By Tal Alexander
Have you ever picked up an ant and carried it a couple steps from where you picked it up? If you watch the ant, he will scurry in a circle, looking for something familiar, and when he doesn’t find anything, he just stops moving, and sits, waiting. I felt like a misplaced ant when I was 14. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, I see now just how far away I was from where I should have been. I didn’t care about my grades, about my family, and most importantly, I didn’t care about myself. I spent endless hours watching movies, playing video games, goofing off, and wasting time. It aggravated my dad, who had to uproot and move with nothing to start with twice in his life. He saw this as an ultimate misbehavior, my lack of purpose and my lack of caring. This had been going on for almost 2 years, and my parents had no clue as to what they should do.
One day, I went with my mom to pick up my little brother from his day care, which was at a Karate Dojo not far from my house. Because I hadn’t left the house that day, my mom had forced me to go with her. As we arrived, my mom shut off the car and told me to go inside. I didn’t want to go, but I went inside with her anyway. I was greeted by a tall, skinny built but muscular guy, in his late 20s.
“You must be Benjamin’s brother,” he said enthusiastically. “He’s told me so much about you,” and then in a whisper he added “come talk to me when I’m done speaking with your mother.”
My curiosity peaked. This strange man wearing a Karate uniform wanted to talk to me about something secretly, and I had just met the guy. I was intrigued so I waited for him to finish and then we walked over to the changing rooms.
“Your family has given me a few insights into your life, and I think it’s important I talk to you about this,” he said with a very serious look on his face.
“Have you ever thought about doing martial arts?”
This question shook me a little. When I was 7, I had tried Tae Kwon Do, and it ended with a girl head-butting me in the nose and making it bleed. Needless to say, I hadn’t tried since.
“I think you should give it a try, I’ve already gotten permission from your parents, and the first three classes are free. The first one is tonight, and your mother has already agreed to let you stay.” He didn’t wait for a response.
“You will need a uniform, of course, and pads, but we can get that sorted later. I’ll see you in class at 7 pm. You have 15 minutes to get a drink and go to the bathroom if needed. I don’t allow breaks during my class, so get it done before or after.” And then he walked away, even though I had never said I was okay with the class. Next thing I know, he’s telling my mother I agreed to stay, and he’s pushing her out the door.
This was it… I was stuck with this crazy guy for the next hour and a half where I was sure I was going to embarrass myself, or get hurt. I wasn’t sure what to do. He came up to me and held out his hand. I took it, cautiously, knowing that he could probably put me on my behind faster than I could scream for help.
“Corey,” he said, as he shook my hand, “my name is Corey, but in karate we call our instructors Senpai, so you can call me Senpai Corey”.
Senpai Corey proceeded to pull out a size 3 uniform, which fit me fine, but he made me take it off and gave me a 4, which was very loose and baggy. The pants made me feel as though I had flying squirrel wings. He gave me a wink and said it’s to encourage me to grow. I wasn’t sure how this would end, but I accepted it, vowing this would be my last time at this hellish place. As I was putting on my too-big uniform, the other adult students began to arrive.
The class began with a warmup, which was standard for any sport, and then the instruction began. I was flooded with a mass of information, all sorts of punches and kicks, different throwing and grabbing techniques, and even some self-defense. The way Senpai Corey taught was very traditional, but he cracked jokes, and made fun of his own technique in a way that made me enjoy the class much more than I had anticipated. In fact, it was so good, I came back the following week, and from that point onward, I was going to Karate class two to three times a week.
I advanced through the belt levels, first white, then blue, blue with a stripe, then yellow, and the longer I was practicing karate, the more I used the teachings in my everyday life. At the end of every class, we do something called “Dojo Kun”, which roughly means dojo policy.
“We will always be courteous and show respect to others. We will strive to be our best and pursue it with patience. We will develop the mind and body to enhance the spirit. We will always keep an open heart and mind. We will accept the spirit of challenge. We will follow the meaning of Enshin (our styles name) in both our training and our daily lives.”
Although I hadn’t been trying to, I had incorporated the “Dojo Kun” into my daily life. My grades had been steadily rising, my relationship with my parents had improved, and I was striving to achieve the next belt level.
After a few months of doing karate, Sensei Ruby, (who was Senpai Corey’s boss), offered me a job for the upcoming summer as an assistant instructor for the summer camp. At first I thought I didn’t want to work at the Karate dojo especially not with children (they get sticky), but Senpai Corey pushed me to go for it. So the following summer I began my new job. I learned how to discipline the students, as well as how to properly teach karate to a younger audience. We emphasized the importance of discipline, respect, and hard work. We rewarded good behavior and proper technique and we gently steered the students who did not demonstrate the proper behavior in the right direction. It was a valuable experience for me and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I worked at Enshin Karate for 3 years, taking classes and making my way up all the way to brown belt. I finished high school, I got into a very good college, and I am now striving to get onto the dean’s list at my university.
The ant had given up. He couldn’t see his mound, he had looked, but it was nowhere to be found. He stood still, waiting for the end. A hand reaches down from the sky and picks him up. He doesn’t even struggle. The hand places him on top of the mound he had spent ages building, every granule familiar to him. This is home, he thought, as he sprang back into action, endlessly fixing the shape and structure of his beautiful mound.
"Gorozhanka" November 2015, page 46: http://gorozhanka.com/en/?1197582466