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This is My Fuzzy Blanket

In November of 2004, my karate instructor passed away and my husband and I were offered the opportunity to take over the Upper Westside Kenshikai Karate dojo. At that time, the lease on the old space was up and the landlord had zero interest in continuing to do business with karate people. So we squatted for a month or so, having classes in a space that was no longer ours while frantically scouring the neighborhood for For Rent signs, waiting for the inevitable day when we would show up to a locked door. Finally, we found a yoga studio nearby that was willing to rent a room to us and we moved a few blocks down. It was within days of being evicted. Literally. As in the day after we moved, there was a notice stuck on the door. 

We did not take over the old dojo because we wanted to run a karate school, although both my husband and I had been assisting with classes for quite some time. But after Shihan William Oliver passed away, all we really cared about was keeping the group together, maintaining relationships, not closing the doors of a place that had meant so much to us, and to so many others.

A dojo is more than just a place where exercise happens. It is more than just a room where fighters do their work. The longer you train, the more it becomes a part of you. The other students become like family. And the room, the hardwood floor, becomes that place you go when everything else sucks. It is a constant comfort, the fuzzy blanket that you wrap around yourself when the world is just too damn cold.

For some people, it is the only consistency they have.

We stayed in that yoga school for 2 years, slowly building our dojo from a small group of our teacher's shell shocked senior students, to our own children's program, and eventually our own new adults as well. Inch by inch, it became less about saving the old and more about creating the new. We were not just teaching karate classes, we were building something incredible. So of course, it was inevitable that right at the point when things were really coming together, the owner of the school would want his space back. 

The yoga guy wanted us out by the end of January. By February 1st we had one possible space with a landlord who was not the slightest bit interested in renting to us. Or at least, not us in our current form. Us with more money, sure. An us that owned something other than a hand me down Saturn and some heavy bags, a vacation home somewhere perhaps. An us with better credit. An us with the ability to pay a security deposit plus 6 months rent up front. 

Did I mention that we had a newborn at home?
Yes, well we did. 

Did I mention that we were currently moving apartments?
Yes, well we were.

What is that saying about things happening in threes?

It was not looking good for our dojo family. So not good, in fact, that we had already drafted a letter to our students, explaining the situation and promising to work hard to be able to reopen the dojo as soon as possible. It was over.

And then it wasn't. Somehow, we found a combination of co-signers, investors and really good friends who helped turn us into two people worthy of signing a commercial lease on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. 

That was five years ago. This March we resigned the lease for another five years. We have over 175 active students. We have four assistant teachers. We have classes six days a week. My husband and I are doing the impossible, we are making a living teaching karate. 

I am thankful for this every day. Even the bad ones. Even the days when my three year olds would rather pick their nose than listen to me. Even the days when I am acutely aware of just how many times I have thrown a stomach punch. (It is thousands. Multiple thousands.)  Even the days when I am sick, or tired or sick and tired. 

I am not just thankful to be running a dojo. I am thankful that even after all these years, performing katas on a wooden floor still holds some magic for me.  That training can still offer me solace, release and comfort. Not always, some days I am too distracted by the fact that it is not just a dojo floor but my dojo floor. But it is often enough to be worth preserving, not just for our students, but for me as well.

Does hard training solve everything? No. But it really really helps.

If you have a dojo, or anyplace where you can lose yourself in the joys of intense exercise, appreciate it. Enjoy it. It may not be there forever. But hopefully someone is working damn hard every day to keep the doors open for you.  

And remember, you are lucky, not everyone has a fuzzy blanket to wrap themselves in. Some people have to just suffer the winter.

Comments

  1. So on the money! Great piece of writing, Sensei! Very cool to find out all of the behind-the-scenes wrangling and hand-wringing, etc. I applaud you and Sensei Matthew for what you've accomplished! Osu

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