I made a mistake a while back. When changing our dojo advertising with "The Big Guy" (no names but think Alex and bells) their rep' talked me into including a listing of ourselves as a store selling martial arts supplies (in addition to gym, self-defense, Aikido, etc). They said it would produce more hits during a web search. Well, it has (I think) but we don't sell to the public yet. We may eventually but for now it's only to our deshi since we have little intention at this moment in time of going “Bricks – n – Sticks” with a store.
So on a pretty regular basis now, I get a call from someone looking for that perfect birthday gift, that conversation piece to put on the mantle, that perfect tool to carry in the trunk for road rage, that thing to keep by the door to threaten the neighbor who has that dog that keeps pooping in your yard, and that special tool for stumbling zombies.
“Do you sell numb-chucks?” No and it’s Nunchaku’s, not Numb Chucks. WTH. Did Chuck go “numb” all of sudden? I mean, is he ok or does need an aspirin and some Ben Gay?
“Do you carry gym clothes?” WTH again. We’re a dojo, not 24 Fitness and I’m really not interested in gym-rats or spandex.
“I need some advice on what to buy my husband for Christmas.” Lady. Please. Go on-line and do a web search for “Most Popular Christmas Gifts for overweight Pretend Budo-Guys”. Maybe you can find him a nice potted plant.
“Do you carry combat ready swords?” Bubba. If it can cut paper and if you can cut the cheese then you are both ready for combat.
Gawd. Pleeezzze stop. Make it go awaaaaaay.
So yesterday I get this call. Nice guy. Pleasant voice. Sincere attitude. Doesn’t know his butt from a hot rock about martial arts but he caught me in a good mood so lets try to earn some Budo-verse brownie points and help him out.
Him: “I’m looking for a hakama.”
Ok. That’s a good start. I don’t sell them but I know who does.
Me: “Go on-line, look up this web address in Japan. They will custom fit it, great price, perfectly sized and fit for you, take about 30 days. The last one I bought from them lasted about 10 years so they give quality hakama.”
Him: “Well that’s too long. I need it next week for the demonstration.”
Me: “Ok. What demonstration.”
Him: “It’s a karate demonstration with swords and she has to wear a hakama.”
Me: "Ummmmmmm ….. annnnnnd how old is she?"
Him: “She’s eight.”
It was about at this moment I almost spit out my coffee as I realized that the Budo-verse had suckered me into a conversation with someone who didn’t know the difference and couldn’t be educated. Must be a kami or two out there somewhere I’d upset a little. Will definitely have to do some extra ukemi this week for penance.
I was already into it though and didn’t want to be rude so I finally gave him a couple of web addresses that might be able to do an ICBM overnight launch with drone delivery direct to the front porch so his child could “style” in front of the judges.
First off, karate guys do not wear hakama for obvious “how do I keep from getting tangled up in the legs” kind of reasons. And for the record, I loathe those guys who wear their obi over the hakama. WTF. That’s not only declassee but downright gauche; but you see it all the time in these tournament parties with all the “flashing steel” and jumping through flaming hoops.
Karate guys don’t use katana real or otherwise unless they branch out into a totally different art form (which is ok) but karate per se just doesn’t have katana work in it. Karate = “empty hand” not “sword fighter”.
Children have no business swinging a blade around, dull or otherwise. It’s fake. It has no relationship to reality. Every single move is fake. Injury is entirely possible and hitting something with that $9.99 wall-hanger and having it break with pieces flying around can, has and does happen.
But Daddy wanted his little girl to look good.
I’ve lost count of the number of phone calls of people wanting me to teach their child, as young as five in some cases self-defense or prep them for tournaments. No, not a mistype. “Please – Teach – My - Five - Year – Old – Self – Defense”.
OMG & Jeeesus. Talk about helicopter parents hovering their Huey Gun Ship overhead, picking off trigger events while playing Flight of the Valkyries on the iPhone.
NO has become my instant response and then I raise their ire by telling them that at that age they are a child who has barely been house-broken out of diapers and their total exposure to martial arts of any kind should be limited to watching Samurai Jack on Toonami on Cartoon Network. It shouldn’t be swinging around metal and screaming while thinking that they are doing something real.
The disappointing thing about the entire conversation was my remembering how, over the years, I’ve had to deal with adults (not necessarily millennial's although they’re in the news a lot these days) whose view of martial arts and Budo is barely a gnat’s eyelash above that of the proud father with the eight year old. He didn’t know but had obviously been taken in by Sensei Carnival Barker, on the midway hawking snake oil as having value.
The most recent was before last Christmas when a guy in his apparent mid-20’s starting discussing “techniques” he had seen in what I finally figured out was a video game. I threw him out quick and I’ll be darned if he didn’t come back and actually whine to be accepted.
I was in shock. When was the last time someone rejected for reason (an adult no less) start to whine?
I long ago promised that I would preserve the arts as I was taught and not go for the nearest Yen that someone dropped on the floor like a 2-bit prostitute diving to the floor for that quarter someone dropped. Keeping to reality and the more traditional ways of viewing martial arts and life in general (they’re the same aren’t they, or they should be) changed my life entirely. Saved me actually, and saved many others I know from a life of following the same insane dead-end path of immature behavior that I was on as a teen-ager and as a worthless scotch-drinking frat-rat in college. They enabled me to do what a recent but now deceased rock and roll singer was quoted as saying before his death. Growing old is a privilege because it allows us to become who we were meant to be.
I would add my own spin to that. “Ningen Keisi, Bun Bu Ryo Dou” (a tatoo I wear on my back). Becoming a complete human being by living a life in balance allows us to grow in a mature fashion and become the person that we were meant to be all along. We just had to find him.
We can’t do that if we become overly sensitive and discard the Old School Ways that have been proven and tested.
Do we have to become like Mushashi? No. Admittedly, times do change so in general, some things must also have small changes here and there in order to remain relevant. What disturbs me though is fake martial arts taught to children who don’t know. They could have been a great Bushi, but that fake start could and very likely will turn them so far from the path that they’ll never find it.
That becomes my job and the job of any good Sensei out there. You have to pass my screening in which I look for maturity, sincerity and an empty cup but once you do and we (and other Sensei out there) accept you as a deshi (no longer a monjin) you too can become the person you were meant to be.
After I had the conversation with the dad on the phone I went home that night after keiko and poured some sake to think. Then I dug around and found my copy of the most recent translation of Hagakure. By some stoke of serendipity, the movie Ghost Dog was playing that night so I sipped, read, looked up the passages Ghost Dog quoted, and watched and felt a little sorrow for the loss of Old School ways, slowly being replaced by fakery.
Sometimes I miss my Sensei. He was beyond difficult (who am I kidding, he was an ass) but he knew what he was doing and was always sincere about producing real Bushi. I hope that someday my deshi miss me the same way. I can only hope that I can rise to the expectations and be a little old-fashioned on occasion.
L.F. Wilkinson Kancho
The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX