Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Becoming the Senior

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full post may be read here.


I still remember clearly, the first time at the judo dojo in Omihachiman, Japan, that we lined up to bow in and there was no one to my right. I was so shocked at being the senior on the mat that I promptly forgot half the commands that the senior calls out at the beginning of practice. Thank goodness the dohai on my left remembered them and was kind enough to whisper them so I didn’t look like too much of an idiot. Maybe I should have realized that this could happen and made a point to really memorize the commands, but I never in my wildest imagination thought that I would be the senior person on the mat. Fortunately, on that occasion it didn’t last very long: about 10 minutes into practice a sempai showed up and I was quite happy to have someone else be responsible. 

Being the senior in the room is one of those things that happens slowly, and then suddenly. We start training and we have no idea what we are doing. As the weeks go by and we get a sense of how things work in the dojo we don’t have to know much and we don’t have any responsibility. As the weeks turn into months we start learning some of the basics and we’re able to contribute a little to the dojo besides our dues and our ignorance. As the months turn into years we find ourselves helping beginners figure out that they need to step with their other left foot, how to take a fall or a strike, how to do the warm-ups and what the dojo etiquette is. 

Gradually our place in the lineup shifts towards the deep end without us doing anything more special than showing up for practice regularly and putting some effort into learning what sensei is teaching. If you’re lucky, sensei will help you learn the senior ropes and maybe even have you teach occasionally while she watches so you can get some experience at the front of the room and start feeling the weight of being responsible for teaching well and making sure everyone finishes practice in health as good as when they started.

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