“A comprehensive program that includes a traditionally structured Budo training and a learning of natural functions of body and mind. Our purpose is self-improvement, Personal Excellence, using traditional Japanese Budo such as Aiki Jujitus and Karate-do that are based on Nihonn Kokoro (Japanese traditional spirit).”
It went on to describe how “austere Martial Arts training helps one achieve a heightened sense of the mind, body, and spirit unification.”
I was still unsure if this sounded like something I wanted to try. I glanced through the rest of the flier until my eyes became fixated near the bottom. Someone had written “It’s Bring a Friend to Class Week!” in magic marker.
I made up my mind and tore a stub off the bottom.
I arrived 30 minutes before class wearing loose clothing. I climbed out of my car and approached the door to the Dojo. Before I reached it, a man’s voice called out from behind me.
“Hey, are you new here?”
I turned to see a guy my age stepping out of his truck. I’ll call this guy Matt.
“Yes I am,” I replied.
Matt explained that students aren’t allowed into the Dojo until the Sensei (the instructor) opens the door. I admitted that since this was my first Martial Arts experience, I had a lot to learn. He smiled and said “I admire you for putting yourself out there.”
I asked what he meant by this. Matt elaborated, saying:
It takes courage to try something new. I asked a few friends to come to ‘Bring a Friend to Class Week’ and all of them refused. Like you, they’ve never tried Martial Arts before. Unlike you, they were afraid to even try it. So what I mean is that I respect your open-mindedness. Showing up by yourself tonight says a lot about you.
Matt introduced me to other students as they arrived. Many of them asked if we worked together. They were surprised to learn Matt and I had only met a few minutes ago, and even more surprised to learn that I moved from New Jersey to Michigan for a girl. The Sensei opened the door to the Dojo at 7pm.
I removed my shoes upon entering and followed Matt to the men’s locker room. I found an empty locker and placed my jacket, shoes, and the contents of my pockets inside. From the corners of my eyes I watched the men dress into their judogis (Budo garbs) with fascination: Before adorning their white gis with a cloth belt, they would kneel on the floor. I inferred that the process was considered sacred.
Fully dressed, Matt led me out of the locker room and into the common area. He introduced me to Sensei Schmidt, a tall and muscular man in his thirties who sported a black judogi with matching headband. The Sensei supplied me with a written waiver indicating that Budo is a physical activity that may result in injury. I read it over while the other students stretched.
I signed the waiver and was led to the door of the dojo. I was told to bow twice before entering — once to the highest ranking member, and once to the wall. I bowed as instructed, entered the dojo, and proceeded to the farthest corner.
It was a rectangle shaped room with a matted floor. A sword rack containing thick wooden sticks was mounted to the wall near the door. On the far wall next to me, three wooden stakes came up chest-high from the floor. The long left wall was a large mirror. My red t-shirt stood out blindingly from rest of the class.
Matt led me through the warm up. He explained an exercise or stretch, and then we did three of each together. “Typically,” he said, “you would do ten of each.” When we began practicing “falls,” the Sensei entered the room and shouted something in Japanese. Matt ran off to the front of the class and everyone lined up in rows of four. I stood alone in the last row.
Sensei Schmidt shouted something else I didn’t understand, and the class responded by adjusting their stance. I attempted to mimic them, but every time I tried to synchronize my stance with the other students, a different command would be given. As a result, I was always one step behind the rest of the class as they changed stances in unison. I felt most foolish when the class turned to face me, because they saw me facing the wrong direction looking confused.
After the warm up drills, the class sat at attention while Sensei Schmidt taught a self-defense technique. He selected Matt to assist him with the demonstration.
“I want you to grab my wrist as if you were an attacker,” Sensei said.
Matt did so. Sensei immediately moved from being in front of Matt to being beside him. In order to keep holding onto Sensei’s wrist, Matt had to contort his arm in a manner that looked painful. Sensei contorted Matt’s grip further, giving him no other option but to be rolled away.
Matt stood up, approached Sensei Schmidt, and grabbed his other arm. Sensei Schmidt repeated the technique using a mirrored version of the maneuver he performed previously. Matt stood up and approached the Sensei again. They continued to alternate wrists, creating a demonstration that was reminiscent of a perfectly choreographed dance.
When the demonstration was over, they bowed to one another and said a few Japanese words. The class paired into twos and practiced the maneuver they were just taught. Matt was kind enough to pair up with me.
I wasn’t good at reproducing the dance that Matt and Sensei Schmidt had done so eloquently. In fact, I was awful at it. I used the wrong hand or stepped in the wrong direction when it was my turn to be attacked. I paused when I didn’t know what came next instead of moving instinctually. I grabbed Matt’s wrist too timidly when it was my turn to attack.
After practicing for 20 minutes or more, Sensei Schmidt told me that for the rest of the class I would simply observe. I sat safely in a corner while the entire class took turns attacking the Sensei.
Sensei Schmidt rolled the students away with ease. The students alternated their attacks based on the person ahead of them, but they occasionally attacked the same way by mistake. When this happened the first time, Sensei Schmidt kicked the student in the chest and rolled him away with vigor, shouting “Remember to alternate your attacks!”
When the exercise was over, the class sat at attention while the Sensei gave a speech about working hard for achievement. He discussed how the only opponent is yourself, and that every skill level — even the highest rank — had room for improvement. An assistant brought around a tray of hot tea during the speech.
When Sensei Schmidt collected my cup, he said that I could participate in “souji,” the ritual act of cleaning the dojo at the end of every training session. I received a wet rag and joined the class as they lined up with their rags to the floor. A command was said and everyone raced across the matted floor. We lined up on the other side and did it again in the opposite direction.
I followed the other students’ lead as I bowed twice and exited the dojo. Sensei Schmidt invited me into his office, and I followed his lead as I bowed and entered his door.
He explained that Martial Arts isn’t for everybody. He said that I wasn’t going to insult anyone if I never showed up again. He also emphasized how the decision to practice Martial Arts was a personal choice, and that I was under no obligation to commit myself to a membership. He went on to explain that if I did decide to return, it would cost however much monthly.
I thanked him for his “no pressure” attitude regarding membership. I also expressed my gratitude for the experience.
I left the dojo feeling good. I put myself out there and tried something new. Consequently, I met some people and had a nice time. Although I don’t plan to continue with Martial Arts, the experience reminded me how refreshing it is to Learn Something New.
When it comes to trying new things, don’t obsess over mild embarrassment. You’ll never know what your options are until you put yourself out there.
|If you've found this website helpful, please click the PayPal button. You will be helping me pursue my dream career as a writer. Thanks for your support!|