Karate Thoughts Blog

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Over the years (decades), I have seen many people come and go in Karate and other martial arts. In organizations, it is not unusual for people to leave or quit. If they hold office, I have noticed that there is usually a pretty smooth transition -- someone else takes or is elected to their position.

One way to think of this is to picture an annual seminar in which the heads of the organization line up an a stage. From year to year there may always be the some number of officers/directors, but the people change. One year, this person is the president, the next year it is someone else.

What I am getting at is that positions generally stay the same. A person can be a president, a vice president, a treasurer, a secretary, an director, or whatever. A change in the personnel is not really much of a change. The organization itself remains more or less the same. It will go on running according to its internal documents (articles, by-laws, etc.).

But when a dojo loses its Sensei, then that is something altogether different. Someone else may become the Sensei, but it is not the same. I think back to Sensei Sadao Yoshioka (who taught Aikido). When he passed away there was no way to replace him. He was a "one and only." Of course, the dojo will have a successor Sensei (one or even many), but there will never be another Yoshioka Sensei.

The same is true in all martial arts. A Sensei is more than a position or office. A Sensei is a lifetime of training and self development. When a Sensei passes away, who will have his skill and knowledge? Perhaps his students will have bits and pieces -- and that is often the best scenario. Often, so much is lost when a Sensei passes. So much knowledge and wisdom is lost.

A position can be filled, but a lifetime of training and self development cannot.

I know many Sensei. But I have reached a phase in my life when I "know" more Sensei who have passed away than are living. And in so many cases, the Sensei who have passed away seem so much wiser and skillful to me. Perhaps this is just the gloss of time. Our image of those who have passed away is somehow elevated. We remember only the best. We remember the good times and their great lessons. Any shortcomings fade away.

To a Sensei, his students are great treasures.

But to a student, the Sensei is the greatest treasure -- a treasure that does not last forever.

If you are fortunate enough to have a fine Sensei, please take every opportunity to ask your questions, ask for corrections, listen to the old stories... drink in every moment to the fullest. If you can assist your Sensei, do so without obligating or imposing upon him. Observe how he "is."

A Sensei lives on through his students. If the Sensei is truly fortunate, the art itself grows. But in many cases, I think that the loss of a Sensei lessens the art.

You cannot replace a Sensei.


Charles C. Goodin