Last November, I had the privilege of attending a Taijutsu seminar lead by Dai Shihan Joel Everett. You may wonder why it has taken me so long to write about what I have learned. I needed time to mull over the experience, to think. Did I learn fantastic techniques? I am sure I did. Can I replicate any of it? Not even to a small degree. However, I came away with something more powerful, at least for where I am at on my martial arts journey. Before we explore all that, let us take a look at who Dai Shihan Joel is.
According to his own story, Dai Shihan Everett has trained in martial arts since he was about four years old. Around the age of eleven or twelve, he found the Bujinkan and knew it was a good fit for him. Now, he trains directly with Soke Masaaki Hatsumi and has earned the title of Great Master Instructor.
I met Dai Shihan Everett once before. My sensei, Shidōshi Jeremiah (student of Everett) is a cool guy who cares about his students. He invests an insane amount of energy into creating a good training space (both in energy and aesthetics) and a competent curriculum. He is an example to follow. Every year or so, Shidōshi Jeremiah hosts a seminar for the dojo. Cool, I know, right? It is a weekend-long training frenzy where you forget more than you can learn.
My first impression of Everett, as a newly born yellow belt, was a quietly confident man who oddly enough seemed a bit shy. I don’t know the man very well having met him only twice. Remember these are first impressions. His presence was commanding yet unassuming and ordinary. How very ninja of him. Everett’s subtle authority struck me, even more, training under him for the second time. I am not talking about ego or vanity. It is a humble confidence that says I know my body, my sphere and how to control it. These words cannot quite capture what I am trying to say. It is hard to translate the intangible into the tangible. However, part of my journey is to learn that elusive quality. I could spend a couple of thousand words trying to describe my thoughts on this subject and still fall short of hitting the mark. So, let us move on.
What did I take away from the seminar? Not what I expected.
I am nearsighted. So much so that without corrective lens my world is a bunch of fuzz. I can see everything except it is out of focus. The further away something is, the more it is out of focus. You get the picture. However, you may ask what does the state of my vision have to do with anything? It will become clear in a moment.
Recently, my family moved so I can finish my college degree. That placed us some distance from our dojo. Getting there takes a bit of time. I do not know about your family, but my family is fun to get out the door on time. In my rush to shove everyone into the car, I forgot my glasses that were quietly sitting on the table near the front door. No biggie right? I have my contacts in; it will be fine for the weekend. Wrong. On the drive over my eyes began to feel sore and turn red. Not good. When we got there, wanting to be able to see, I left my contacts in for the first night of the seminar. I was a sight, eyes flaming red.
That night at the hotel, I finally took out my lenses. My eyes hurt to the point of a headache. Blazing red eyes looked back at me in the mirror. It was quite concerning. My heart began to sink at the sight of them. How was I going to train like this? I felt like I had a difficult choice ahead of me. I could sit on the sidelines for the rest of the seminar sans contacts to protect my eyes. Or, I could wear my contacts playing Russian roulette with my vision while I train distracted. What to do? Then my husband piped up with a solution. He told me to go to the session without my contacts. That got my attention. I never considered training without corrective lenses. I always had my contacts in or glasses on. Not once have I left the house in a state of fuzz since I was eleven years old. Going to a packed dojo to study Taijutsu in my condition seemed a bit far-fetched. How could I learn anything without my vision? More importantly, could I train safely?
The next morning, my eyes had calmed to a light pink. Being marginally sore, I could tell they were on the mend. I decided to do it, train without my contacts. My desire to train won out over impaired sight insecurities. What was the worst that could happen, I get benched for bumbling around too much?
I walked into the dojo less than confident, yet determined. Fearing that my Sensei would order me off the mat out of concern for my safety, I told no one of my condition except my training partner. I figured she should know. All I got from her was understanding and good training. Since we are close in rank, I felt I could rely on her eyes to understand the basic techniques Dai Shihan Everett was showing. Halfway through the session something mind-blowing dawned on me. I could see without seeing. As Everett was demonstrating in the middle of the dojo different techniques, from the sidelines where I was standing, his kamae and movement stood out. What I could not see were his hand movements. My lack of vision was a blessing. Had I been able to see clearly, I would have focused on his hands, not his body movement. A major theme throughout the seminar was the importance of structure. What a powerful lesson. I am not as helpless without corrective lenses as I previously believed. In fact, without them, I can quite possibly see the world more profoundly. Something to consider moving forward with training.
That is not all I took away from the weekend. In an nutshell…
Correct structure is power. Even the smallest of corrections make all the difference. Keeping your head up while doing a technique affects your body alignment. It can mean the difference between getting hit or not. You can only control yourself. Do not fight. Move from kamae to kamae. Take their structure. Move as one structure. “Fall” into a movement giving you the power of your weight. Train on all kinds of surfaces. Roll every day. When you roll, relax. Receive the floor openly (with an open mind). If you believe that you are good in the basics, therefore do not need to revisit basic movement then you are the one who needs it the most. Do not let your ego get in the way of learning. Keep humble.
I did not walk away from the seminar with fancy moves to show off. That does not matter. Understanding those techniques will come later when I am ready. I came away with something much more valuable. It was the right lesson at the right moment. Foundation. Being made aware of how important structure is to effective martial arts will keep it at the forefront of my mind as I advance. While I may not even begin to grasp the full implications of structure, slowly over time epiphanies may come. A solid foundation on which to build is essential in all parts of life, not just in martial arts. Something to consider.
Thank you for reading.
J. R. Lowe