Dojos Shouldn’t Be Built In Glass Houses…

Those who know me well are aware that in some ways, a lot of ways, I’m a bit of an old dog. And we all know what they say about the aching us new tricks. I’ve been studying Okinawan karate for over 30 years and as such, I’m a bit set in my ways as it relates to adaptability. This sucks, because variety is the spice of life and one should never be bogged down or restricted by only one style.

With that in mind, I started training with a local karate dojo located in Regina, back in 2016. Although it’s a different style with significantly different techniques and ways of doing things than I’m used to, the camaraderie and ambiance have been just what the doctor ordered to keep me motivated and practicing. What’s nice is that there’s been some exchange of knowledge between our respective styles, so everyone learns.

However, as with most things nowadays, COVID-19 stuck a needle in my eye by closing down the dojo. We were having virtual classes for a while and then even those stopped. When conditions lifted in Saskatchewan last September, everyone was overjoyed to return to the dojo in person and get some training in. Then conditions and health regulations changed once again at the end of September, leading the dojo to close its doors again. this was mostly due to the requirements imposed by the martial arts association it’s a part of. but I digress…

With nowhere to train and my martial arts muscles twitching, I sought out different schools in order to find someplace new to get my kicks (pun fully intended). Last Monday, I visited a local school, here in Regina. Since perspective is extremely important in the martial arts and all of this is strictly my opinion, I won’t name the school or even the style. Suffice it to say it would have been something completely new for me.

Considering how long I’ve been doing this, i have a particular set of expectations when it comes to dojos and martial arts schools. Not everyone agrees with them and it often restricts me in the sense that I’m viewing this place with that narrow lens instead of considering what I could learn. This is the issue I faced last Monday evening when I attended this new school.

Class was scheduled for 7:00 pm and was only for an hour. This is my first red flag. Class minimum was always two hours when I trained back home and even then, we had difficulties walking out without showering Sensei with questions and asking about techniques for at least twenty minutes afterwards. It’s pretty hard to truly get into in-depth training with only an hour to work with. But in the interest of having an open mind, I reserved my opinion in favour of seeing what they’d offer in only sixty minutes.

I walked in at 6:45 and was greeted at the entrance by a few students who were standing there waiting. This took me aback a bit, as it’s important to stretch and warm up before training. Everyone was very friendly, introduced themselves and asked me what I knew about their style. I was told that the lead instructor was providing a private session and that class would start promptly at 7. Prior to class start, the students as well as the instructor tried their best to have me join in as opposed to watching. I politely declined, stating I wanted to observe a class first.

I couldn’t help but notice that the lead instructor was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap. I thought maybe this was just for the private session and he’d change into something appropriate before class started, but that didn’t happen. He was also wearing rings and a metal bracelet, which is frowned upon in most martial arts schools as you can injure yourself or others while training.

The class started and one of the students led the class in about 20 to 30 minutes worth of stretches and warm-up, which should have been done independently by the students prior to start of class. But again, this is simply an opinion. At the halfway point, everyone paired off and started practicing techniques. It should be noted that the instructor has done nothing at this point, other than walking around the group. Techniques were practiced in a cursory manner, with no precision or correction and EVERYONE was chatting while they trained. Not about the material, moons you. They were chatting about personal matters.

At the end of the hour, everyone bowed out and immediately started exiting. No follow up, no questions and most importantly, no one had broken a sweat and the instructor had not participated. He was extremely polite and invited me back to start taking lessons. I thanked him for his time and said some goodbyes to the students I had met and made my way home. I haven’t returned.

This is where my opening comment about being an old dog comes in. Where I was trained, the student was responsible for arriving a minimum of 15 minutes before start of class and stretching appropriately so that everyone was ready to jump into it once class started. There’s also an expectation that everyone works hard and everyone sweats. The expression is “blood, sweat and tears,” not “tea time and socializing.” There’s a time and place for students to come together and chat, but during class time is not it.

Another issue is the instructor’s lack of involvement. This is a red flag, as the instructor SHOULD be involved in training, as much if not more than the students. I’ve heard of some styles that believe that “black belts don’t sweat,” but that’s utter bullshit. A true martial artist’s training never ends, so there needs to be an active involvement.

I left the school that night a little sad and disappointed. As I said earlier, I haven’t returned. But on the other hand, the school may have great value to its students for what THEY need. The takeaway is that it simply wasn’t for me. And this is an important lesson. Martial arts is very subjective thing and the style and habits of the school are integral to ensuring the student and/or practitioners are getting what they seek from their training.

As it stands, the search for a place to train continues. And that’s fine. Considering how much I train on my own and the fact there are over three dozen schools in Regina alone, I’m sure I’ll find something. Persistence is key. But for all of you trying to find a place to train, make sure you know what you want to get out of your training. Be honest with yourself and with the instructor about what you want and what you expect. This will save significant amount of unwanted difficulty later on. ☯️

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Shawn

I am a practitioner of the martial arts and student of the Buddhist faith. I have been a Type 1 Diabetic since I was 4 years old and have been fighting the uphill battle it includes ever since. I enjoy fitness and health and looking for new ways to improve both, as well as examining the many questions of life. Although I have no formal medical training, I have amassed a wealth of knowledge regarding health, Diabetes, martial arts as well as Buddhism and philosophy. My goal is to share this information with the world, and perhaps provide some sarcastic humour along the way. Welcome!

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