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//05// Say Yes to the Dojo

27 Apr

[currently watching] The Season Premiere of the Voice! If it’s a reality TV show about singing… I’ve watched it.


For me, Tuesdays are usually a good day. First of all, it’s not Monday. It’s one of my favorite days to recruit at work. It’s a good night for TV (although now that Idol has moved to Wednesdays it’s just not the same… but still a good night). And most of all, it’s the first day of the week that I teach my kids’ class at karate. I look forward to Tuesdays.

One thing that we have to teach the kids is that the dojo has certain rules. I’m not a very formal/serious person in everyday life. I’m pretty silly and easy-going. However, there is a certain amount of formality required at the dojo. It’s kind of nice having to act somewhat differently from how I would in other situations. Of course, the point is that your good manners in the dojo will become part of every day life and your identity as a martial artist.

When a black belt enters the dojo someone is supposed to yell “Chareyut!” (attention in Korean) and then everyone in the dojo bows toward the black belt. I’ve had my black belt for about 10 days now so I think people still say that with some special enthusiasm. It makes me feel bashful and amused at the same time. I’m not sure either of those are the right emotions. But the kids are very gung-ho about bowing. Whenever I ask them a question about things they should do when they enter the dojo they can tell me a hundred million reasons to bow. Bow at the door. Bow before coming on the mats. Bow when you leave the mats. Bow to the black belts. Bow to the instructors. Bow going out the door. Oh yeah, bow when you come in the door. Bow to Sensei. Bow when you’re coming on the mats even if you already came on the mats before. Bow if you think about coming off the mat. Bow if you see your instructor climbing a tree. I’m like, all right, enough with the bowing already. What else?!

I’m still happy that the kids can tell me about bowing because it is very important. It’s a sign of respect and the people you bow to have earned it. At my old dojo my sensei said that you should bow deeper if you’re the lower belt and keep your eyes on the floor. I keep that in mind. The kids know all about bowing but it’s one thing to know it and another thing to do it. We’re still working on that. Even I have to remind myself to bow bow bow especially on nights when all the black belts are in class. (It’s not like there’s 20… it’s more like 7. But still!)

Karate uses a special language and not just because we’re learning Japanese and Korean terminology. Yes is not the same in the dojo as it is at home. You don’t just say “yes” to mean that you agree. In the dojo you say “yes” to signify that you understand, you’re listening, you’re taking this all in and that all boils down to proving that you’re paying attention. You say “yes” to let the instructor know that you appreciate and respect the time and the effort they are putting into helping you become a stronger martial artist. It also keeps you engaged. I know I tend to get a little spacey in class. It’s not that I’m not thinking about the karate–I am– but sometimes I get caught up in my own thoughts about what I’m doing or watching for all my bad habits in the mirror. Having to say something—“Yes, sir!” or “Yes, Ma’am!”–reminds me about where I am and what I’m doing and what I should be watching. It helps keep me focused and it could work that way for everyone.

At my dojo we use “osu” which is a Japanese term. I had never heard of it before this dojo. Saying the word felt strange. I didn’t like to say it because it was so awkward to me. You say it like “OH-SSS” like a bark and then a snake hiss (because you usually say with some enthusiasm, usually loudly, at least that’s how I use it most of time). That sounds kind of crude. It’s a nicer word than that. But I felt funny using osu so I’d opt for the clunkier, longer “Yes, ma’am”, “Yes, sir”, “Yes, Sensei” and the like. Until one day the word just clicked with me. Osu! I just loved it. That’s literally how it happened. One day I was like, wow, I really like saying this word and I’m going to start using it forever. A switch flipped in my brain. Now I use it all the time. Now it really feels like I’m part of dojo when I yell Osu? at my kids and glare until they repeat it after me.

But where does osu come from? I did a quick google of “yes in japanese” and all the first results were “there is no word for yes in japanese.” Of course, that was strange to me because I thought osu meant yes. So I did a follow up search and I came up with this interesting essay.

There are plenty of times when you should not use “Osu!” toward other people. Those rules are pretty simple, but there are quite a few of them. To simplify things, �Osu� neither means “Yes� nor “I understand”, although sometimes it is used that way. �Hai� or �Onegaishimasu� deems more appropriate. You don’t use “Osu!” toward women, since women in Japan, being addressed by men, should be treated in a certain polite way. Not toward strangers also. “Osu!” is an in-group expression, so it is appropriate to use it toward your own group of friends, and inappropriate to use it toward those you have a more distant, polite relationship.

