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Celebrity Sensei

One of the worst things a student can do is to turn his Sensei into a celebrity. You take a quiet, humble, down to earth, extremely skilled teacher and turn him into a media star. There is a saying that observation changes the result of the experiment. To what extent do the perceptions of the students and the public change the Sensei?

Even if some degree of notoriety is unavoidable, you have to ask what the effect of having a celebrity Sensei is on the student. Is the student learning Karate... or how to become a celebrity? The Sensei is a role model. So what is he a role model of? A student is rarely influenced by only one aspect of a role model.

Try this. Write down all the characteristics of your Sensei. Now circle the ones that you admire and seek to be like.

For me, I do not seek celebrity status. I don't want to be anyone's master or soke or hanshi. I just want to be myself. I like being an "unknown" person. Even if I write articles, very few people visually associate me with that "author" (that is one reason I rarely include my photograph with articles).

Through Karate training, I am working on myself. This is a personal, rather than a public journey. Celebrity status, if anything, would be a distraction. The focus is and should always be training.

You might think that this post is unnecessary. But have you seen any Karate Sensei celebrities? Did you ever see how the students react to them? Have you seen them posing for photos, asking for autographs, asking to have their books signed, wining and dining, rubbing elbows, hanging on, dropping names, etc.? Back in Okinawa or Japan, this person is normal. Here he is a celebrity. What happened?

And, of course, some people are quick to point out that their celebrity Sensei is more well known than your celebrity Sensei.

I will tell you who the real "stars" of Karate are to me: the Sensei who teach in their home, garage, carport, yard, or the park; the Sensei who teach in a recreation center or church and have to pay out of pocket for the rent because they do not charge tuition to students who cannot afford it; the Sensei who work with special needs students; the Sensei who come straight from chemotherapy to the dojo; the Sensei who truly "walk the walk" and talk little about it; and most of all, the Sensei who are dedicated to training and polishing their character.

What counts most is not that you are well known but that you know yourself well.

Celebrity status requires too much baggage.


Charles C. Goodin