WOULD YOU BUY A USED CAR FROM THIS MAN?
by: Jeffrey L. Day
Jon rifled through the local yellow pages without much hope. He had just moved to a new town and was looking for a place to train. As he perused the ads he noticed there was a plethora of "Masters" extolling their qualifications in bold print. There were "Grandmasters" and "Supreme Grandmasters" , and some titles he had never even heard of before. Not one instructor was less than an eighth degree black belt, regardless of age. Jon counted four "National Champions" on one page, all from the same organization and the same year.
"Must have been a four way tie for first place that year.", he chuckled to himself.
The largest ad in the book boasted Traditional Okinawan Karate under the direct instruction of an eighth degree master. The accompanying photo was a shot of the "master" in a fighting kamae. The photo revealed that he was no older than his late twenties. Jon slammed the phone book shut in exasperation and looked at his watch. Lunch time, he thought to himself. Standing in the back door of his new home Jon surveyed his back yard. As a nightingale sang in the little pear tree near the fence, Jon could envision the backyard traditional dojo he had always dreamed of building. Jonís future dojo would be a modest structure. A small but dignified dojo surrounded by a nice garden. He decided the nightingale should stay, if he liked of course. Jon knew he would use the plans that he and his sensei had drawn up years ago. He could still remember how his sensei had explained the importance of building a dojo correctly.
"A true dojo must be unpretentious.", Sensei had said, "It must blend into itís natural surroundings so that it does not disturb the harmony of the area. It is absolutely essential that the dojo exhibit the elements of wabi and sabi (naturalness , simplicity and rusticity) in order to bring the students mind to a peaceful state. Since the dojo is the place for studying the way, it must be a place of quiet and peaceful dignity."
"The interior," he continued, "must be in order and uncluttered. Just like your mind should be Jon-san." he added with a point of his finger.
" A dojo that is garishly decorated is the place of an egotist and no serious training can possibly be done there. Trophies and other such displays of ego should never be seen in a true place of the way. You must realize that this would be a sure sign of the instructors ignorance of the way of budo. Such an instructor cannot possibly lead a student to mastery since he does not understand it himself!"
Sensei went on, " When a student steps into the true dojo he steps out of the outer world and into the world of budo. Therefore the surroundings are specifically designed to bring his mind to a spiritual state that is necessary for proper training."" The dojo is not just a place of physical training," Sensei admonished, "but spiritual growth as well. Correctly constructed, it will become a place of sanctuary for the trainee. He then has only to think of the dojo during his hectic day to bring his mind back to a calm and serene state."
Sensei had been right, Jon thought. Even now, just remembering the dojo where he had trained, gave him a peaceful feeling. Maybe someday, he thought to himself, when I am worthy to teach I will build one myself. His stomach growled and woke him from his daydream. Grabbing his car keys, he shut the door behind him and headed for his car. As Jon drove through town he surveyed his new surroundings. It was a typical small southern town of about thirty thousand people. The brochure in the real estate package he had received in the mail had boasted thirty five manufacturing facilities and over one hundred churches. There were six elementary schools, two junior highs, two high schools and two colleges. As Jon passed the town square he noticed a few of the local people milling about the courthouse lawn. A few senior citizens were seated on benches talking and whittling with there pocketknives. A slight breeze whispered through the shade trees above their heads. The piles of cedar shavings at their feet attested to hours of conversations about the weather and politics.
"Jon old boy, " He said to himself, "Welcome to Mayberry!". Grinning, he shook his head and turned left down main street.
After enjoying an excellent meal in a small family owned restaurant, Jon was beginning to feel better about the little town. The restaurant employees had been genuinely friendly and one waitress in particular was quite attractive. Thereís hope for this place yet. he thought to himself as he paid the pretty blonde cashier. As he was accepting his change, Jon noticed a stack of business cards on the counter. The words Okinawan Karate had caught his eye. He picked up one of the cards.
"Have a nice day!", the cashier chirped.
"You too!", Jon answered turning to leave.
Standing in the bright midday sun, Jon read the business card. Under the name of the school was the slogan, :Traditional training for serious students! The address was at the bottom of the card. Jon asked directions from a man in the parking lot who was happy to oblige.
Ten minutes later he was parking his car in front of the "dojo". Things did not look promising. Jonís heart sank as he approached the entrance and saw the mass of trophies lined up in the front window. They were all at least six feet tall and lined up five rows across. It was virtually impossible to see inside. As Jon stood peering through the trophies a blonde boy of about twelve bounced his bike over the curb and onto the side walk. In one deft move the boy put down the kickstand and dismounted the bike as he headed excitedly for the door of the studio. Jon grinned as he remembered the thousands of times he had performed that unconscious action himself as a boy.
