When I was in college, whenever someone would say “we need to build a sense of community!” I would roll my eyes and make some opinionated, pretty crappy argument against it. I don’t remember why I did this, but I was probably working from the point that community was something that didn’t have a lot of driving force, and it was something I didn’t really believe in at the time.
I cringe at those memories.
So, imagine my pleasant surprise at a meeting a few weekends ago where I find myself in front of a bunch of martial artists, campaigning for a sense of community.
I’m happy to report I seem to have grown up at least a smidgen in the last 10 years.
I live in a pretty small world mostly composed of people all in a specific field, karate. So, it might come as a little bit of a surprise that until the last handful of years, there has been very little communication between the karate schools in America’s Dairyland. In fact, there has been almost none.
“Why on earth is that?”
Funny you should ask, I was just about to get to that.
Traditionally, martial arts was remarkably…clannish. Each school had an instructor. And you learned only from this instructor. They were the sole holders of all the sacred knowledge and you would be subjected to various trials and challenges in order to be deemed “worthy” of that knowledge. There are certain benefits to this system, but they are awfully few and far between.
Now, things are quite a bit different. Most schools run a more relaxed atmosphere. Not to say there is any less discipline or expectations for the individual student. But the cultures of the schools are far more open to other people, to new knowledge, and to change.
Well, for one, we aren’t in feudal Japan nor does the concept of an oligarchy really mesh with the whole American dream thing (please hold political commentary). So, the logical evolution for a good business is to create the best atmosphere and experience for our students. But that doesn’t answer the question of why martial arts was trapped in this outdated, sorta weird system that depended on one source of knowledge and encouraged isolation from all “outsiders?”
I have no idea. Probably because that’s how it always was. And sometimes, sadly, that’s all the reason we need to to do anything.
Over the last 10 or so years, I became conscious of this change in school culture. Not to say it wasn’t happening earlier, I just wasn’t aware until that point (I was 16. I was preoccupied with…other things). It was something that I thought was interesting, but didn’t really know what else to say about it. And, I held those viewpoints stated earlier, so it made me uncomfortable.
However, there was a lot of growing up and life experience that facilitated a change in my personal perspective (more on the later) in the last decade. And there is one big piece that makes me care. I now work in, and partly own, a karate school.
There’s one more piece.
Over the last two years I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that there is an amazing amount of talent in the Midwest, and in WI, and that no one seems to really be talking to anyone else much more than the occasional “hello” or “Happy Birthday” on Facebook. This is ok, but I think we can all help each other and do even more.
By no means is this an original thought, or something that only I have realized. That weekend where I was lobbying for community, it was at a meeting about moving sport karate forward in WI, and doing it together. And every single person in the room had the same realization I did.
It didn’t take a lot for me to take my fledging idea of building community and couple it together with all of these spectacularly talented people whole live, essentially, down the block. I wanted everyone to talk to each other. I wanted everyone to share their knowledge, and I wanted every one to grow, together.
This is a great thought to have, and wonderful notion. However, the execution, as ever, is the hard part. Right now I’m working on setting up some seminars, I’m bringing in people from all over the state with the goal of letting my students work with some of the best in the country, but also with the quiet hope of slowly building that community, and of opening channels of communication.
Baby steps toward something that, hopefully, will help us all.