November 20th

I am going to tell you a secret. 
The name of your school does not matter. The patch you wear on your uniform does not matter. The belt you tie around your waist, the color of your gi, the medals on your wall, none of these things matter. 

All that matters is the sweat on the floor.

I am not saying that you should not be proud of those things. You earned them and they deserve to be celebrated. 
I am not saying that all dojos are the same. They aren't.

But none of that matters.

What matters is that you did one more pushup that night. When you thought you were done, you did one more. 
What matters is that you kept fighting, even though he had you pushed up against the wall and for a moment there you were pretty sure he forgot who you were. He certainly forgot how small you were, yet you kept fighting, or at least you kept your hands up and waited for the bell to ring. You didn't quit.
What matters is that you went to class. When you would really rather be on the couch watching TV, you went to class anyway, dragged your bag up those stairs (dear God why were there so many stairs??), careful to avoid the broken one, and you put on your gi and you trained.
Except for that one time when you didn't. That one Friday when you showed up and there was no one in the room except those three big guys and you shook your head and laughed out loud. And then you put your shoes back on and he stared at you, incredulous. "Where are you going?" he asked, to which you replied simply "Home." And then he laughed too because he could not believe it.

He never let you live that one down. "Remember that time you went home?"
"Well yeah. I know my limits."

People used to come into the dojo and burst into tears. For months after, years even, people would come into the dojo, see his photo on the shinzen, and burst into tears. They would stand there and spill out their regrets. How they always wanted to come back to training. How they wish they had had a chance to say goodbye. How I must be so sad all the time.

I am not so sad all the time. 

I took class yesterday. We did a black belt kata that he used to love and it made me smile. Earlier that day I taught a small boy named Marcus how to throw a roundhouse kick and it reminded me of a story my teacher told me once, about the very first time he taught four year olds.

"I called out line up! And suddenly I looked over and there was this little guy standing there and there was a puddle on the floor. And that was when I realized that teaching kids was going to be different."

He used to call me lady. He called a lot of the women that. When I sparred he would tell me that I loved fire. I took it as a compliment.

I plan on sparring tomorrow.

You do not have to miss someone when they are always around. I don't mean that I see the ghost of my dead teacher on the floor of my dojo. I simply mean that I am still training. I throw punches and kicks and do pushups and when I am not doing that I am shouting at a room full of four year olds to punch harder and kiai louder and how can I possibly do any of that if it weren't for him?

Because it does not matter that he is gone. It matters that we are still here. It matters that you can pick up your bag and climb up those stairs (if your dojo has them) and put on your gi (no matter what damn patch is on it) and step on that floor. Today. Do it today. If your dojo is closed today, do it tomorrow. Just do it.

All that matters is the sweat on the floor.

(This blog post is in memory of Shuseki-Shihan William Oliver, my karate instructor, who passed away ten years ago today. This Saturday our dojo will be hosting a demonstration in his honor.  This post is especially for those of you who cannot be there to see it.)


  1. Everyone in our family is indebted to him and we will always remember him.

  2. Excellent tribute to this unique and influential man. OSU!


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