Since today is the day I practice Karate, or was supposed to be (long story), it seems that Sunday’s are slowly becoming the day I tell my sports adventure stories, pathetic as they are.
Many years ago, when my friend Charles and I had our brown belts securely fastened and were being considered for our black belts, we were told that Norihito Kawamoto, the founder and head of our style, was going to visit our dojo–which, given the no nonsense nature of our style, meant he’d be visiting the community gym where we practiced. Our sensei’s suddenly turned very serious and we had several minutes of etiquette practice, which we’d never done before.
I don’t remember us talking about what we were expecting, but neither of us was expecting a tall, pot-bellied balding man who spent most of his time sitting on a chair with his eyes closed, apparently asleep, whilst two of our senseis tested for their sixth level black black belts.
Joining Kawamoto sensei was another high level sensei from a dojo in Myoko. I don’t remember his name, even though I’ve met him once since then, but I remember he’s the first Japanese martial artist I’d seen who had swagger. He knew he was good–and we weren’t about to argue. When we practiced with him, he was doing things in ways we hadn’t practiced, including getting in closer at the start of a technique than we’d practiced. I’ve learned since then that this is pretty common. Although we all stick to the same basic techniques, there’s a lot of variation in performance and teaching styles.
Eventually Kawamoto sensei left the chair and it was clear that despite his size, and a noticeable limp, he was light on his feet. He pulled the Myoko sensei over–as he was officially the second highest rank in the room–and used him to demonstrate the various techniques.
Now, it’s important for you to understand that, in this context “used him to demonstrate” means “smacked the living crap out of him for the better part of ninety minutes”. Several of our techniques involve pushing on the opponent’s face. Kawamoto demonstrated that by smacking the Myoko sensei loud enough in the face that the rest of us cringed. And then he kept doing it. By the end of the night, The Myoko sensei had a little less swagger and a bright red face.
Lesson learned: Never be the second highest ranked guy in the room.
Now, although this has never been officially stated, this seems to be a rule across the style. In my sensei’s case, you don’t want to be the second highest ranked student in the room. When Fukuda, a sixth level black belt, is at practice, I get the extra special treatment. With Fukuda he’ll demonstrate “Now, after blocking the knife with both hands, you deliver a backhand across the stomach and then push the person’s face with your right and then you do the throwing technique. Got that?” With me, he back hands me across the stomach, smacks me in the face and throws me. If I get things wrong, I get yelled at.
When Fukuda’s not there, unless I’m doing something completely boneheaded, the tone is much more gentle, while the lower level student gets the special treatment.
To this day, I don’t know if this is official policy, or just some kind of the hazed becomes the hazer psychological thing. In general, the teacher’s aren’t abusive in other ways. My sensei went through a faze where he was slapping us on the shoulder or on the head when we made repeated mistakes. I told him if he didn’t stop, I was leaving for good, and he’s never done it sense. But the sensei’s bring the pain when demonstrating techniques. I’m on my guard no matter what, especially when we’re using bo staffs and swords, even if I’m number one.