13. Hey Sensei…

(With due credit given to a similar thread on e-budo.com. We asked Hey Sensei about some of the most common and/or unusual questions he’s had to answer recently.)

Hey Sensei, why are you so critical of students who mispronounce Japanese martial arts terms. That’s a foreign language! It’s hard to learn!

Okay Grasshopper, let’s say there are two French fine dining restaurants in town, side by side. The prices for entrees in either are enough for a down payment on a BMW . You go into the first one. You sit down. You ask the waiter about their recommendations.

The waiter says, “Well, the rat-a-ptooey is pretty good, but I dunno about the tomatoes today. You might consider those snaily things, whatcha call ‘em? Es-CAR-guts or somethin’. I think they’re made of the guts of the Escar snails, that’s it.  Then we can follow with some salmon patty-cakes, and the vichi-whishti…er… the vichishisty…er…the vichimichi…Oh hell, we got the Number 3 on our daily special.

“As for the wine, personally, I think there’s no need for Bargain-day, or Bow-Jew-Laid. I think the Thunderbird would go fine with the meal, plus it’s cheap. Don’t need any of that imported elitist stuff. Can’t pronounce their names anyway.”

I would step out of that restaurant ASAP and go to the other restaurant, where, strangely, the waiters can pronounce French  names rather well and the food looks superb. I would think without tasting the food that the second restaurant had more authentic French food.

Hey Sensei, why do we have to wear simple gi without multiple patches or striped colors or stars and stripes running down our pants legs?

Why do classical musicians usually wear simple black dresses or coats and tie in concert? Why not be comfy and wear a torn-t-shirt that you used to cut grass with, your baling-hay jeans and beat up jogging shoes? It’s a matter of class vs. crass. That’s just how it is. If you played rock and roll, you’d probably dress differently. Do a kata dressed like Lady Gaga with machine guns coming out of your tits and you’ll attract attention, sure, but I’m not sure you’ll score more points in your kata competition.

Hey Sensei, somebody called you a member of the koryu elitists. Aren’t you mad?

Would you be mad if a beautiful, sophisticated lady called you a gentleman?

Hey Sensei, how come you don’t care that people don’t call you Sensei outside of the dojo?

I have a friend, Wayne, who runs a blog site. He’s a professor at a college. When he buys an Angus Deluxe at McDonalds he doesn’t insist they call him Assistant Prof. Wayne at the drive-through. “Wayne, number 4!” is enough.  We live in America. Some things about Japanese culture change in the transition, some don’t.

So Hey Sensei, why do we train barefoot? Isn’t that just a Japanesey thing?

Yes, but it does serve several unexpected purposes, I think. In Western culture, a lot of people walk around with shoes for the greater part of their waking lives. Their feet, toes and ankles end up really atrophied. Doing vigorous physical activity in bare feet has beneficial results for your feet, I think.

Also, going barefoot instead of tromping around in your street shoes in the dojo keeps the dojo clean, and if you’re doing something like karate, aikido or judo, it keeps everyone clean, because the feet end up often making contact with other people’s bodies. That is assuming, of course, that you don’t have toe jams.

Going barefoot used to be because if you trained indoors on tatami mats or wooden floors, you wanted to keep the mats and floors clean since Japanese lived close to the floor. There are very few movable furniture in a traditional Japanese house; people eat, sleep and relax directly on the tatami or floors, so it is important to keep them clean.

Hey Sensei, I noticed in some aikido schools the students fold the teacher’s hakama for him at the end of class. Why don’t you let us do that?

Because I’m afraid you guys will stick a fart cushion in my hakama. Seriously, in aikido that’s a sign of respect and consideration for the teacher. In my school, though, having a “martial mind” means you know exactly how you folded your own hakama so  you can put it on very quickly, just like how I tie up my sword for storage in a particular knot so that I would know if someone had fooled around with it. That’s kind of “old school” thinking, is all.

Hey Sensei, how long before I can kick ass?

How long before you stop being a jack ass? There’s no set time on becoming proficient in a martial art. What you put in is what you get out of it. Plus you have to train the right way. Doing it the wrong way many times over doesn’t make you better. It only makes you good in doing something bad.

Hey Sensei, is koryu more bad ass than modern budo or MMA?

Is baseball better than basketball? Is Miller Lite beer a good drink because it tastes great or is less filling? See my previous answer. No matter what the sport, if you train like crazy, you’ll get good at it. Consider that professional boxers work hours not just on technique, but on conditioning. If you spent as much time as a professional boxer in conditioning and strength training as well as techniques, you’d be more bad ass too, no matter what you did, be it koryu, modern or MMA.

Hey Sensei, on the Internet I found this guy who says he is the master of 12 different martial arts,  he lived in the “Orient” for 30 years but in his bio he’s 25 years old, is a Zen Master, is a founding member of the “Super Duper Dai Soke United States International Federation”…but in his YouTube videos he pronounces “kata” as “kadda” and he looks like he’s sleepwalking through some really bad basic aikido.  But boy, I’d love to study with a Zen master/martial arts master…

Then go ahead. A fool and his money, they say.  At the least, I think the guy has some serious problems with simple math.  And see my comments about proper pronunciation.

Hey Sensei, okay, well, there’s this other guy I found on the Internet. He has kind of the same credentials. He teaches a koryu but he doesn’t say what the name of the school is. He’s a purist. All he does is teach the classical martial arts he learned secretly from an old Japanese master who made him the next soke of the school. To survive, he lives with his mom in the family’s basement where he offers private lessons. It doesn’t look like he finished high school, though.

See my last comment. Look, take away his martial arts title and then imagine him as someone who is going to interact with you on a regular basis as a professional taking your money. Would you rather put your time and money into this guy who is a high school dropout, has no job, has iffy credentials, and lives with his mother in the basement in the hopes of studying a secret esoteric martial art (that may be bogus) or would you prefer studying with someone who is teaching something perhaps not so exotic, but who is a family man, is an outstanding member of several civic organizations, and maybe is a respected fireman, police officer, high school teacher, or doctor in his regular career?

Hey Sensei, how come you never appeared in Black Belt magazine or any other of those mainstream martial arts magazines or in any action movie?

Since when do they have any real connection to koryu budo training?

Hey Sensei, when do I get my Zen enlightenment from martial arts training?

See my finger? Pull it.

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