SUSPENSION AND RESOLUTION
by: Jeffrey L. Day
"The enjoyment of pleasure, is the neglect of training." --Old samurai adage.
Sensei stood in his office window and surveyed the deshi as the Sempai put them through the paces of a rigorous training session. The class had been in session for almost three hours now, so the students were beginning to fatigue. As he watched from his hidden vantage point, Sensei carefully considered each individuals progress.
Most of the students were training at their absolute best. Dennis was in front. A tall lanky man in his forties, he was sweating profusely and kiaiing like thunder on every tenth technique. Alan was nearby, working hard on correcting the mistakes the Senpai had pointed out to him earlier. His extra body weight was giving him trouble with his front kick, and he was putting his efforts towards getting his knee higher in the chamber. As he concentrated, his face was a mask of determination. Sherri was training like a banshee. Showing her usual spirit and stamina, she was popping her sweat soaked gi with every technique. Her small frame was a deception to the power in her techniques.
As Sensei slowly scanned the dojo, each individual fell under his intense scrutiny. Brandon was in his usual spot in the back corner. Shy and uncoordinated, he was less of a natural karateka than the others, but he made up for it in sheer determination and effort. He was slowly developing coordination and stamina through constant and steady training.
"He just needs more time." Sensei thought, "If he doesnít give up he will make a fine karateka ."
The students continued on, oblivious as Sensei watched in silence from the office window. The dojo was literally humming with ki as the condensation rolled off the sweat fogged windows. The Sempai was barking out the commands and the students answered back with a sharp "Hai Sempai!!" as the Sensei beamed behind the glass. He was quite pleased with his dojo.
"Yes," he thought to himself, "they are a good group."
Then he noticed Jon.
Karate ability had come easier for Jon than any of Senseiís other students. Naturally strong and coordinated, it seemed as if he was blessed with the innate ability to grasp the essence of any technique with only a few tries. His dojo mates were respectfully in awe of his grace, power and speed. His kumite was strong and his execution of kata was even better. Even so, Jon was always quick to help others, never shirking his responsibilities in the dojo. It seemed that he was perpetually the first to arrive and the last to leave for the classes. Jon had always been a model student in every way, ...until lately.
Sensei had observed a few months earlier that Jon seemed less eager to learn. He had been showing much less effort in class and his attendance had become rather sporadic. Sensei had mentioned this to him a few times, but Jon always had an answer in defense of his behavior. Now, as Sensei watched Jon from behind the glass, he had the answer. Jon had reached his comfort zone. Convinced that his basic technique was sufficient, Jon no longer felt the need to push himself. For him, karate training had ceased to offer the challenge that it once had. He viewed Sensei and the dojo as something that would always be available. Jon came to class only when he had nothing better to do. He was not progressing. Sensei slowly shook his head and closed the curtain on the office window.
"Class sure was a cruise tonight." Jon mused as he headed for the water fountain.
"Maybe for you Jon, " Sherri said breathless, " but I can hardly stand up!"
"Yeah," Alan joked as he took his place in line for water, "I donít see how you do it. Iím a sweaty mess and you look fresh as a daisy!"
Jon polished his nails on the breast of his gi. "Itís all in the wrist." he quipped with a grin.
Sherri rolled her eyes in feinted exasperation.
The students stepped back from the water fountain as the Dai Senpai approached. They soon realized by the look on his face, that a drink was the last thing he had in mind.
"Jon, Sensei wants to see you in his office." he said in a serious tone.
Jon stood frozen and looked puzzled.
"Ima." (now) the Dai Sempai added sternly.
As Jon Ďs paralysis broke, he said "Hai Sempai" and headed for the office.
The short walk down the hall to Senseiís office seemed like an uphill trek as Jon contemplated the reason for the meeting. The Dai Senpai had been extremely serious when he delivered the message. Jon knew from experience that this was not a good sign. He managed a weak peck on the door.
"Come in.", a voice said.
Sensei was seated behind his desk when Jon entered the room.
Jon approached the desk and waited for Sensei to tell him to sit down. As he stood on the rug in front of Senseiís imported teakwood desk, he thought of the old line, "called on the carpet". But this was not funny. Sensei was reading "The Go Rin No Sho" ("The Book Of Five Rings.")
