Thursday, January 20, 2011

And ... I'm Back

I got a few e-mails from people who, among other things, told me that I needed to post more often or that they were disappointed that I hadn't written much recently. Thanks for the kind words and motivation.

In mid-November, I guess it was, a couple guys from the Toronto area came to visit and train in Jodo. They contacted me to see if I wouldn't mind introducing them to some of the teachers and doing a bit of translating. At the time, I was a bit hesitant about getting back into practice as my knee was still quite sore, but I figured at the very least I'd help them and show my face in the dojo, as it had been a couple months.

Kevin and David turned out to be really nice guys, and very serious about training. They were doing 4-6 hours of training a day, sometimes going to a morning Aikido practice, then an afternoon practice, maybe a bit of sightseeing, and then coming to Jodo in the evening. How they had the energy to do that, I don't know. When they turned up for Jodo, I decided to practice too and see how it would go. Sure, my knee was fairly tender, and the next day it was nice and swollen (even after icing it) but I had a good return to practice, basically thanks to these guys showing up and making me get off my butt.

Everyone at the dojo was impressed by their hard work and easy-going, friendly attitude. They were also pretty amazed that someone would come to Japan just to train. (How about coming to live in Japan for 10 years just to train??) On their last night of Jodo training, we all went out for drinks at our local watering hole. That was a lot of fun. Thanks, guys!

But if there's anything I've learned, it's that Ups are usually followed by Downs. A couple weeks later, maybe the first week of December, I went to practice only to find that nobody was there and the lights were off. I asked at the reception desk, and the guy told me that they were all out drinking. It was the End-of-the-Year drinking party, and nobody had even mentioned it to me!

I tried phoning anybody whose number I had, but everyone was unreachable (turns out they were in a basement bar). I hung around the area for 30 minutes or so, feeling increasingly miserable.

Looking back, I know that it was just an oversight. I hadn't been out to practice much that fall, and even though I had just started coming back, maybe the party organizers didn't realize I wanted to come. Probably there was a perfectly legible notice up somewhere in the change room that I hadn't read. But at the time ... I was absolutely disheartened.

And why? I had to keep telling myself: "These people aren't your friends. They're just people you train with. Don't take it so hard. It doesn't matter." But I couldn't help but contrast my situation in Japan (show up, exchange a greeting with Sensei, warm up by myself, train, go home) with my situation in Canada (show up, talk to everyone, have a few laughs, train, have a few laughs during training, go for a beer or two, lots more discussion and laughs...) And so it became a kind of "us against them, foreigners against Japanese" situation, as so often happens in our minds whenever we foreigners have problems in this country.

One of the things I realize about myself is that I want my training to have a social dimension. No "lone samurai" ascetic training for me; you won't catch me waking up at dawn and lugging my bokuto out to the woods, where I pound on a tree for a couple hours and then meditate under a waterfall. The few times I've shown up early and found an empty dojo, I've half-heartedly done a bit of stretching to kill time until someone else shows up. If I washed up on a desert island with a trunk full of budo equipment, it would stay in the box until I was rescued or someone else washed ashore.

So not being invited to the party, and feeling rejected by these people at my club, was pretty damn disappointing. I kept thinking, "Why do I bother?" or thought, "Is there some other club, somewhere, where they would welcome me and I wouldn't be the elephant in the room?"

The thing that made it worse, I think, was the reception that the visitors, David and Kevin, had received only a couple weeks before. When they were here, everyone was friendly, and curious about Canada, and why they were here. After I had done my (very humble) best translating, they said, "Good thing you're here, Jeff! We really needed your help!" It was a big love-in. Then, once they left, I was back to zero again.

I once heard the same sentiment from an American Jodo instructor who had lived in Japan and was amazed how nobody wanted to teach him -the longterm resident - anything, but whenever a visitor showed up at the dojo for a few days of instruction, everyone was falling over themselves to teach him. At the time, I thought he was just being bitter or was exaggerating. Now, for better or worse, I find myself thinking the same things. Was he right? Partly. Am I getting bitter? Definitely.

So, what do I do? Focus on the positives; the cool people I've met, the good training I've received, the fact that training with 5 hachidan Sensei is almost routine. The times when I have gone out drinking after a practice and had a great time. And when I have a crap experience, run home and put it on my blog for everyone to see and commiserate!

And remember that Downs are usually followed by Ups. A week later, I went back to practice, determined not to mention anything about that stupid party. Everyone was very apologetic, and after practice we went out for the REAL party; the one I had missed had been the expensive, formal, not-very-much-fun party where you sit around and listen to speeches and get berated by Sensei about how you haven't practiced hard enough this year so buckle down next year. This party was just the regulars, at the local watering hole (again), with lots of good food and beer and sake flowing freely. And as much as I wanted to stay angry about the week before, I had a great time and felt ... kind of ... like one of the gang.


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