She Had Me At Hello…

I run a small dojo in an industrial, isolated part of a small, sleepy town. I don’t have many students, and I don’t run classes on Friday evenings, so when a young lady called and said she was coming from Colorado on a Friday to train, I had to scramble. I had to first scramble to find students…any student to come to the dojo on a Friday evening. I mean who wants to come all the way from Colorado to train at an empty dojo, right?

Second, and more importantly, I had  to scramble to find a female student. I kept imagining this poor young lady, a visitor, a stranger to my town in an isolated, empty, industrial complex, being creeped out by a singular, hairy, middle-aged sensei…or worse yet, by a pack of unfamiliar men.

With panic on my mind, I frantically called around and finally  secured a few students, among them a lady.  I was set, now the only thing I had to do was to make sure I got to the dojo a bit early to make sure my visitor would not get lost in the midst of empty buildings.

It was important for me to make a good impression on my visitor. she came recommended from a sensei of whom I have the highest regard, and she could have chosen from a plethora of dojo in my area, so this was an honor indeed, and with that protective mindset, I set out for the dojo, a few minutes ahead of class to do my best teaching.

As I drove the long driveway to the dojo, I spotted a car in the empty parking, and panic set in. Here she was alone, warming up outside the dojo,  in an unknown place, vulnerable due to my negligence. Why couldn’t I have arrived earlier? Why did I put this poor soul in such a compromised position?  What was wrong with me? I sped up to park the car, to simultaneously greet her and apologize for my shortcoming.

To this day, I don’t know what exactly happened. I know the feeling, but I can’t explain it. As I approached her, she seemed a step ahead. She approached me too, and from there it was all over. She had full control. She looked ME in the eyes. She shook MY hand. I was not receiving her at my dojo. She was coming to my dojo. She had the upper hand. She wasn’t mean. She wasn’t aggressive, in fact she was quite pleasant…really pleasant,  but she had that something that reminded me of the times I would face off with sensei in jiu kamae, and I knew in an instant, before anything could even happen, that it was game over. I was already defeated. Done and cooked as they say. She had me at “hello” literally and figuratively, in the best karate sense!

That moment has stayed with me over time, and I’ve discussed it with my students, sometimes joking that if anyone needed back up that day, it was me, not her! For one, I learned that I shouldn’t make assumptions. More importantly, that karate is not just in the dojo. That first step into jiu kamae should be no different than that the first step in meeting someone. It’s not mean, it’s not aggressive. It’s silent confidence in the way a person is when they are in the moment…I think. I can’t explain it, but I’ve sure felt it.

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