"You wanted to see me Sensei?" Jon asked.
"Yes," Sensei said, looking up from his book. "You are suspended from class." , he said matter-of-factly.
The statement hit Jon like a hammer.
"Excuse me Sensei?" Jon said respectfully.
"Youíre suspended from class." Sensei repeated in a serious tone. "The Dai Senpai will give you the details. You may leave now."
Jon choked out a confused "Hai Sensei" and left the room.
That night as he drove home, Jon recounted the details of his suspension as given to him by the Dai Sempai. The Chief Studentís tone of voice had been strangely businesslike as he gave Jon the suspension guidelines;
"You will not be permitted to train in any of the classes." Jon had been told. "You may train in the dojo after class, provided you are alone. You may attend any of the dojo social activities and are encouraged to stay in contact with your friends. Do not contact Sensei until your suspension is over."
That was it. The Dai Sempai had offered no explanation whatsoever, as to the reason for the suspension. Jon knew how Sensei worked, he would have to figure it out for himself.
The next few weeks were horrible for Jon. He was so angry and hurt that training was impossible. His bitterness towards Sensei was so great that it filled his thoughts completely. He did not go near the dojo for fear of being questioned about his absence by the other students or seeing Sensei. Most of his energy was directed towards anger and self pity. His karate training eventually stopped completely.
It was two months later when Jon got a call from Sherri. She was in charge of organizing a dojo party and she was calling to invite Jon.
"Please try to be there." Sherri said sincerely, "We all miss you and would like to see you."
"Iíll be there." Jon said. "Just because Sensei is angry with me doesnít mean I canít see my friends, right?"
"Sensei is not angry with you Jon," Sherri confided, "I am sure there is a reason for what he is doing."
"Yeah, right. " Jon said sarcastically. He hung up the phone.
One week later, Jon found himself standing outside the door of the training hall with a bowl of party dip in his hand and a bad case of nerves.
"Oh well," he thought to himself as he opened the door, "Iím going to make the best of this."
Jon followed the sound of the party down the hall, and entered the recreation room. There was a surprisingly warm welcome from his old training buddies. They were genuinely glad to see him. He immediately felt right at home. He was a bit relieved to learn that Sensei was out of town and would not be attending the party.
"Thatís fine with me." Jon thought, "Now I can relax and have fun."
The party was great. The students were eager to tell Jon of the happenings at the dojo since his absence. He was grateful to see his friends and feel a part of things again. After a couple of hours , Jon excused himself from the party. He wanted to peep into the dojo just to see if things were still the same.
Jon walked down the hall the to the dojo. Standing in the entrance way instantly brought back a flood of memories. He longed to feel the polished wood floor against his bare feet again. He took off his shoes, bowed, and stepped inside. Even with the muffled sounds of the party down the hall, the dojo was eerily quiet. Jon took in the smell and feel of this familiar place. Everything was just as it had been. The spicy smell of incense unsuccessfully tried to cover the odor of stale perspiration. The kendo gear looked like short squat kendoka as it stood silently on the racks in the rear of the room. The pictures of the Masters looked down upon the scene like ethereal guardians. Just to the right, the nafuda (student roster) was ...
"Something is wrong," Jon thought.
Then, it hit him. There on the nafuda, six positions down from the Dai Senpaiís name, was an empty space where Jonís name used to be.
He stared at the gaping hole in disbelief.
Sensei had removed his name from the dojo student roster.
Through the years of training, Jon had carefully watched the progress of his name-stick as it slowly inched itís way up the line of rank on the nafuda. Now it was gone. To Jon, it was the worst blow of all. He glanced back at the pictures of the Masters and their expressions seemed to have changed. They seemed to glare accusingly at him and say, "Leave this place, you do not belong here anymore!" Jon ran out of the dojo without stopping to say good-bye to his friends.
That night was a turning point for Jon. Sitting in the park a block away from the dojo, he realized that he had lost one of the most important aspects of his life. His martial arts training. He knew that in order to regain Senseiís respect he would once again have to prove his sincerity. He forgot his anger and bitterness toward Sensei, and set his mind on training.
