Don’t be a dumbass
Yeah. You. The guy curious about koryu training. Don’t act like a dumbass.
I’ve had it up to my neck with rude, idiotic, psychotic, immature, and clueless people curious about koryu martial arts training. I don’t understand it. People don’t go tromping into a stranger’s house tracking muddy feet, farting at the dog, and throwing their cigarette butts on the shag carpet (or do they?) and expect a warm welcome. Why do people do so many etiquette faux paus when observing a koryu dojo then, and expect a ready acceptance?
I’ve written about proper etiquette in entering a koryu dojo before, and so have several other writers and teachers of koryu traditions. But somehow, people keep popping up clueless, simply clueless about proper etiquette and behavior, so…
I’m gonna make this REAL simple. I’m not even going to do a lot of explaining, in order to keep things short and simple. If you don’t understand the why or wherefore of certain pieces of advice, then go look it up. Go to koryu.com and dig up my more in-depth articles, or those by folk like Dave Lowry or Meik and Diane Skoss.
So before you even consider going to observe a koryu practice:
The koryu isn’t for everybody:
If you are taking psychotropic drugs, have a serious mental disorder that requires medication, hear messages from the CIA talking to you in your head, or believe that flying saucers implanted radio transmitters in your body, don’t go to a koryu dojo. They don’t want you. Being sad or depressed sometimes due to twists and turns in living is a fact of life. But if you are prone to being clinically insane, then stay away.
If you are a high school dropout, too bad. Go back to school or get your GED before asking to join.
If you are seeking something to add to your self-aggrandizement, stay away. Many koryu will emphasize that you can’t show off any of your skills without the instructor’s permission, if at all. Certainly, you will not be allowed to show off your kenjutsu kata at a birthday party at a bar.
If you posted your creative sword twirlings on YouTube to the music of “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Gladiator,” or “Highlander,” ending your “kadda” by falling to one knee and poking the sword tip into your parent’s grassy lawn, head down so your long front bangs fall over your teenage-angst ridden eyes…Go away kid, ya botherin’ me. We don’t need teenage angst. Go spend your time watching another “Twilight” movie instead.
If you are under 16 and are immature and still play with video games more than you socialize with people, stay away.
If you are over 16 and are immature and still play with video games more than you socialize with people, stay away.
The koryu is wide open for people regardless of race, ethnicity, religious preference, sexual orientation, etc. But you have to bend to fit the style, not the other way around.
Trailer park trash, white trash, ghetto gang bangers, Chicano low rider gangstas, local Hawaii “mokes,” basically, idiots and slobs of any race or creed: you’re not going to be welcome. Sounds elitist? It is. Too bad. Like the title of this blog states, dumbasses are not welcome in a koryu regardless of color, creed, religion or sexual orientation.
Like one koryu teacher told me, “I think koryu are not for dumb people. It may be for lazy people, but not for dumb people.”
Why? Go think about it. That’s your koan, Grasshopper. If you feel insulted about being considered dumb, do something about it. Pick up a book and read it. Better yet, pick up a book without any anime manga illustrations.
So you think you still qualify as material for koryu training? You want to find out where to train?
A lot of inquiries now happen via email. Fine. That’s a very nice, tentative, exploratory way to inquire about training from the teacher. But a couple of do’s and don’t’s:
When you email the teacher, give him or her a title, such as Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Most koryu teachers in America don’t care (or even don’t LIKE) being called Sensei Such and Such from a stranger. Besides, calling someone Sensei Joe is not the proper standard form in the Japanese language, and most koryu teachers speak some level of Japanese. Better, if at all, to call them Joe Sensei. But better by far to say Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Because some teachers, for certain reasons, don’t like being called sensei by complete strangers.
Some, of course, do love titles. Just as I wrote this, I surfed onto the e-budo web site and found someone who was insulted, simply insulted that a curious inquirer didn’t put the sensei at the end of his teacher’s name. You ALWAYS call teacher X by X-sensei, he insisted, and while you’re at it, he himself should be called Y-sensei. Don’t ever call him Mr. X. That’s not high-falutin’ enough. On the other hand, I refer to my sensei in a number of ways, even dropping the honorifics when referring to him in a crowd that has no idea of proper etiquette levels in spoken Japanese. I (and other folk I associate with) tend to actually be rather forgiving of cultural differences when working with a general audience.