Okay, so that whole essay pretty much contradicted everything I thought I knew about the term. But it’s an interesting read. It said that osu could be a contraction for a couple of different expressions and that it is a masculine word and a word used during athletic activity. It said that the Japanese wouldn’t use the term with women or to answer a question. I said osu to my female sensei today answering a question. Huh.

I think this warrants more research. But I don’t have time for that tonight. In the end, the dojo rules matter the most. Like I said, there’s a different language in the dojo and it includes osu in the way our sensei has taught us to use it, a way that has most likely been handed down through generations. I like the history in the traditions of the dojo, I like being one of the people who is trusted to uphold those traditions and teach them to the next generation. I need to get tougher with my kids about bowing and saying “yes!” in the special dojo way. I want them to bring this knowledge that they need to respect and listen to people who want to teach them to every part of their lives.

Of course, it’s always awkward when you say osu! to the cashier when you go buy something after class. But maybe that’s just me….


//04// Finding the Water Element

26 Apr

[fun fact] Dancing with the Stars has the most annoying music in the history of reality TV dance shows. Currently hiding from it in my room.


I have a confession to make. I don’t currently study KARATE. I do a style that’s a mix of Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Tai Chi.

But it’s my blog so I’ll call it karate for short.

Now I know about karate. I got my first black belt in Isshinryu Karate. I know about Tae Kwon Do. Kicking is my favorite!

It’s the Tai Chi part that gets me.

A couple of weeks ago Sensei had us do an exercise in class. I don’t remember what we were doing exactly but it was like some strike or block that we were doing slowly, deliberately and she said to visualize that we were underwater. I visualized, all right. I felt like I was drowning. 1) Because I imagined the water was over my head and I’m not a particularly good swimmer and 2) because I’m not very in touch with my chi.

Sensei calls it the water element. It’s all about flow and breathing and fluidity. This is kind of a foreign concept to me. I knew about chi before, of course. You gathered your chi before starting a kata. It’s part of the kiyai, part of the belt, that spirit inside of you. I knew about it on the surface but I had never focused on what it really meant before. I was all about harder, faster. How much power can I put into something? How can I be stronger? I was about speed and power through brute force. In order to keep up with the guys I wanted to be strong. Force and speed was always the most important thing to me. I think that’s why sparring as been more of a strength of mine than kata (my sister always beat me in every tournament) even though I really do like katas.

I’m missing the water element.

Fire and water, two conflicting elements that need to work in harmony. How do I maximize the water and maximize the fire? Or is there always going to be give and take?

(Wikipedia tried to give me a definition for “chi-square distribution” when I typed in chi. NO! Leave the statistics at home please.)

Chi came up in weapons class today. Sensei chose me to help demonstrate, which I thought was mind-boggling. She wanted us to practice using someone’s momentum against them. I watched her do it to me wide eyed as she kept my energy going forward and struck me in some vulnerable area. Of course, I’m familiar with parrying and moving off to the side of some attack, stopping them cold with a nice round kick straight in the solar plexus or something. But this was something different. It really was using their force, their energy against them, feeling it and then using it for your own advantage. Letting that strike come into you and then taking the control instead of stopping the strike and adding your own force into the mix. With this kind of defense it wasn’t so much about the strength of your block but the ability to focus and anticipate and feel–really feel–what was happening with the other person’s body and your own.

We practiced with out partners. I got the direction of the flow wrong a couple of times even though it’s so obvious, especially since we were striking with the speed of a three legged turtle. It just wasn’t wired in my brain. I wanted to stop and strike, stop and strike, power, strength, rawr rawr rawr. This was more about patience. Sometimes I don’t have enough patience.

Last week we used Tai Chi swords (wooden) and did something similar. We touched swords and then one partner had to follow the movement of the leader. The swords had to stay touching. It was difficult following each other but also kind of cool when Sensei was my partner because she knew what she was doing so that always makes it easier. She also showed us another way to use someone else’s chi against them. Is that even the right way to think about it? I’m still figuring this out.

I started learning my next kata for my black belt and Sensei said the tough part was finding the balance between the fire and the water element. So this–the water element, the chi, and me–is my next challenge.