It’s not always the lesson, but the teacher offering it that makes the biggest impact.
“Sensei, I need your help with something,” I said expectantly.
My instructor was busy helping another student. Hearing my request, she turned to me, saying, “I’ll be right with you, Bryce. Just hold on a second.”
Upset that my needs weren’t immediately answered, I rolled my eyes and made to turn around.
“Uh-uh, Bryce. That was inappropriate and disrespectful. We don’t roll our eyes.” Her entire demeanor changed, and suddenly this 5’4”, cute little blonde lady, transformed into a dominating presence that filled the whole dojo. But she didn’t yell. Nor did she get angry, or condemn me. Instead, she used this moment to grab everyone’s attention and teach a valuable lesson about respect for our teachers and ourselves.
I remember a lot of this moment well. The dojo was full of students, mostly lower belts—it was a lower-belt class—all having some individual practice time. We were going over our grabs/techniques sheet. It was a beautiful summer’s day, and I remember Sensei Louise had the side door open to let in a little breeze. I was somewhere around ten or eleven years old at the time.
When I’d first started karate, my attitude and character were a lot different. I had much less patience, I was expectant of getting what I needed quickly, and I felt entitled to results before others.
I didn’t like being told “no.”
When my parents put my sisters and me into this karate class, I’m not sure what their initial thinking was. And I’d only been there long enough to get my feet wet, so I stayed more because my parents wanted me to as opposed to enjoying myself. Although, I did like it somewhat. But I didn’t like how much work it took to get better, though.
Add that to learning from a person who physically didn’t look like she would be much of a threat, blackbelt master or no, and I thought that I could be a ruler of the roost.
That’s a lot of arrogance for a kid around ten.
“Uh-uh, Bryce. That was inappropriate and disrespectful. We don’t roll our eyes,” Sensei said while looking me directly in the eyes. I was terrified and ashamed and averted my gaze to avoid her stare. I couldn’t believe how much life and vibrancy showed from within her; I couldn’t handle looking at her eyes.
I was about to slink back to my spot, hoping that as few of my peers saw that as possible when Sensei Louise got the whole class’s attention. Asking them to stop what they’re doing and face her, I was now stuck right there off to her side, pinned in my embarrassment with no way out.
But she surprised me yet again. Instead of using me as an example, she used the circumstance to teach a profound lesson about love and respect. And she did this without making fun of me, scolding me, or even singling me out in front of the class. Even though I’d acted so selfishly, instead of using that against me to “teach me a lesson,” she instead took the higher road to provide us all a learning experience.
I couldn’t believe it. I’d never seen an adult behave that way before. Especially not in a group setting, and one where they held so much power.
She showed me that I was worth something and that there are preferred ways to handle situations. I watched her fight for all of us with her words, instead of using her words (and my arrogance) against us.
It was this moment that put me in her corner for good. I wanted to learn how to do this: how was it possible to build up, genuinely love, and empower a person with light. She did it so effortlessly, and in the twenty-plus years I’ve known her, she’s only become better at it.
This is who she is, at her very core.
We brandish our individuality like weapons in our day and age, and ironically, we’re not unique in this. When we find ourselves on the wrong end of behavior we don’t like, our initial reactions are to defend and protect.
We should be more like Sensei Louise, who, when confronted with the arrogance and entitlement of a child, realized his reactions were not reflections of her. And more importantly, how she chose to react would imprint not only on this boy but everyone else in the class.
So what did she do? She used her light to flip the situation. She didn’t play by our rules, and she didn’t let herself be bogged down by our attitudes. We witnessed a true teacher in action, and we all became better for it.
There are rights and wrongs in this world. Some manners and reactions cause more harm than good. Some people think they’re behaving correctly, or helping society, when in reality they just don’t know any better. Part of the trouble is discovering who holds the appropriate knowledge to lead, and who doesn’t. This is a fine line.
An easy way to tell is to look at their actions and how they’ll make you feel. Good attracts good, as evil attracts evil. We all go through stages of following both sides. The question becomes, are we humble enough to recognize it, and will we possess the courage to face ourselves and the consequences of our actions?
I was a cocky little shit as a child. Looking back, I can see that quite clearly. Truth be told, I haven’t wholly relinquished those traits, but I can see just how far I’ve come. Most of this is due to Sensei Louise. Because her mission wasn’t to just teach us martial arts. She was out to train people and create warriors.
As I’ve found myself pursuing teaching opportunities, and starting up a business that delves into similar arenas as what I learned in the dojo, I am enlightened by the example I had from my incredible instructor. I’ve seen the power and force at play when learning from her. If I can offer even a fraction of that to my students, I consider that incredible success.
Build up, don’t tear down. Educate, don’t weaponize. Fight for what you believe in, but please don’t act at the cost of your beliefs.
We still have so much to do that we can’t afford alienating ourselves from each other.