The next day Jon put on his gi for the first time in weeks and began training in his back yard. At first, the gi felt a bit uncomfortable, but with a little sweat it soon regained itís old familiarity. Knowing that it would take many hours of grueling work to regain his focus and concentration, he decided to work on nothing but basics. He planned to train so hard that when he returned from suspension he would actually be better than before. He was determined to do it. Maybe then Sensei would accept him back.
The next few months Jon trained like a fiend. He built himself a makiwara and punched it until calluses began to form on his knuckles. He constructed a tebiki and worked on it incessantly. To strengthen his stances, Jon cut four foot lengths of log and tied a rope harness to them. He would put the harness around his hips and pull the logs around the yard in low stances. Using concrete, he fashioned his own crude chiishi and used them to strengthen his arms. Training devices such as the sunakame and makiage gu became his new friends. Day after day, he practiced kata and basics till he dropped from exhaustion, but he did not quit. Jon had definitely left the comfort zone.
After a while, Jon became a familiar face in the dojo parking lot. He would sit in his car and wait till all the students had gone home. When the lights were out, and the dojo was quiet, he would go in and train alone. Well, almost alone, the Masters on the wall were there to watch. He would train just as if Sensei were there to push him on, doing countless repetitions of the only techniques he knew. Kata after kata and night after night Jon slowly began to regain his former ability. But that wasnít good enough. Jon knew that when his suspension was over, he would need to have greatly improved before Sensei would accept him back. One night, during a particularly productive training session Jon felt almost as if Sensei had actually been there urging him on. He could almost feel the familiar sensation of Senseiís presence in the room as he sweated through the training. He knew that it was only his imagination, but it encouraged him just the same. That night in his training fervor, Jon did not notice the shadowy figure behind the curtain of Senseiís office window.
The year of suspension was a period of tremendous personal growth for Jon. During his nocturnal training sessions, as he had watched the names of the other students climb the nafuda, he had finally realized why he had been suspended. He now knew that he had allowed himself to grow complacent about his training. He realized that he had stopped progressing. He had taken his training, and his Sensei, for granted. To make matters worse, he had reacted like a spoiled child to the suspension. He knew now that Sensei was only trying to help him reach his own personal best.
Exactly one year after he had been suspended, Jon bowed into the dojo and lined up for class. The other students seemed almost as nervous as Jon as Sensei bowed them in. That night, Jon trained with all his might. He tried the hardest and kiaied the loudest of anyone in the dojo. It was obvious to all that Jon had greatly improved not only his technique but his attitude as well.
For the next few weeks, Sensei ignored him completely. Six weeks later, during training, Sensei walked up to Jon in class and eyed him suspiciously.
"Just what are you doing?" Sensei said sternly. It was the first time Sensei had spoke to him since the suspension.
"Training Sensei!!" Jon shouted with all his spirit.
The whole class seemed to hold their breath in anticipation.
"Well if you expect to keep training in this dojo, you had better fix those stances and put some more kime in those wobbly techniques of yours!!" Sensei said sternly.
As Sensei walked away and resumed counting, the class gave a collective sigh of relief. Jon tried his best to stifle a grin and shouted, "Hai Sensei! Domo arigato!!"
He was finally back.
Jon never got comfortable again.
Jon fell into a trap that plagues many of todayís martial arts students. In modern day dojo, some students make the mistake of seeing their Sensei as a "paid employee" who owes them the service of teaching for their dues. Many commercial dojo even encourage this idea. In this way, the students feel as if they can attend class at their own discretion or train with less than maximum effort. Nothing could be more wrong. The traditional student must realize that the dues paid to the dojo are not payment for the service of teaching. Sweat and sincere effort are the payment. Dues pay rent and other necessary costs of having a place to train. They do not in any shape or form, pay for Senseiís instruction. Senseiís knowledge is in fact priceless. To attach a monetary value to this knowledge is to degrade the martial arts. In truth, the sensei chooses to put his efforts into teaching the student because of the promise inferred in the dojo kun (dojo precepts). In reciting the kun, the student makes a solemn promise to the sensei to live by the precepts to the best of his ability. In recompense the sensei promises to guide the student down the path of knowledge to the best of his ability. It is an unwritten contract that both sides are obligated to uphold. In the case of the true sensei, his knowledge has been acquired through the shedding of much blood, sweat and tears. On this knowledge, there can be no price!
Train hard, and donít allow yourself to get comfortable!