Observe proper email etiquette. In other words, DON’T WRITE ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE IT MEANS YOU ARE SHOUTING IN THE PERSON’S EARS FOR ATTENTION!!!! Check your spelling, grammar, diction and usage of slang. If you write like an idiot, chances are the teacher is not going to get a very good impression of your intelligence. Most koryu teachers I know are college graduates. Many hold advanced degrees. They expect some brains from their students. If you are stupid, dropped out of high school, or flunked English 101, too bad. The koryu aren’t for you.
Don’t write, “I want…” The koryu teacher doesn’t give a shit about what YOU want. You have to conform to the training regime, not the other way around. And if you expect to become “samurai,” fuggedabout it. You’re living in a preteen’s wet dream.
You can ask about the system, what happens in training, the training times and if it would be possible to observe a class. No koryu instructor will turn you away if you are respectful and truly seeking training. You can tell the teacher that maybe you did some modern budo, like aikido or judo, or kendo or karatedo. But alas, that’s going to just give the teacher some insight into your abilities, and unless you trained directly with Ueshiba Morihei, Asai Tetsuhiko, Gichin Funakoshi, or the like, training a year or two at the local kids’ karate class is not going to make the teacher think you’re incredibly skilled.
Chances are, the teacher will know many of the other martial arts teachers in the area and have a respectable view of reputable teachers of Japanese traditional budo. But if you were training in a fly-by-night school, he may have never heard of your teacher or group. He may not even care, either.
Watching a class:
Think about what you are going to wear before you show up. You don’t have to dress like you’re going to a senior prom, but don’t wear a torn-up t-shirt to show off your amazing pecs and brick abs (or beer belly and fat butt crack, or clothing that exposes too much tits and ass…that goes for women, too, by the way). Don’t wear t-shirts that have off-color or obscene images or words, and take off your damn baseball hat. What, is it super-glued to your head? Did your momma never tell you to doff your cap when in a formal indoor setting, like a church, to show respect?
You can dress informally but with respect, say in a polo shirt, or whatever is appropriate for your locale and cultural environment. In Hawaii, Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt is considered near formal wear.
When you are about to enter the training hall, take off your footwear. Observe where and how the students doff their gear and do so in the same manner. Note that they don’t just chuck their footwear in a jumbled pile. The shoes and slippers are arranged in an orderly fashion so that they can be efficiently and quickly put back on. Sometimes there is a getabako, a shoe rack. You figure it out. But if you just throw your shoes in a pile, the teacher will notice that and consider it a strike against you.
When you enter the dojo, it’s nice if you do a bow to show respect to the environment, but the teacher will probably not expect you to know the etiquette of the dojo. But in any case, don’t act like you just entered a gym class. Think more like you stepped into a tea ceremony room. Or a church. Why? Look up the articles in koryu.com.
Don’t think a koryu dojo is like a modern strip mall karate chain outlet training. If you try to show familiarity with “dojo etiquette” and grunt, “OSU!” you will only look like an idiot. Why? Look it up. Koryu.com.
If the teacher offers you a comfy, cushioned chair to sit in because he says the class may be long, take it. He’s trying to be nice. If you decline and say you’d rather sit on the wooden floor or tatami, then you had better sit in seiza through the whole practice, or at the very least, if your feet hurt, cross your legs quietly. Sticking out your legs and stretching them, slouching against the wall…You don’t do that in tea ceremony, you don’t do that in a koryu dojo. Why? Look it up in koryu.com.
Sit up straight and shut up. Ask questions only if the teacher asks if you have questions, or if he comes up to talk with you during breaks in the training. If you came with a friend, keep your conversations to a minimum.
If you see a move that, by golly, looks like something from your aikido class or judo class, or from kendo kata, don’t go trying to repeat the move by yourself or with your tagalong buddies.
If your cell phone goes off, excuse yourself and go outside of the dojo to answer it.
I don’t know why some folk don’t realize it, but as much as you are watching the class, the teacher is watching YOU out of the corner of his eyes. Act like a doofus with no notion of formal respect and he’s going to note that down.
