On the way into the dojo from home, I saw one of those electronic signs that businesses use that display the time and other information. The relevant information this time around was the temperature: 91 degrees. For the Greater Seattle area, 91 degrees is hot. Very hot. Since most homes don’t have air conditioning, the temperature borders on “stay-at-home-and-try-not-to-move” heat. Immediately, I knew that classes would be small. That’s not something that bothers me any more.
By the time I got to the dojo, it was 5:20. Since class starts at 5:30, I considered myself late. I typically like to be at the dojo a full 30 minutes before class starts. Arriving early has some benefits. First, it gives me the chance to shake off whatever was going on at work, and fully put myself into a “dojo mindset.” Second, every now and then a parent just assumes the dojo is open and drops a kid off–only to quickly realize that the doors are locked. While I inform every student that the dojo isn’t technically supposed to be open until 15 minutes before class starts, being early helps make life a little easier for the parents.
I was irritated that I was late, but not terribly so. I was primarily late because last Saturday I discovered we didn’t have any water for our water cooler. Did I mention that it was 91 degrees? I figured being a little late was worth it if it meant that we had water to drink. As I unloaded the water bottles, a few students began to arrive. By the time I was on the mat, there were four kids. A small class, all things considered. But, as I pointed out to them: they were dedicated to train in this heat!
Kids class focused on punching. Most of class was spent understanding what a correct punch looked like, how to practice one (accuracy trumps power in the beginning) and, most importantly, why we need to know about punching in the first place. I had been thinking about this concept for a while. I keep seeing some of the younger guys on the mat throwing punches at each other–wild, messy, John Wayne style affairs that, were they to actually hit, might sting, but certainly wouldn’t be that effective. I want the kids at the dojo to understand that a real punch is just like a real throw–it’s powerful, but takes time and practice to do correctly. I especially wanted them to think about how a badly executed punch made it hard for us to practice technique, but it also makes it really easy to throw. I might have been a little lenient with them–I probably should have made them stand and throw punches for 20 minutes, like I did when I studied Kung Fu. Towards the end of class, we did a basic kokyunage (timing throw) technique. The kids could see firsthand how a correct punch demanded correct timing and focus to defend against, but an incorrect punch was actually pretty easy to deal with.
Adult classes were equally small–about four people. It made my day, though, that everyone seemed glad to see me on the mat. It is strange to say, but I really do think of the dojo as my extended family. I still chat with students even if they don’t train any more. In fact, I just realized that I still consider them as students! I kept the same theme as last Saturday: train without resistance, train seeking where to resist, train to bypass that resistance. This time, the technique was ushiro kubishime kokyunage, because I seem to be on a fundamentals kick at the moment. Anne, one of the senior instructors at the dojo, suggested we not only practice these ideas, but switch training partners periodically within each segment. The idea was a good one–even though we only had 4 people, they all had very different bodies and very different ways of offering resistance. Again, I think it is very important we understand how people might try to resist, so we can better understand the flaws in our movements and how to remove them. Because the heat was pretty intense, I kept the intensity pretty light. I figured if I was sweating as the instructor, it would be even worse for the students. Once again, the class realized that correct posture and timing at the beginning of a technique can make it impossible for even the most stubborn uke to resist. We joked as well–if you really want to know how to “throw anyway”–how to throw a specific technique even if other movements are easier based on uke’s resistance–you should become an instructor. That got a good chuckle from some of the more junior students.
As class ended, one of the teenagers who trains told me he had something for me. He ended up giving me a small package for baby Jakob. It was a collection of onesies, hats, and other apparel. What really made me smile was that, on one of the hats, they had taken the time to embroidery “Koby.” It’s connections like these that make having a dojo so worthwhile.