Thursday, 19 February 2015

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

I realize that the previous post was rather long and I only just briefly scratched the surface of the events that set my life into a whole new direction. The focus of that post was on how I got the job at Buntoku SHS which some may say was just simple luck. I argue, however, that it was not luck but rather the actions I took and the people I met and connected with along the way that set specific events in motion, the collection of these events lead me to where I am today. Living here has taught me very clearly that who we know is very important and that time is the most precious thing we have. Therefore, I try to use my time develop and strengthen good relationships with those whom I care for and respect and in doing so I have been very fortunate to have been shown a great deal of things that I otherwise would not have been exposed to.

One of the opportunities that I was able to benefit from was the 英語教育専門職コース Eigo Kyoiku Senmonsha Ko-su, MA TESOL Course at Kumamoto University (seen below). I became aware of the program through a friend I made, a Japanese Canadian who just came to the Dojo one night. He trained at a nearby Dojo in a different style but was joining our class for one reason or another. He was also an auditing student in the 法律学部 Houritsu Gakubu, Law Department at Kumamoto University and wanted to introduce me to a Professor in the department. One thing lead to another, I went to meet the Professor a couple of times and after some very interesting conversations, he introduced me to Terry Laskowski Sensei. I decided that a Master's in English Education would be beneficial for my future employment options here, but remained interested.

My friend and I both sat for 入学試験 Nyugaku Shiken, the Entrance Exam on the same day in February. Although our tests were in different departments the test format was very similar; a paper test consisting of an essay question, in my case two essay questions, and an interview before a panel of three senior Professors in the field. Those sitting for the test in the department that I applied for were all lead to the same room where our assigned seats were waiting for us with a light brown manila envelope on the desk in front of the chair. We sat and commenced the test. there was a teacher supervising the test. It was all very rigid and serious.

I opened up my envelope and removed the contents.. there were two essay questions, as I said, and some blank paper to write our answers on. The first question that my eyes met made me double and triple check the envelope. It was an opinion question asking me if I agree or disagree with some kind of language learning or language acquisition method. I was required to support my opinion with references and quotes from the article by the Author. That was fine, I could do that; give my opinion. Only one problem, the article being referred to was not there! The envelope was now empty and the article was nowhere to be found. I have to admit, I was a little shaken. I had been out of school for some time now having graduated from Saint Mary's University in 2001 with a BA in Asian Studies. Working as an ALT since then had given me a great deal of hands on experience but as far as exposure to the latest methods of language acquisition and theories of language learning, I was way out of the loop.

I decided to focus on the next question and hoped that it would be one that I could answer. As I began to read it, I started to feel more relaxed. It was asking me for practical advice on how to foster cross-cultural exchange from a grass roots approach to learning. That is exactly what the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme is all about. I had experience and even the good fortune to have taken a couple of groups of Junior High School (JHS) students on summer home stay exchange programs during my time as an ALT. I filled the pages supporting my ideas with the information I was given at the Board of Education and during all of the seminars I had attended. I also listed the pros and cons of various approaches. In short, I felt confident with my answer which, in the end was about 6 to 8 pages long. (I'm sure you can understand after reading my blog)

So, I had one down but that other question was still there and the answer page was blank. I couldn't leave it like that, but at the same time I couldn't bullshit my way through it either. What would you do? Let me tell you what I did. I told them my situation, that I graduated in 2001 and had been working as a full-time teacher in Elementary and JHSs since then. I also pointed out that the article that they demanded I quote was not included making it impossible for me to answer the question in any sensible manner. And that was that. I handed in my answer(s) and left the room. Next up, the interview.

I knocked on the door when my time came and waited for a reply, this would give me some clues on how to proceed. If the answer was in Japanese I knew I would have to use as much polite language and manners as I could to make a good impression, as I talked about in previous posts. If the answer that came was in English, then I would be able to act appropriately in that situation as well, for example I would reply either 入室しても宜しでしょうか。 Nyushitsu Shitemo Yoroshideshoka? or May I come in? accordingly and then begin the dance of may I sit down or please be seated and the small talk before the real questions in either language. The response was in Japanese.