When class is over, go up and thank the teacher if he doesn’t approach you first. Ask some questions, but keep it short unless the teacher wants to talk more. If you have a lot of questions, ask the teacher if you could email him again. And just because YOU want to join the class doesn’t mean you CAN join the class. The teacher will weigh a lot of things in his mind as to whether or not to let you in.
Now, whether you email him or ask questions afterwards, do some homework ahead of time. Go to koryubooks.com. Read up the articles there about what a koryu is and isn’t, read up on Dave Lowry’s books, which are available in bookstores and libraries, so you don’t sound like a smug idiot.
Some questions you might ask:
It is fair to ask who the teacher’s teacher was, what the name of the particular style of koryu is. Then if you have some doubts about the claims, check it out by asking questions on forums like e-budo.com.
Don’t ask “what federation do you belong to?” as if it was a modern budo group. Koryu belong to the ryu, not to this or that federation. I belong to the Bitchuden Takeuchi-ryu. Period. There’s no Hawaii Takeuchi-ryu Association vs. the Hawaii Takeuchi-ryu Society with competing officers and board of directors. We either ARE in the Takeuchi-ryu or we’re not.
Oh, by the way, if he says he belongs to an association of American Grandmaser Soke’s, he’s not doing a koryu. He may be good, his self-defense techniques may look cool, and he may talk the talk, but so far I haven’t seen anyone associated with those American Gandmaster Soke Ultimate Eternal Grandmaster organizations that are actually authentic Japanese koryu systems.
Don’t ask about tournaments. There aren’t any.
Don’t ask about promotion schedule or testing. Like I told one inquirer who thought our ryu was just like kendo, there aren’t any promotion testing or schedule. You get your rank when the teacher thinks you deserve it. And as a teacher, I don’t have to test you. If you train all the time with me in a small group, I should darn well know your skill level without having to test you. Now, some koryu associated with modern budo, like a lot of iaido groups aligned with the modern kendo federations, do have tests and promotions. But they are kind of a hybrid.
Don’t ask what color belts we will give you. We really (up until recently) don’t have any belt colors other than white, brown and black, for jujutsu, and kyu rankings are very, very recent. I hardly pay it any attention until you get a “serious” rank, such as shoden mokuroku. Don’t know what that means? Go to koryu.com.
In iai we wear dark blue belts, or obi, to hold together our gi and hakama. You want a black belt? You can wear one. That doesn’t make you ranked as a “black belt.” It just means your hakama won’t fall down.
If you decide to join, some groups have a tuition, some don’t charge you anything. Most koryu in America are not-for-profit ventures and just barely cover the room rental. It’s fair to ask about monthly fees and other charges.
Joining a koryu, however, is not just putting your money down and jumping in to train. The teacher makes the decision, not you. Maybe he or she will turn you away for some reason. The koryu is not for everybody, and maybe the teacher doesn’t want to waste your time and turned you away because he figures you will lose interest in a few weeks.
I have not turned away many people myself. I once did ask an obviously psychotic person to leave or I would call the cops on him. I don’t allow crazy people into my classes. Eccentric, socially awkward: maybe. But insane street people talking about ninjas coming out of the walls, no.
Anyway, new students come dribbling in, but most of them leave after a few classes, so in my case, they weed themselves out. So why would I want to invest so much time in you unless I thought you would stick around a while? It’s not like I’m making money off you, after all. It’s more like I’m trying to pass on a treasured tradition, and if you don’t have the time or willingness to bend your ego to fit the system, why should I bother?
I spent most of this article ragging on newbies to koryu, but here’s the really good part. If you are earnest, mean well, have a good sense of respect and humor, and carry yourself properly, then most koryu teachers will welcome you with open arms. There’s not enough of you out there joining up. I yearn for more students who aren’t insane, whackos, dumbasses or low class, low-IQ losers from the nether end of the gene pool.
I myself have never been turned away when I asked to study koryu jo, iai or jujutsu. The teacher and fellow students loved having a new face to train with. And more to the point, if you show a willingness to stick around for the long haul, you become a part of a martial arts “family” that can’t be duplicated by any large-scale, for-profit, hundreds-of-students modern martial arts school. Being part of a koryu is way, way different from that kind of sterile, faceless training system. But you have to be ready for it. Don’t act like a dumbass.