list.  

But, in spite of all that, watching these two amazing karateka last night has inspired me to work a little harder at my karate. How could it not? I want to punch like Sensei Desi now. I want to really know kata the way Sensei Russell does. Not because I hope to be up there someday myself, but simply because I had forgotten how beautiful true mastery can be.

Thank you gentlemen. Thank you for making me want to work harder. Thank you for reminding me why I love to teach karate so much, and why I have practiced it for so long. Thank you for reminding me that there is so much more to being a senior than just knowing the syllabus.

See you tomorrow. Please go easy on me, I haven't really been training. And I saw the way you guys punch.


  1. Great post, Sensei, and I am truly humbled by your praise. Osu!

  2. This isa Very positive outlook. I'm def proud of my dad and Sensei Russ. Those 2 men are Highly respected by me. Great Job Gentlemen and Good Luck with the rest of the process of becoming Kyoshi. Osu!!!


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