Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Re-visiting Experiences that Have Helped Me Put Things into Perspective

I would like to move on to other topics, but before I do please let me say that I am very happy with the fact that this blog has sparked so many conversations among Karateka all over the world. Coming together and sharing ideas and experiences is exactly what I wanted this to facilitate. I have received a lot of positive feedback since I started this writing late last year. Some have even told me that this blog has been inspirational, motivating them to resume training after time off due to injury. I am humbled by the fact that this blog is speaking to so many people in such a personal way.

I do not consider myself to be an expert in any particular field, but my experiences here in Japan have lead me to pursue a career in education. My passion for Karate Do combined with my experience in the education system here has provided me with many unique opportunities to learn and grow. What I really want to do is share some of these experiences with you. Even if the posts do not help you directly, I do hope that they can facilitate meaningful conversations within the Karate Do community.

This most recent topic is continuing to teach me so much as it has caused me to research Eastern and Western philosophies more deeply. I have to admit, I feel like I have waded into very deep waters talking about 'spirituality' and I realize that, in doing so, I may become a target for criticism. But, I am confident that the ripples sent out from this topic will reach many people and the discussions that will take place as a result will be positive because my intentions are pure and I want nothing more than to learn.

It is hard to put into words, many of the things that I have and continue to experience here. As I said in my very first post, 紹介 Introduction, "Japan is the furthest a young boy from Nova Scotia can go in this world" not just geographically, but also culturally. I am doing my best to verbalize these experiences. However, on this topic especially, I don't think that my experiences carry enough weight to illustrate or define the process of 'spiritual growth' within the context of Karate Do. Therefore, I would like to ask Sensei here in Japan and around the world about their spiritual journey in Karate Do. I hope that the question is not too personal for people to talk about, although, I completely understand if it is.

In the near future, I would like to interview some of the people whom I have close relationships with here to share their views on this subject. I hope that those of you who are searching for answers will do so, too. I will not attempt to define all of these terms. I would prefer to let the professionals and etymological scholars  do that, but I will try to illustrate them with the experiences I have had here in Japan and frame the conversations more appropriately in future posts.

Recently, I found a link to an old TV program by Alan Watts, considered by some to be an authority on Eastern and Western Philosophies. In this particular program, he is talking about the Zen Buddhist term the often translated as the "void." But, he says something that I think mirrors the point that I am trying to make in the discussion on spiritual growth. He says, "When trying to explain things like this, the funny thing is, it can't be explained because it has to be felt. Because it is a transformation of one's basic feeling, one's basic consciousness of life" (1959). While I don't agree with some of the things he says in this program and it is quite obvious by the way he handles the 刀 Katana, Sword that he has no martial training, I still feel that he articulates some very important points well and that the program is worth a viewing.

Furthermore, I feel like I am experiencing similar transformations to those of which he speaks. Living in Japan has caused me to monitor my own thoughts and actions to a much higher degree than that which we would do while we are residing within our native culture. The process of residing outside of our native environment, forces us to examine and scrutinize more carefully what thought processes we may be 'privileging'. Thought processes that may be inappropriate remnants that we are bringing from our native culture paradigms, therefore, become much more obvious. This awareness alters our state of consciousness causing changes in our fundamental beliefs. Please take a look at the link to Alan Watts if you are interested.

Fate, Destiny, or Serendipity You Decide
I would like to share with you a series of events that deeply affected me and where I am today, quite literally as I am writing this post in my office at Buntoku Senior High School (SHS). A place I had not even heard of until I was introduced to it during the events I am going to talk to you about now.

Let me start at the place I believe to be the turning point. Over the course of  2007 and 2008 my life here took a huge leap forward as with any change, there was some pain, struggle, and stress that came as well. But, looking back I feel almost like there was a guiding force; something helping things fall into place. As I gradually became more aware of the opportunities available to me, more and more things began to click and I began to gradually become more aware of the importance of relationships and friendships, 関係 Kankei, in Japanese, in order to learn, grow, and succeed. A concept that Roger Ames often talks about in his lectures on Chinese Ethics and Justice; a strong devotion to the family and community which is rooted in a belief of interconnectedness.