"Sir, were you coming inside?", the boy asked politely. He was holding the door open waiting for Jon to enter.
"Yeah , thanks!", Jon said as he quickened his step.
Upon entering the "dojo" Jon subconsciously checked to see if he was entering with his shimo no ashi first. A quick glance around the room revealed that there was no Kamiza.
"I guess that doesnít apply here." Jon mumbled to himself.
The boy seated himself in the row of chairs by the door marked SENSEI in big gold letters. Jon did the same.
As Jon waited to talk to the "Sensei" he surveyed the studio. The place was immense. It was at least ten thousand square feet of open space with nothing to separate the training area from the lobby. For a "traditional dojo" this one broke every rule of tradition. The walls were brightly painted and festooned with posters and hundreds of pictures of the Sensei shaking hands with every celebrity of the martial media. There was an equipment store stocked with uniforms of every color, weapons, books, sparring gear and all sorts of other training paraphernalia displayed in full view of the students as they trained. "No doubt to entice them to buy.", Jon though to himself. Signs were posted declaring: "Late charges after the tenth of each month!", and "Association fees must be paid in advance!". Flyers of passed and upcoming tournaments covered the bulletin board. A few students milled about the area dressed in tennis shoes and T-shirts with the name of the school emblazoned on the back. Their belts were tied haphazardly around their untucked T-shirts. One student was standing near the equipment counter smoking a cigarette. The floor looked as if it had not been cleaned since the Reagan administration and all of the wastebaskets were filled to overflowing. One of the students punched a button on a jam box and began to perform some unrecognizable "kata" to the thump of the music. This is some place to try and develop a serene mind, Jon thought. Jon heard the office door slam and looked up to see the little boy walk hurriedly out the front door.
He had been so busy checking out the place, that he had not even noticed as the boy had entered the office a few minutes earlier. Jon decided to follow suit and get out of there himself. He had seen enough to know that he had no intentions of training here. As he was standing to leave, the office door opened and the "Sensei" appeared.
"Come on in!", he said with a huge smile.
Oh no! Jon though to himself in horror, He looks like a used car salesman in a gi! As the "Sensei" smiled, Jon could have sworn he saw his perfect teeth actually sparkle. Reaching to shake the approaching hand, Jon could vaguely hear the theme from "The Twilight Zone" grating in his mind.
"Well", the "Sensei" said leaning back in his plush leather chair, "What can I do for you?"
Behind him, impressive looking certificates covered the walls.
"I just moved into town," Jon Said politely, "and I was checking out the local dojo looking for a place to continue my study of traditional Okinawan karate."
"Well look no further!" the instructor exclaimed, "You have come to the best!"
With a flourish, brochures and contracts magically appeared from the desk drawer and the sales pitch began. Jon patiently tried to appear interested as the big cartoon face extolled the virtues of the "most traditional dojo in town." After what seemed like hours, (Jon kept his concentration by watching a cockroach imitate a whirling dervish on the desktop) the contract was pushed across the desk and Jon was encouraged to "Sign on the dotted line." The "Sensei" was insistently tapping the contract with his finger. Jon could see beads of sweat forming on his upper lip.
"Donít you want to know anything about my background?" , Jon asked.
"Like what?", asked the "Sensei" trying to hide his frustration. He glanced nervously at his watch and pretended not to notice the roach.
"Like, have I ever been arrested and convicted, or am I mentally unstable." Jon flatly replied. "
The way I see it," the Dudley Dooright look alike replied, "non of that is any of my business."
"Do you have a credit card or would you like to pay in cash?", he added.
"Well," Jon said insistently, "I would like to read it before I sign." Jon had no intention of signing anything, he just wanted out of there.
"Go right ahead," the "Sensei" said. He surreptitiously smashed the cockroach to smithereens and brushed the remains off the desk, "I am a patient man."
Yeah right, Jon thought to himself, and Iím Gichin Funakoshi. As Jon politely pretended to read the contract, an expensive red sports car pulled up in front of the office window. A blonde bombshell emerged wearing a powder blue gi. Her black belt was sporting five bright yellow stripes. Jon guessed her age to be about twenty five.
"Thatís my wife." , The "Sensei" said proudly.
"I might have guessed.", Jon mumbled under his breath.
"Iím sorry I didnít hear you." , "Dudley" said.
"I said Iím quite impressed." Jon replied.
"Oh, thanks.," the instructor said, "Now what about that contract?"
Jon rose and pushed back his chair. "Iíll take it home and read it over when I have more time." Jon said.
"Well, donít take too long, the "Sensei" insisted impatiently. "Iíve got limited space here, and I canít guarantee an opening will still be available."
"I guess I will have to take that chance." Jon replied as he headed for the door.
Jon breathed a sigh of relief when he finally emerged from the building. The boy was sitting on the edge of the side walk staring at the ground.
