Thursday, 6 November 2014

Getting Back on Track, Another Post on Courtesy in the Martial Arts

I would like to clear up something regarding my last post which may have been a little provocative. I want to make it clear that my intention was not to suggest that every Japanese family leaves all responisibilities of parenting to the teacher but rather show that, in my experience here, the school is more integrated into the family dynamic than my experience in North America. I admit, I got a little off topic and I would like to get back on track with this blog.

I would like to share with you a story about a situation I found myself in shortly after coming to Kumamoto. I was put in a difficult spot and needed to act quickly in order to make a good 第一印象 Dai Ichi Insho, A Good First Impression. This story is much more in keeping with the theme of this blog.

I had been working at the 西合志役場 Nishigoshi Yakuba, The Town Office in Nishigoshi in the deptartment of the board of education for a few Months and had gotten to know most of the staff in other departments as well. One staff memeber appraoched me at a staff party one night and told me that he practices 合気道 Aikido, I had practiced Aikido only a few times in 北海道 Hokkaido while I was studying there but, noticed many similarities to the applications of 千唐流空手道の分解 Chito-Ryu no Bunkai. (Bunkai are the practical applications of offensive and defensive techniques commonly found in kata which are broken down an practiced as self-defense techniques) He asked me if I would like to join his class someday and I said I would like to very much. A few more Months rolled by and I never heard back from him. I thought he had forgotten or maybe it was just a kind gesture that he made but never really intended to follow through with, a concept known as 本意と建前 Honne to Tatemae, Showing and hiding One's true intentions. (This is a huge topic that demands its own blog post. Therefore, I will discuss this in detail later)

Right now I just want to say that I thought he was being polite when we talked but really never planned on actually taking me to the class. After about a year he asked me, out of the blue, to attend his Aikido class with him. He gave me the weekly schedule and we arranged a date to go toghether.

During this year I had tested for and passed my 三段 San Dan, 3rd Degree Black Belt grading. I was eager to learn as much as I could about Japanese martial arts as well as 気 Ki or Chi, Internal Energy development. Therefore, I was very interested in Aikido and was excited about attending the training session. He picked me up in the evening after work and we went together to his Dojo. It was located behind one of the high schools in Kumamoto city. It was a little community center with a training hall and changing rooms. When we entered there were already some people dressed in 袴 Hakama, Taditional Trainin wear that you often see Aikido Ka wearing. They were warming up in the far corner of the training hall, some were doing some light stretching and others were lightly performing some wrist escape type techniques on eachother.

The Sensei met us at the entrance and we performed a very traditional series of greetings where I was introduced formally to the Sensei, I bowed deeply and basically said that I was honored to have the opportunity to train there and thanked him for his kindness and generosity. However, I felt deep down in my gut that I was being sized up. His eyes and the eyes of everyone in that little hall were piercing.

Two of the ranking members came at the call of the Sensei, he told them to show me to the changing room and they did so immediately, the first taking the lead and the other taking my bag which held my 道着 Do Gi, Uniform and 帯 Obi, belt. I followed after bowing once more to the Sensei, he was an older man with a thick capable looking body.

I changed quickly in the place they showed me and after finishing the knot in my belt stepped onto the training floor. I was greeted by the Sensei again but this time with a gesture that was very obviously telling me to stop! His left hand was performing a stop sign gesture right in front of my face and in his right hand he was holding a white belt...

He guided me back to the entrance so that I was unable to even step foot on the training hall floor and made it very clear that I could not enter his Dojo unless I took off my black belt and put on the white belt that he was offering to me.

I was in a dilemma, not because I didn't want to oblige him and put on the white belt but because on my Gi was the Chito-Ryu style crest and I was not a white belt in Chito-Ryu. I tried to explain this as best I could and he noddded as if he understood what I was saying and then the firmness that was there when we first met returned to his gaze and he extended the hand that was holding the white belt and re-stated his earlier demand.

By this time all of the members who were quietly warming up in the hall stopped and began to slowly walk toward us. I bowed again and said that I understand that I don't have any experience or rank in Aikido but I do hold a 3rd Dan in Chito-Ryu. I asked if anyone there had a spare gi top that I could borrow, saying, I would be more than happy to wear the white belt with a gi that didn't have a Chito-Ryu crest on it.

His gaze softened and he turned to ask his students if any of them had a top that they could spare. Unfortunately, no one did. And, we were back to square one; he wouldn't let me in unless I put on the white belt and I couldn't wear a white belt with the gi I had on!

What would you do?

Let me tell you what I did. The time I had to make my decision was very limited and so were my options. I could refuse to take the white belt unless they provided me with another gi, I could refuse to train altogether and leave but, this would make my co-worker who introduced me look bad. I could simply give in and put on the white belt over my own gi. All of these options were swirling around in my head rapidly and I had to decide, RIGHT NOW, what to do. Then it came to me and I said to him, 分りました Wakarimashita, "I understand."

I took off my gi and turned it inside out. You could still see the back of the embroidery of the crest but, the gesture served its purpose and in my heart it still seems like the right thing to do. I put the white belt on over the reversed gi top and he personally guided me onto the training floor saying softly to me 流石の空手家だ Sasuga Karateka da, "You are a true Karate Ka, (as I expected)."

I had to act quickly  but, was able to make a good Dai Ichi Insho. We are often presented with challenges like this and each time we are given the chance to show our true strength which I believe is the strength of our character. So I ask you again, if you were in the same situation how would you handle it?

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