I haven’t written about the katana side of katanapen in a while, so here’s a quick update in my martial arts life.
Yesterday I had to formally resign from my dojo due to inconvenient life-reasons. We parted on good terms; and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again when the situation is more conducive. It’s always painful losing a school, so instead of mourning I’m going to list the top ten ways being part of a dojo has made my life better. This is what I’ve learned from being in multiple schools, and multiple styles, over the past few decades.
1. Exercise – It’s healthy to be healthy. There’s a wide range of styles and dynamic movements, so even if you have chronic injuries you can work around them. If it isn’t fun, I don’t continue — and being able to train with my friends makes the most grueling workout bearable.
2. Self-discipline – You can accomplish anything you want to, if you put the work in. Being part of a dojo taught me how to adapt and problem-solve, no matter what I was trying to do.
3. Lasting Friendships – being part of a dojo has been the #1 best way for me to meet people I have something in common with. When you go through something intensely difficult, you bond with people who understand.
4. Second Family – The people you train with are your brothers and sisters. Period. if you need help, you have someone to go to. If someone needs help, you learn how to be there.
5. Community-building – you make friends, you perform at events. You participate in charities, marathons and fundraising. Some dojos can help you get things like first aid and CPR certifications, or host blood-donation events. The greatest teachers build relationships with other schools so we all learn from each other and promote good will outside the tournament circuit. There are dozens of ways good martial arts schools give back to their communities.
6. Hierarchy – You know where you stand, and where you want to go next. You constantly grow in mind, body and spirit.
7. Reciprocity – the key part of hierarchy. You defer to those above you so that they guide and help you on your path. You mentor those below you both to refine your own knowledge, and to help foster a community of upstanding citizens. That’s not just respect — that’s love.
8. Responsibility – I learned to own my mistakes, and also take pride in my accomplishments. I learned to help my brothers and sisters because their behavior reflects on me as much as mine reflects on them.
9. Identity – I’m always a martial artist, whether I’m wearing a uniform or not. I still see how I see, and move how I move. The lessons I learned in the dojo shape the way I live my life; with honor, justice and efficiency. I can be too serious at times; but when I do agree to something I do it whole-heartedly. It’s also great for kids and teens because you get a clear sense of how to be a good person in a secular context.
10. Outlet – I’ve always had a rotten temper, and when I don’t have a way to channel it, I lose my mind. The dojo was always a place to cut loose in a safe way — surrounded by other people who ‘got it.’ Training made me feel better. There’s always a sense of accomplishment; and the folks in your school are always there for you.
If your dojo isn’t giving you all the things I’ve mentioned; you’re in the wrong school.
You might notice that I said nothing about learning to harm human beings. I took that part out of the equation because learning to harm human beings has never helped me. What has helped are the peripheral skills — mental sharpness, preparedness and observation, and most importantly, how to diffuse situations before they come to blows.
Anyone can learn to break things. It’s learning how to build ourselves up — build our community up — that makes being part of a dojo worthwhile.
For more information on how to choose a school and the benefits of martial arts practice, please check out Forrest E. Morgan’s book, Living the Martial Way. I had to write an essay on it a long time ago, and I find it’s still worth a re-read now and again.
Night training at Mt. Wudang