"Why the long face?", Jon asked as he approached. The boy looked up from the sidewalk and eyed Jon. It was obvious he had been crying.
"Oh, you wouldnít understand.", he said glumly.
"Well try me," Jon said cheerily as he sat down on the curb by the boy, "you never know."
The boy aimlessly tossed a pebble into the gutter. "I want to learn karate really bad," he began, "but my mom says that we canít afford it." "I asked the teacher of this school if I could work cleaning up to pay for my lessons. I even offered to mow his lawn and keep his car washed, bit he said no." "I guess Iíll never get to learn karate."
He was trying hard not to cry, but the disappointment was too great. Jon pretended not to notice. "Whatís your name?, Jon asked. "Eddy." the boy snuffled.
"Why is it so important to you to learn karate, Eddy?" "I donít know," Eddy replied. "Itís just something I really want to do." I donít want to beat anyone up or anything. I just think it would be really neat. Besides," he added, "When I try to play with the other kids Iím always the last one picked because I am so small. Nobody wants me on their team. Maybe karate will make me grow like Itosu"
Jon was pleasantly surprised to hear Eddy use the name of the great Okinawan Master. A group of four boys noisily approached the entrance of the "dojo". They were wearing red white and blue giís and carrying equipment bags.
"Hey Eddy!", they shouted, "Is your mom going to let you take karate?"
Eddy continued to look at the sidewalk and halfheartedly shrugged his shoulders. The boys shrugged also and entered the building.
"Well Eddy," Jon said, "Donít give up hope. Your mom might change her mind."
"Thatís okay," Eddy said, "I want to learn from a real teacher anyway, and there arenít any around here."
"How do you know they arenít real?", Jon asked genuinely curious.
"I read a lot at the library.", Eddy replied, "Iíve read "Karate-do My Way of Life" by Gichin Funakoshi and Iíve read about all the great masters. "Bushi" Matsumura is my favorite. Next to him I like Choki Motobu the best."
"Why Motobu?", Jon asked.
"He was like me because he wasnít allowed to take karate either," Eddy explained, "So he had to learn by peeping through a hole in the fence. Sometimes I peep through the trophies in this window to learn like Motobu did."
"I donít think Motobu ever had to worry about peeping through trophies." , Jon laughed.
"Probably not.", Eddy giggled. He wiped his eyes and mounted his bike.
As he rode off Jon called after him. "Iíll see you around!"
"Yeah, Eddy called back, "see ya."
Jon threw the contract in a nearby garbage can, and got into his car. The drive home gave Jon time to think about Eddies predicament. He knew all to well how it felt to long for true instruction. He had been forced to move away from his own Sensei and he missed him terribly. Eddy really had no options since the town was infested with certificate mill dojo. At Nidan, Jon knew he really didnít have enough experience to be a full fledged Sensei, but certainly he was more qualified than the local "Masters". He realized that it would definitely be better for the local kids to be exposed to true karate through his limited experience, than to be exploited by the likes of "Sensei Dooright".
How will I continue my own training without Sensei here to guide me?, he asked himself.
It was definitely a dilemma that would require much thought.
That night Jon got little sleep. His dreams were interrupted by visions of Eddy, standing in front of the painted "dojo" window, peering through the trophies.
The next morning the answer was clear. Jon knew that he was obligated to insure the continuance of traditional karate. His own sensei had formally given him that task during his shodan ceremony. Here in this town, Jon knew could at least provide an option for kidís like Eddy where non had existed before. He realized that it was a great responsibility. Jon picked up the phone and dialed the number to the local building supply company.
The next day a huge flat bed truck unloaded building materials in Jonís back yard. One of his neighbors peered curiously out their window.
"What are you going to build?", the truck driver asked, handing Jon the invoice to sign.
"Hopefully, some really strong character.", Jon answered with a grin.
The truck driver gave a puzzled look and shrugged his shoulders. "Whatever you say, mister.", he said as he headed for the truck..
Jon walked back into the house and sought out the old trunk he was planning on putting in the attic. The movers had left it in the floor of one of the little bedrooms. Jon opened the trunk and his mind was instantly flooded with memories of training. Deciding to leave the reminiscing for another time, he dug through the karate memorabilia until he found what he was looking for. Jon closed the top of the trunk and using it for a desk he unrolled the dojo plans that he and his sensei had drawn together. A quick glance assured him that his back yard provided ample room for the project. Jon sat back and shook his head. He just did not feel that he was ready for this.
"Well, Eddy my friend," he said out loud to himself, "this is for you."
As he rose he suddenly remembered an old proverb that said: When the student is ready the teacher will appear.
"Eddy, " he thought, "I hope for both our sakes, that proverb is true."