Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Together on an individual path

There are no mirrors in our dojo.

There are several reasons for this:
For us its not practical, the wall space is being used by other items ( for example, weapons).
Its dangerous. We have, what one senior calls a " functional dojo". The weapons on the wall are all real and available when fighting occurs (provided you know how to and have been trained in using the weapon). With the exception of the ceremonial (yet very real and sharp) katana which are out of the way of the curious children's hands, every other weapon is at an accessible height.  In our school, when we fight, being kicked  into a wall or thrown into the wall as part of a self defense scenario is a very real possibility.The two craters we have caused (I was involved in both and they have since been patched)  in our wall attest to this. Getting thrown into a mirror usually ends up with a visit to the hospital E.R. and presents a hazardous situation to other students.

The main reason we don't have mirrors however is that it allows you to remain focused.
I have studied in dojos with mirrors and I am aware that the only ;person I need to be looking at in the mirror is myself. Usually that is how the class will start out. I will be focusing on myself and then one of my classmates will execute a technique that's higher than mine or faster and I will find myself inadvertently comparing my techniques to theirs. Its not a conscious act, this is all happening on a subtle level that requires constant vigilance. If left unchecked it becomes a full blown expression of ego in a place where ego is not welcome. This has the potential to occur in any dojo. What I have found and what has been my experience is that when there are no mirrors, it limits the distractions and allows for greater focus.

I always tell the students, when you are training don't look left or right focus on what you need to do. Don't compare yourself to others, especially in the dojo, because there is always going to be someone stronger, faster, more naturally gifted, or more proficient. If you look around you can always find an excuse not to try harder, not to give it your all. That is not the purpose of the dojo. When you enter on the floor the only person you need to be thinking about is that person you were the last time you stepped on the floor. Were you able to do ten push ups last time, well aim for fifteen this time or twenty. Maybe last time your body wasn't at 100% and today you feel much better, then you push yourself harder today.  The inverse may also be true and you may need to scale back the training today to take into account that your body may feeling sub par.
So here is the other side to that situation.  Since we are travelling together on this individual path, it is my obligation as someone who may be along further on the path to help out those who have just begun. This is the essence of the Sempai / Kohai relationship. Those who are seniors help those who are juniors. The juniors will look to the seniors to see how things are done. In a very real way the seniors are the mirrors for the juniors. This has been driven home recently by our two young green belts who have taken on assisting as part of becoming green belts. To reach green belt in our school means that on average you have been training for 3-4 years. They are not in the strict sense, beginners. Yet when these green belts were placed in front of white belts  to teach them basic techniques, I could see the nervousness and the excitement. It has added a dimension to their path that they were not aware of and now they are realizing that you do not truly learn until you have to teach another.

In our lives we would do well to adopt this attitude of focusing on ourselves and yet not forgetting those who come after us. I know it has served me well in my martial path as well as my writing ( where I am the novice). We have to stop worrying so much about what others are doing and pursue our lives, our passions and those things that bring us joy and excitement. The key is not stopping there, but encourage others, through your example, your words, and actions to do the same. When they need help offer it.  Sometimes its a gentle nudge, sometimes it needs to be gentle shove, but if you do it from a place of truly seeing others grow and have their lives transform for the better, then its worth it.

strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
Sensei Orlando

Next week: I will begin the instructor interview series and feature one of our instructors in the post. If you have any questions you would like to ask an instructor please email them to me at

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