………..or 7,305………. whichever.

For those that keep track of such things, as well as for those that don’t, today marks the twenty year anniversary of the first time I bowed in a class as head instructor.  I had, on numerous occasions, covered for our sensei when he couldn’t make it, but on June 1 of 1994 the class became officially mine.

Holy crap, was I actually that young once??

Holy crap, was I actually that young once??

It has been a very interesting ride over that period of time.  There have been days that make me want to scream my elation to the heavens and others that make me wonder why I still bother.  Quite often, both occur in the same month or even the same week.  I have no doubt in my mind that anyone that has taken on the responsibility of training others goes through the same thing.  It’s part of the game.

Over these two decades, I have seen dozens, probably well over one hundred, prospective students come and go.  Some only make a handful of classes.  Others last much longer.  Their reasons, if I am given one at all, are almost limitless.  We do too much of this, or not enough of that.  The dojo isn’t snazzy enough.  We don’t “spar”.  We don’t do MMA.  The fact that we’re a closed system doesn’t appeal to them.  So on and so forth.  Sometimes life just happens.  People move.  Job or family requirements are such that they just can’t make it.  Their body or their spirit give out.  Again, nothing that any instructor that has been around for any length of time hasn’t encountered.

If my memory is correct, eight of my students have reached the rank of black belt.  Of those, only three were ones that began with me as white belts.  The others were already dojo members that I “inherited.”  Of the eight, only two remain active and participate in class regularly.  One other black belt from the prior instructor is still with us and we recently had another join after moving to St. Louis from out of state.

We have held no less than 25 regional seminars in St. Louis that featured the head of our system – first Shihan Arel and then Kaicho Howard (there was a time when we were doing two a year.)  A goodly number of Kokondoka from around the country have participated in those seminars or have otherwise dropped by for a workout when in the area while travelling.  Two evenings a week, the door is open, and I can probably count on my fingers when that has not been the case.  We only “close” on Thanksgiving and when Christmas or Christmas Eve lands on a class night.  One of my favorite class traditions has been our New Year “Dustoff”.  We hold it on New Year’s Day or the next closest class.

One of the things I am happiest about is the extremely low number of injuries we’ve had over this twenty year span.  Bumps, bruises and bloody noses or lips aside, we have stayed pretty much injury free.  That says a lot for the people that bow in each night.

Some of our legends

I have had the honor of attending somewhere around 20 National Seminars, beginning a few years prior to assuming head instructor duties.  On top of those, I have had the pleasure of going to all four corners of the continental US to the regional seminars, as well as now being able to visit a couple of dojos that have opened in the Midwest.  During this time I have come across some exceptional individuals, both in terms of their martial arts abilities and as human beings in general.  I have never been able to fully and successfully communicate how much these events can mean to someone that is serious about progressing in our system in a serious fashion.  It gets them exposure to these amazing martial artists and shows them just how good a person can become with enough time, effort and practice.  To this day I still have a tiny little voice in the back of my head telling me I have no business in the same room with them, that I need more work, more practice.

The Karate Inversion has happened.  I have had my belt go from white to black and my hair go from black to white.  Amazingly, despite pushing 60 years old, I don’t feel all that much different physically today that I did way back when.  I have no doubt slowed down a little bit.  Those chin kicks are only effective on short people and I’m not nearly as enthused about falling repeatedly as I was in 1994.  I can still mix it up, though, and I still find myself getting jazzed when I get to trade some solid contact with a partner.  Most of all, I still find myself getting excited about putting on a gi, bowing in and going to work.  I strive to be first to sign up for Nationals (it’s an ego thing, deal) and I am fortunate enough to usually get to one or two Regionals each year in addition to holding my own each spring.

I have recently adopted a second dojo.  Their instructor moved on for various reasons.  Having had my instructor bail on my not once, but three times in my life (two were in other styles prior to me finding Kokondo) I know what it is like to be left in limbo.  I will not desert people that I feel want to learn and that have the loyalty to the system to want to continue under what will be unusual circumstances.  They are willing to put in the work.  It is my honor to be able to help them on their journey.

As I stated at the beginning of the missive, it has been a very interesting ride.  During that time I have had my children grow into magnificent adults and move on in their lives, my parents have passed on, jobs have come and gone as have spouses, friends and family.  There is one constant I have always had and that is to wrap that obi around my waist and practice kihon or kata or hang and bang with other students.  We’ve been together for over two-thirds of my life and hopefully, we have another fifteen or twenty years left in the tank.

I’m guessing a lot of the above could be construed as mildly complaining.  I hope that is not the case.  My years as instructor, and in this system, have been greatly rewarding and enjoyable.  I sometimes think about all the faces that have come and gone, but I must also leave them in the past.  My energies need to be concentrated on training – mine and that of my students – and that is where they are and will remain.

I am now going to load my bag into the car and prepare for a little drive.  Some of my St. Louis students are meeting with some of my Mountain Home students are we’re going to get in three or four hours of solid work.

It’s what we do.  It’s who we are.

Now to start thinking up what I’m going to write for the twenty-fifth anniversary.

Ossu!  Thank you everyone, for a great twenty years!