Everything was going very well until about half way through the interview when it started to become more technical and I started to understand less and less of what was being said. However, there were three Professors there and only one of them was Japanese. The other two had been silent this whole time. One of them looked like he kind of knew what was being said but the other looked bored. I asked, at this point if it would be alright to speak in English as the other two Professors had not asked any questions yet. The Japanese Professor replied in English himself saying that was a good idea, or something of that nature. To tell you the truth I only did it because I had absolutely no idea what he had just asked me and this way I could cover smoothly and ask him to repeat the question, this time in English. The other two Professors were also happy because they could now participate in the Q & A. It was a win, win because the end result was that I was accepted to the program and my time at Kumamoto University was a very positive chapter in my life that I continue to benefit from.

I told you in the last post, that I was told by my employers to start looking for another job because there was no future for me in Koshi City after my contract ended in 2008. I was forced not only to find a way to stay in the country, i.e. a job or a research scholarship. I got the job and excepted to the Master's Program but, due to the job couldn't qualify for a scholarship.

I still needed to find a new place to live. In 2006 I got married and my wife and I were living together in the apartment that was subsidised by the town as part of my contract. A contract that would soon run out.
The stress of finding a new place even though we were both working full-time was taking its toll on us. One day I think it was in late February or early March my wife and I woke up, looked at each other and almost said simultaneously, "We need to find a new apartment today." We got up, ate breakfast and were out the door. Again, something inside me knew that we would find a place that day. We went to a small office near the Chito-Ryu Honbu Dojo on Route #3, 大東建託 Daito Trust Construction Co., Ltd. We were taken to see one apartment complex in 飛田 Hida about 15 minutes. drive from the Dojo heading toward 植木 Ueki. There were 3 complexes available and we could take our pick. This was a brand new complex and we would be the first to rent. We chose the one we liked best, signed the papers and had a new place to live from the 1st of April that very day. In fact as I was viewing the apartment I received a phone call from Greg Brown Shihan and if I remember correctly, he wanted to send me a gift and was asking for an address to send it to. I gave him the address of that apartment.

(This is not the apartment, but an image of the kind of Apartment buildings they provide)

Some may call it fate, others destiny, I am still not sure but I do know that there was something greater than me keeping me here in Kumamoto and that was the community.I now believe the reason why things went so smoothly the day we went apartment hunting, with the job opportunity at Buntoku SHS and even during the entrance exam it Kumamoto University,  as well as countless subsequent times after that is that I was in the 'flow' and I was in the flow because I wasn't forcing anything one way or the other.

There is a Chinese concept known as Wu-Wei (無為) it has been translated and interpreted many different ways most of these suggesting that one do 'nothing' to attain some desired end result. I feel that Alan Watts presents the closest to my personal interpretation that is to simply, "not force it." Successes are waiting for us to discover them and whenever we force something the added stress on our senses nullifies our preception to them. I have also experienced this in 組手 Kumite, and many times in my daily life; while driving for example, or in a conversation, where everything just flowed and I almost knew what was coming next and was, therefore, able to react without anticipating, without forcing anything. Some might call this state being in the 'zone' others may call it 'flow' as I have done. Whatever you call this feeling, I believe that it is the natural state that we are supposed to be in. I will talk in detail about this concept in a future post.

This is a state that our training of Kihon and Kata can facilitate. 意識で練習する、無識でやる Ishiki de Renshu suru, Mushiki de yaru, This is something that I often here in Dojo here. The message is simple; pay attention to the details when you are training so that you can forget them when you have to really use them. Bob Gascoigne Sensei used to say, "Train hard and the fighting is easy, train easy and the fighting's hard." I can still hear his voice as he was putting us through our paces and taking us to levels we never thought we could reach in our training. With his boot camp appraoch, the training was hard, hard as nails. And, you know what, it did make the fighting easier. You can see him Demonstrating his Hen Shu Ho at the 1991 Atlantic Coast Games by clicking on the link below. 

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