Let’s get this clear from the get go. Karate-do is not transactional, at least not in my book, and not in my dojo. If it were, I’d be charging thousands per student. Fortunately it’s not transactional and I don’t charge thousands. What a sensei is, and does is really beyond monetary valuation. A sensei occupies a place unfamiliar to modern material living, and his impact on his students, if carefully observed, is equally transcendental. Now I know that some of you are scratching your heads and thinking I’m being opaque…saying to yourselves, what’s the big deal…I pay you, and you teach me how to kick and punch. And yes, you have a point if that’s all the 1% you want to get out of karate-do. But I can tell you from experience that you won’t last very long (at least in my dojo) if that’s all that you want. And you won’t last because your objective is material and/or ego based i.e. transactional, and ultimately void of the intended meaning and spiritual richness that prevents the walls (of continued training) from collapsing from within.
Years ago I recall a story told to me about Master Nakayama and a young Leslie Safar. For the sake of brevity I’ll just summarize. Mr. Safar was interested in starting karate, so he visited Master Nakayama’s dojo in Japan. He had saved up his money, and figured he’d pay and start training. Master Nakayama politely asked him to sit (properly, in seiza) outside the dojo and observe class. Mr. Safar obliged, thinking it was not an unreasonable request for him to sit and approve of the class before coming the next time to train. The next day, he eagerly arrived ready for his fist lesson on kicking and punching, but Master Nakayama politely requested him to sit and observe again. Thinking that his approval is imminently of important significance, he agreed and sat and watched again. This transaction went on for a quite awhile, weeks maybe even a month, until Mr. Safar realized that, it was not his approval that Master Nakayama wanted, but an insight into his humility and determination. Mr. Safar’s approval was immaterial. The barriers to entry were made painfully difficult to ensure that Mr. Safar’s interest in karate-do was beyond an ego transaction. The story continues with more humor and depth, but I think the point is clear. Incidentally, some many, many decades later Mr. Safar is still training and is one of the most renown karateka of world today.
Sadly, the modern sensei rivals the used car salesman in his zest to sell at any cost, to any person, at any age…often using dubious schemes and contracts. Even more disconcerting; however, is the student, not willing to “sit seiza and observe”….assuming that they can pay and simply adopt a cash is king cavalier attitude towards what should be a life long pursuit of self discovery and perfection of character.
Recently I had a mother come to the dojo, wanting her six year old kid to try out class, claiming he had been training since age two. Immediately, the red flags came up and I asked her to sit (on comfy chairs) quietly and observe the class with her son. I also told her to make sure to look at other dojo in the area, to make sure she knows exactly what she is getting. For me this has always been protocol, a slight take on Master Nakayama’s idea of making the barrier to entry a little less transactional. Anyways, she was taken aback by my candor, incredulous to the fact that I would be turning away a paying client by not jumping on the opportunity to score a sale. The long story short, she stayed for the class, watched and never showed again. Easy come, easy go. I don’t lament the fact that this person didn’t return. I’ve been on this journey long enough to know that like Leslie Safar, if you don’t want it bad enough, it’s just a trophy occupying space….and at this dojo, we’re all about emptying space. After all, this is the empty hand way.