Could this be explained by using a word like 'fate' or 'destiny'? I don't know. The definition of the word 'fate' according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English is, a "supposed power predetermining events as in the case of something which is preordained." In this sense one could say, I was fated to arrive at this point. The flip side would then, of course be, fated to fail or 'doomed' from the very start. The Kanji  that is used to represent this concept of 'fate' which is also very closely related to destiny defined as a 'fate' or a 'power' is 運命 Unmei. The Taoist use of the word Karma may also be used to describe how I got to where I am now and, quite possibly, these terms could also be used to foreshadow where I am going. Karma can be translated as 縁 En in Japanese and many people have told me that my coming to Buntoku was the work of En again implying that I was destined or fated to come to work at Buntoku SHS.

The following defintion is taken from Wikipedia:
Karma is an important concept in Taoism. Every deed is tracked by deities and spirits. Appropriate rewards or retribution follow karma, just like a shadow follows a person.
The karma doctrine of Taoism developed in three stages. In the first stage, causality between actions and consequences was adopted, with supernatural beings keeping track of everyone's karma and assigning fate (ming). In the second phase, transferability of karma ideas from Chinese Buddhism were expanded, and a transfer or inheritance of Karmic fate from ancestors to one's current life was introduced. In the third stage of karma doctrine development, ideas of rebirth based on karma were added. One could be reborn either as another human being or another animal, according to this belief. In the third stage, additional ideas were introduced; for example, rituals, repentance and offerings at Taoist temples were encouraged as it could alleviate Karmic burden.

Put simply, if one's intentions are good and one performs good deeds these acts of kindness will come back to the individual in one form or another. Thus the saying, "Good Karama."

Serendipity, also according to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, is defined as the, "faculty of making happy discoveries by accident." While I do not believe that my discoveries were made 'by accident', I do feel that many of the discoveries I have made here in Japan have been positive and were crucial in my growth and development as a human being, or perhaps more appropriately put, a human "becoming" (Ames, 2012).

And now for the Illustration
My journey to Buntoku started in 2006, in the office of the superintendent of the education in Koshi City, formerly Nishigoshi town. The town where I worked as an ALT for 7 years had just amalgamated with the neighbouring town to form a small city. Since I had worked there for such a long time I had rather naturally assumed other duties such as helping out with new ALTs, a job that was designated to the 担当者 Tantousha, Supervisor in the 教育委員会 Kiyokuiinkai, Borad of Education (BOE). We were requesting that I receive a more permanent position, something like an 副担当者 Fuku Tantousha, Assistant Supervisor to the ALTs with a 3 year contract instead of 1 year. I had just gotten married and was starting a new family with my wife. My track record was good and I had developed many deep friendships with people in the town. But, the new Director and Superintendent were from the other town and they were very quick to decline our request and tell me to start looking for a new job. Our initial response was shock, followed by anger, and then sadness. As we all picked our jaws up off the floor and left the office the reality of the situation hit me like a brick wall. I had less than a year to find a new job or I would be forced to return to Canada.

Here is where things started to get interesting. I started talking to other teachers at the schools were I worked and friends of mine in the Karate community. I told them that I would soon be without a job and probably have to return for Canada. Everyone was shocked and said pretty much the same thing: まだまだ、帰れないよう!Mada mada Kaerenaiyou!, "Not yet, you can't go." I met with one Karate Do Sensei who worked for the 役場 Yakuba, Town Office of a near by town. We met and I explained the situation to him. It was now the summer of 2007. He told me to draw up a 履歴書 Rirekisho, resume (See photo below, right). He would talk to another Sensei who had a Senpai who worked at a 私立高校 Shiritsu Koukou, Private SHS in Kumamoto City. He would take me to meet him and give me the opportunity to submit my resume and make a good impression. I had never hear of the Sensei, or so I thought, and never heard of the school until I talked about this chance with my very close friends who, as it turned out, all graduated from this school! Perhaps this was a very good sign that I just couldn't see until my level of awareness became more heightened.

