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 ~

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Something Special Going On ...

Mr. Patrick Parker is the proprietor of the Mokuren Dojo in Magnolia, Mississippi as well as the Mokuren Dojo Blog, one of the most widely read martial arts related blogs on the internet. Mr Parker studies, teaches and practices his budo in a quiet corner of the state and has built up something I think is quite noteworthy. He is also rumored to be the nephew of Mary Parker.

Mr. Parker was kind enough to write a guest post for Cook Ding's Kitchen. Please pay his blog a visit. Enjoy.

Rick-san was kind enough to flatter me by asking if I would do a guest post for his amazing blog.  He said he'd gotten the idea from reading my writings on my blog and my FB page that we have something special going on in southwest Mississippi that his readers might not know about and might be interested in.
That's right, Rick.  There is some special budo going on in our out-of-the-way home.
It started when I got a job and moved back to Pike County Mississippi. I had grown up in a somewhat larger city (~12000 people), but when I came back I ended up settling in a nearby town of about 2400 people living on about 3 square miles.  It is a nice little town full of Victorian architecture and well-loved azaleas and camelias, but it's not exactly the hub of the martial arts universe.

For some years I taught in a friend's dojo in a shopping center in my larger hometown, but after Hurricane Katrina wrecked everything, he retired from teaching and I moved the dojo out of the shopping center into a 20x40 building at my house. 
Suddenly I had no visibility for the dojo so I set about on a deliberate, relentless internet campaign to get our name out there.  I declared outright war on obscurity. 

I stated my blog and began interacting with other bloggers, did a lot of studying about how to do a better blog and get more eyeballs on the blog - and that was an unprecedented success.  I made a ton of friends all around the world, and suddenly had a much better sounding board to bounce ideas off of than I could have ever developed locally.
It has been really interesting to see how a budo practice morphs and evolves to fit its practitioners and their environment and lives.

Because the dojo is at my home (no overhead expenses) and because I have a day job, I have been able to deliberately keep rates very low - I undercut all my competition grievously, simply because I can afford to and I would rather have practice partners and friends in the dojo than have contracts and business relationships and payment structures, and that sort of thing.
People around here tend to be family-minded and conservative - lots of what would be considered large families in other parts of the country (2-3-4 kids).  So we deliberately structured our classes as family-friendly things - even lower rates for entire families, occasional activities to get the kids together outside of class.  Frequently we pass out popsicles to the kids after class in the summer.  Some of my students that travel long distances to play with me have marvelled that only at Mokuren Dojo can you get great instruction in a comfortable, family environment, for nearly free - AND the dojo Mom will feed you after class!  The dojo has really become a community of families that come together for more than just judo practice.

Like many people, I was initially resistant to the idea of teaching kids, but I have 4 kids of my own (so far ;-) and I knew nobody around here could do a better (and cheaper) job of teaching them, so I started the kids classes as they got old enough to participate.  I knew they had to have partners to work out with, so I gradually through word-of-mouth expanded my childrens programs until now the kids classes are about 1/4 of my class offerings and it is one of the things I seem to be fairly well known for.  Somehow I have become the guru from Nowhereville on how to teach kids judo.
Lately I have been modeling my classes and practices on what I imagine it must have been like to practice in late 1800's Okinawa or China.  Rural agrarian society where everything is secondary to the necesity of making a living, frequently extreme weather, low population densities, practicality-minded people.

That means that my classes have had to be flexible.  If something is not working, we do something similar in some different way. 
For example, our dojo has fairly low ceilings.  We can comfortably do aikido and judo inside but not jo or sword. So almost all of our weapons work has to be done outside on the sloping concrete driveway or in the grass - which means we do our weapons work wearing shoes and we usually lay off of the weapons work in the most inclement weather.  No practice in mid-to-late summer or late winter.  The weapons work has become a seasonal thing, which is kind of a neat, in-tune way to do things.

Also, although the dojo is air-conditioned, there's no way it can keep up with the mid-summer heat here, so our mid-summer classes tend to be no-gi classes - something I have spun into a feature rather than a bug - since we need some amount of no-gi practice anyway for practicality sake.  Similarly, when it gets down to 10 or 15 degrees F in January or February, it is often 20-30 degrees in the dojo.  So we do sweatshirt/sweatpants/hunting jacket aikido and judo during those times.

Prior to a couple of years I was in a less than ideal organizational situation, and I finally had my fill and switched boats.  I did my homework and chose to get involved with Nick Lowry's Aikido and Judo and Jodo group - the Kazeutabudokai - and that has been a very enriching and empowering thing.  All of a sudden I went from being unable to go to any big seminars for a decade to getting to work with some of the greatest players in the country several times per year!

Lately, because of my internet presence, and because of my favorable association with Nick Lowry, more and more folks have been calling me up and asking me to come to their location to share my ideas and way of doing things.  I've been teaching in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and I've been getting calls from folks in Virginia and Kansas and Florida - so the Mokuren Dojo way of doing things is becoming a pretty wide-spread thing.  This is a really gratifying thing - to see such a favorable reception of my ideas.

Some years back, a sensei told me all you have to do to be successful at this is 1) treat people nicely, and 2) teach something of real practical value.  I think he was giving me a "If you build it, they will come" sort of pep talk.  I've tried to make that my M.O. and it really seems to be working out pretty well.

You're right when you say that we've got something special going on here in Southwest Mississippi in the martial arts scene...


RunBikeThrow said...

Patrick-san, thank for a very interesting post on life and Aikido in southern Mississippi. Question for you - how does the cold affect your Aikido training? With the extra clothes, it seems to me it would be more difficult to perform throws and pins. Also, do you find that the cold has a positive or negative effect on training and self-discipline of the students?


Rick Matz said...

I like how their training adapts to the seasons.

Patrick Parker said...

Being from ms, were much more familiar with extreme heat&humidity than extreme cold. Nonetheless, most winters it gets cold enough to snow 1-2 days in February. Were all cold wimps here - it makes us really reluctant to fall. We tend to do prolonged warmups, no ukemi, and standing drills in the worst of the cold. The bulky jackets don't seem to change much.

Rick Matz said...

There was one year where I trained for the most part at a university aikido club.

The club used the wrestling room in the sprawling rec building. The floor was wall to wall rubber wrestling mat.

For the most part, it was a great surface to train on. In winter though, it froze. It became as hard as concrete.

That did wonders for improving one's breakfalls.