Thursday, November 03, 2005

Innercity memories

My very first dojo was quite different from the average dojo. Situated in a high school, the students were mainly young teenagers that came of their own motivation to learn karate. They couldn't afford to pay for the lessons, in fact most of them couldn't afford to pay for the bus fare to and from the dojo. They would walk to class straight from school. We would do various fundraising activities to support the dojo. From spring cleaning people's yards, running concession stands at events, picking up litter at local street fairs, catering, and serving at functions, the dojo found money to pay for organization fees, tournament fees, testing fees, travel, and even a little bit to show our Sensei our gratitude. ( Not much though.. poor Sensei.. talking about working for peanuts.. there were times when Sensei taught for cupcakes, and rootbeer.)

These kids had heart, and did their best to work together to meet their goals. For example, One weekend, our dojo had traveled to go to a weekend seminar, and tournament. We made an event of it, bringing the kids to a campground a night early. During that evening, through silly play fighting, one of the teens accidently fell on top of another whose wrist bent the wrong way, and a bone broke in her wrist. The adult supervisors rushed her to the hospital, and found out that she needed a cast on her left arm. They didn't return to the campsite until near 2 am. The next morning, the girl insisted that she still wanted to participate in the tournament. She had inquired with the doctor if it would be possible, and he said that "yes, as long as she didn't do any sparring, that her hand didn't swell, and if it didn't hurt too much."

We showed up to the tournament, and informed our Sensei. The girl was begging him with her eyes to please allow her to compete in kata. With cautious permission, she was allowed to enter the event. You should have seen how the rest of the dojo teens supported her! She didn't take a breath in or out without one of the teens asking her if her hand was swelling, and if she felt fine, if she wanted something to eat or drink.

She went up to compete. At the end of her kata, the judges all gathered to discuss something. The discussion went on for a long, long time. Suddenly the girl turned around to face her dojo mates with a look of elated humour on her face. She pointed to her cast, and said conspiratorilly "They don't know how to mark my points...", and then she turned around to face the judges again.

All of us from Innercity dojo muffled our laughter. It ended up that the judges had to base her kata on her GOOD arm movements. This girl won the Bronze medal for her kata at her first tournament. I will always remember her example of courage, and dedication, and the awesome support shown to her by her dojo mates.

Moments like the one above happened often in our dojo. I believe it is because of the way this dojo existed. We didn't have access to our high school location during the summer months, so to train we would have to find a place. As long as we were willing to gather, Sensei was willing to teach us. We trained in the rain in the park, in the heat of the sun, in the artic temperatures of an overly air conditioned gym, in a bingo hall where we had to move over a hundred tables and chairs to the side, and then back into place, in a small church 15 foot by 15 foot room where Sensei had to stack his students.. Training in the local park was always an experience. People would actually come, and set up a picnic to watch us. Cars would drive by shouting something about karate. You'd never know what they said though because the wind would snatch away the words. Although we always did a preliminary sweep of the area for hazards such as glass, sticks, large stones, and dog droppings.. there was the occasional time when we'd miss something, and find it later during training. The funniest memory for me of this is when we were doing an intricate sparring exercise with our partner in Kildonan Park. It had started to rain. Sensei informed us that this is good training.. now we can learn to move so quickly that we can dodge inbetween the raindrops. Funny, but none of his students managed to achieve that feat that day. We all walked away with water dripping from our hair. As we were doing our exercise, one of the teen boys slipped with his right foot, and screamed out. The whole dojo stopped in concern.. "Oh no!" I thought instantly "He pulled a muscle because he slipped on the wet grass!" However, that was not the case. The boy got a look of utter disgust on his face, and he started wiping the heel of his foot on the grass in front of him. We all erupted in laughter. Sensei warned us all not to do our sparring practice in that end of the field from now on.

Sadly, for a variety of reasons this dojo had to close down. Sensei had thousands of students parade in front of him for the 7 years that this dojo existed. Sure, many did well in tournaments, bringing home gold, silver and bronze medals. More importantly, the students learned about themselves, and what they can achieve. In a area that has such a high drop out rate among teens, these students finished their grade 12, continued on in life to get good employment, and raise lovely families. Sensei challenged them to find their inner spirit.. and his students responded. We have all gained in our lives through our experiences in this dojo, and I am grateful for the fact that I was lucky enough to have participated in it.

No comments: