When It’s Done Right

Two events came across my mind, as I opened my latest email from Italy. The first was years ago, when I was training with sensei Moshfegh. I had been training with sensei for some time, and he had a Japanese student who was returning from a long sojourn from Tokyo. The Student did not speak English, and I of course, did not speak Japanese. When I entered the dojo the customary half hour before the start of class, I sensed sensei wanting me to introduce myself to his student, who was busy diligently practicing kata at the center of the dojo . There was a moment of truculence as sensei was trying to find the words, and best way to make the introduction, but to sensei’s surprise, I walked right past him and placed myself next to his student, and began practicing his kata. Move by move, we worked together, and other than the brief visual connection we made when I first set up beside him, nothing was said, and focus remained on kata. One kata repeated over and over again led to another kata, and yet another. I could feel the connection between me and him as we synchronized movement, timing, and rhythm. Natural tension slipped into relaxed familiarity. Sensei called out the five minutes that we had before class would start. Me and my new friend, stopped, we bowed to each other, and I took leave for a sip of water at the fountain. As I walked past sensei to the water fountain, he looked at me incredulously. I smiled, and told him (in hindsight, with incredible presumptiveness) that kata was the language of friendship.

The other event took place with sensei Johnston. My sensei. Sensei and I were out for lunch, and we were sitting and discussing an upcoming camp. I had taken it upon myself to organize and galvanize as many interested karateka as I could, to join in on our free weekend karate camp and seminar. As sensei sensed my dejected mood, I proceeded to tell him that whilst most karateka from other styles had expressed genuine interest and friendship, karateka from our own style either outright rejected the invitation without consideration, or had some panicked, defensive reaction, as if I was violating some unwritten non compete clause that was robbing them of some imaginary…something. Sensei, in his typical calmness (although I had learned to read him well by then, and could see his disgust at the pettiness of others) said, “Hessam, if the intention is correct, they will come and they will benefit. If it is not, they lose and we don’t have to deal with the headache. It’s a win, win, win situation.” He smiled his famous beaming smile, and proceeded to enjoy his al dente vegetables.

This brings me back to my email from Italy. About a year prior to the Covid pandemic, in early 2018, I received an email in Italian. It was karate related, but since I do not speak Italian, I had no idea what it was about. I could have ignored it. I could have responded negatively or sophomorically, but I didn’t. I responded with purity and kindness…with my true nature…which is everyone’s true nature, if they remove the veils and coverings of fear and hubris.

I told Claudia that I was a shotokan sensei based in California, and that whilst I couldn’t understand her email, and didn’t know if she could understand mine, I was always here to help and be a friend. Some weeks passed, and I received a response from her, in broken English. She apologized, and said that she was a shito ryu karateka and assumed I was a dojo in Italy. This was the beginning of our now almost five year correspondence and friendship. The ensuing years has brought laughter, support, sharing of karate experiences, and even a few contentious debates as to who has the best pasta and pizza (Unless from Naples, they just might reluctantly acquiesce to the pizza…the pasta is non-negotiable)! Today, she invited me to teach at their organization’s annual seminar. What an honor!

When it’s done right, this is what karate-do should produce. When both sides have a heart that is pure, and intentions are selfless…karate-do paves the way for the bonds to be formed… and conversely, any atoms weight of “self”, will only produce a veil of loss and blindness.

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