The Strategist

Like any dojo, from time to time I am contacted by people who want to observe a practice or rarer still, want to train with us. Before I left for Japan, I received an email from a person asking me if I taught tonfa and sai, where classes were held, would I consider teaching privately, and how much would I charge. The request in the email struck me as a bit odd for a couple of reasons. First, all the information that was asked for, save the private lessons request, were on the dojo website. So, either I’ve not laid it out simply enough or the person didn’t bother to read it. Second, and more importantly, the request for private lessons and the associated cost seemed presumptuous and lacking propriety.

Maybe I’m too conservative, but like my own teachers, I want to actually meet the person face-to-face and talk to her and form an impression before I invite her to train with us. Even then, the person is on probation to see if she fits with the dojo. This may seem a bit anachronistic, but the dojo is in some ways like an extended family and it’s best for everyone to make sure any new member is a good fit. If not, the disruption to the dojo as a whole can be serious.

At any rate, this request caused me some consternation, but I replied that she was welcome to come and observe a class and perhaps afterwards join in. The person replied, ‘I’ll get back to you’ once she’d ‘confirmed this month’s calendar’. Out of some bizarre curiosity I Googled the person’s name. When the results flashed up on screen, everything made sense to me.

Here was a person dressed in a bright red uwagi, dark blue hakama, and extra-length red obi stating that the was the founder of her own martial art. Impressive, no? Reading on I saw that he carried the title of ‘Strategist’ in Japanese… I just couldn’t contain my laughter.

‘Strategist’ is just another term used by teachers trying to differentiate themselves. It’s no different from the plethora of other terms people already use: ‘Soke’, ‘Saiko Shihan’, ‘Kaicho’ and my personal favorite ‘Zokucho’. For an ‘art’ that purports to tame the ego and make the world a better place, I am struck by the pride and vanity of its practitioners; especially in the west. My recent trip to Japan to train with my mentors was a good reminder of what authentic Karatedo and Kobudo training entails; hard work and focusing on your craft.