I prepared one resume and met with the teacher in the evening during 部活動 Bukatsudou, club training. The school was Buntoku and the teacher was Murata Sensei. The Karate Do Bu, at that time trained in a little プレハブ道場 Purehabu Dojo, a kind of shed like building behind the Baseball field a little bit removed from the actual school building, pictured to the right. The training area was long and narrow, only about 5 mats wide (See photo blow, left). Murata Sensei was in a suit and tie, but he was teaching the students passionately. When we entered the small building, everyone stopped and came to attention.
The Captain at the time was Uragami, who was a 3rd Grade Student at the time. We have since become very good friends. He called the other students to attention for an 挨拶 Aisatsu, greeting saying 気を付け、礼! Ki wo Tsuke, Rei! and everyone bowed to us us together. There were some chairs set up for us to sit on and watch the practice. Murata Sensei sat with us and he and his Kohai talked for a short time before introducing me. However, in fact, this was not the first time I had met Murata Sensei.

One year earlier at a 忘年会 Bounen Kai, End of the Year Party we had been seated next together and really hit it off. His Son was training at a Chito-Ryu Dojo in Mashiki called 闘心館 Toushin Kan the Chief Instructor was Matsuoka Sensei he had invited me as a special guest that night. Isn't it funny the way our paths can cross people who will become very important people in our lives without us even being aware the significance.  So now, here I was resume in hand being introduced again not sure if he remembered me or not. He took the resume and acknowledged that he did remember me from that party a year ago, but informed me that there were already 2 Native speaking English Teachers at the school and the Principal wasn't looking for any new staff. Things didn't look good for this job prospect, but something inside me still felt positive in spite of this obviously large setback. I just 'knew' that I would get the job and that everything would work out. Don't ask me how I 'knew', I can't really explain it, I just felt it strongly.
In an attempt to continue to develop a relationship with Murata Sensei, I offered to help out with the Karate Do Team on a completely volunteer basis for the rest of the year. I can still remember the smile on his face and the kindness in his voice when he said yes to this offer. I went to that little Dojo a couple of times a Month and helped out with coaching at tournaments for the rest of that year. I didn't give out any other resumes or pursue any other job prospects.
(The above photo was taken in Okinawa at the Koutairen All Kyushu Championships, 2012)
I did, however,  apply for a Master's course at Kumamoto University. English teachers at the Junior High School where I was still working at in Koshi City helped me complete the application forms. I also met with some Professors on Campus and with every meeting my motivation and inspiration grew. The Professor whom I met most often with during this application process was Terry Laskowski, PhD. He would become my Supervising Professor during my time in the Postgraduate course. We would also go on to conduct a collaborative research project at Buntoku and co-author a publication together (Seen below presenting our research at the International Education Conference in Osaka, Japan, 2014. We've also presented together in the Philippines and Singapore)

It was during this year that I began to notice how everything began to fall into place and twists of unrelated events and chance encounters or references affected the course of my life deeply. Let me give you a few examples of some of these events.  With regards to my application to Buntoku SHS, as I said earlier, the Principal wasn't looking for new teaching staff. At the end of that year the Principal changed. I also said that there were already 2 native speaking English teachers at that school. At the end of that year one of those teachers decided to return home and the other was let go due to poor job performance which was determined by the new principal. Was this a coincidence? Or was there something else working, helping me get a position at this school? Also that year in the 高体連 Koutairen, the SHS division of the JKF in Kumamoto Murata Sensei was appointed the 専門院長 Senmon Inchou, The Director of the Professional or Technical committee. As a rule the Principal of the school where the appointed Director works is also appointed as the 専門部長 Senmon Buchou, A Chief Director to the Division. Like a Directing Supervisor. Simply put, this meant that the Principal, upon coming to this school, had a special connection to the Karate Do Bu and this meant that he was more open to the notion of filling the position with someone with my credentials.
In February of 2008, I got a phone call from Murata Sensei and shortly after that call I sat with the Principal for an interview. In his hand he held the resume that roughly a year earlier I handed to Murata Sensei. He commented on my qualifications and asked me if the writing was my own. The common Resume in Japan is hand written in a specific format (see photo above, right). During the interview I got the feeling that it was just a formality. That he needed to meet me to make it official, but that, technically, I already had the job.
(Buntoku Junior High School, Senior High School Genkan, Main Entrance)
Told you earlier that I had also applied to a new Post-graduate course at Kumamoto University. Well at the same time I was finding out that I had a job I was also preparing for the entrance exam for Kumamoto University. Fortunately, they were also offering the course through correspondence opening up the opportunity to full time teachers which I had now become. I was able to change my application to include this new condition. I would like to tell you about this process and how everything fell into place here too in my next post.
 (Kumamoto University)

No comments:

Post a Comment