You Really Don’t Have That Kind of Time

The other day I heard a rumour: an ex-student said that I should never have been asked to teach, and hinted that I didn’t deserve my black belt.

I should say, before going on, that the student in question was never my student. He was a student in my dojo years ago. He may or may not have observed my teaching; I have no idea.

A few years ago, a comment like this would have pained me. And it does. But not much. Since turning fourty (yup), criticism bothers me less than it used to. I worry less about what people think. Maybe it’s because of the proverbial onset of middle-age and its fallout. I can’t help but think that I’m probably halfway through my life (with any luck I’ll live as long as my French grandmother, who at the age of ninety-two continues to live at home, wear heels, and apply orange-red lipstick – but who knows?). Having a sister with special needs has always made me experience a higher-than-average sense of mortality, which has increased as I get older. A passage comes to mind, from one of Anne Lamott’s books, where she asks a friend if her butt looks big in a dress she’s trying on. Her friend (I can’t find the passage, but I seem to recall that she’s ill and that she wears a headscarf to hide the effects of chemotherapy) says: “Annie, you really don’t have that kind of time.”

Right.

I do, however, consider criticism, the way a scientist might consider lab results. In this case, I thought about why someone would make a comment like that. “Jealousy,” my friends told me. “Definitely jealousy.” Maybe. Maybe not.

I considered the merits of the statement. No question that, in our school’s taxonomy, I’m a junior black belt. I’ve been training for about fifteen years (split up into two segments, which were separated by six years) while others have been training for twenty-five. Ten years equals a huge number of practicing hours. There’s no question that I have a long way to go before attaining the kind of skill belonging to senior black belt students. I have a lot to learn. And, frankly, we all have a lot to learn. Plus there are some things that I’m just not good at. I’m terrible at rolling, for example (although recently I’ve been getting better as a result of practicing in the local ravine. Last week a dog thought my rolling was an invitation to play, and came to me wagging his tail, begging to join in).

My co-instructor rolls extremely well. He makes a kind of game out of it: As he walks, he sing-songs to himself: “lalala, I’m just walking along….” (I love this) And then he rolls. A beautiful move. It’s the kind of roll where you barely touch the ground and at the end of it you hop up as if nothing out of the ordinary has happened. I can’t do this kind of roll. As I said, I have a lot to learn.

Which brings me to a question I’ve pondered for a long time. Should a sensei promote someone based on their abilities or on their potential? My first sensei used to do both. Sometimes, I would watch someone’s promotion test, and I would think, “hunh, that person doesn’t seem ready to receive his blue belt (or purple, brown, or black belt).” A few weeks later, that person would demonstrate a kata and, low and behold, she looked like a blue belt (or purple, brown, or black belt). That sensei seemed to anticipate when a student was nearly ready to acquire the next belt level; it was uncanny. I love this approach. It slots nicely into my philosophy regarding how we should relate to others. For shouldn’t we always perceive people in terms of their best selves?

Which brings me to the question of whether I deserve my black belt. When I first received it, I didn’t think so. Now, after three additional years of practice, I do. And in any case, isn’t a black belt not a state but rather, an attitude—that is, of self-reflection and of dedication to self-improvement?

I consider myself a good teacher. I don’t always have perfect technique, but I’m pretty good at breaking things down for my students. Occasionally, I might even be funny. I like to think of the words of a parent in Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing Up Bébé, that, “overall, I’m good enough.”

And really, when it comes to taking criticism to heart, I just don’t have that kind of time.

***

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging for a while. I’ve been finishing writing my book, a collection of short stories entitled This One Because of the Dead. Yesterday, I finished a substantive revision of my last story! Only some fine-tuning left. You can read some of these stories online:

Siblings

In the Afternoon

Luck

best, Laure

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2 thoughts on “You Really Don’t Have That Kind of Time

  1. Just decided to look over here a few moments ago, hadn’t been here lately. nothing new here since my last time, so I read the “you don’t really have that kind of time” piece again. Didn’t respond last time, but I will this time. Hogwash on whoever the belt was that said you didn’t deserve your black belt or to be a teacher of karate-do. I s’pose this I say this for you, but as much as anything else I’m defending my own opinions and perceptions.

    If what I say isn’t just like it was, I wouldn’t need to bother with this response. I’d stay quiet. You deserved the belt you got, and you are and i see you as an excellent teacher. You may know that Linda was kind or savvy enough to approach me (I think before but maybe after) about her intentions in finding a replacement to recommend when she was departing from teaching that class. She knew I had experience and might have been interested in teaching the class (I wasn’t, I felt like I’d done my bit for twenty years when I left off with Friday classes, time for others to do it) and wanted to make sure everything was good between she and me about her plans to propose you as her replacement. I was more than happy with her decision. I’ll leave it at that rather than risk unnecessary flattery.

    You also deserved your promotion without doubt. Yet I will disagree just a touch with one of your comments in the article. During my thirty years in the dojo, I only saw two black belt promotions that I wondered about and did not agree with. I eventually recanted to myself (there had been no reason to mention it to anyone else) on one of those. But I don’t exactly entertain the belief that Konzak Sensei promoted anyone based on their potential to soon reach that peak. What I do believe is that he had a very rounded perspective when deciding whether someone was ready. There was no set list in his mind as to what knowledge, skills, or mind-set a prospect must have achieved, all of which had to have a check mark beside them for her or him to be promoted.

    Each person was looked upon as an individual. All their achievements were taken into account. Perhaps, for instance, it could be seen that some aspects of their movements could still bear improvement which would almost surely come in time; whereas certain other traits — knowledge and skill in teaching, as merely one example, which would necessarily suggest also a depth to the candidate’s internal awareness of what the martial art is and requires of its practitioners — might have already been even more exemplary than some others who had received their black belt years earlier. I could write an essay on these last three sentences, but here isn’t the place.

    Finally for now — while this may seem like a paean to Konzak Sensei, and I suppose in some degree it is, I will simply add that during all my time in the dojo he did and said any number of things that I did not agree with, even in a few instances disapproved of. A time or three he managed to push my anger button. I learned to critique him as much as any other member among us. So as I said, I am speaking for my own perceptions and ideas as much as defending either him or you — when it came to an acuity and an astuteness in judging the capacity of individuals for a promotion to any particular belt level, I very rarely disagreed with him. In respect to his choices on your behalf, he was as right on as usual.

    • Hi Peyton, I don’t think I took the time to reply to your comment, and I’m sorry. Thank-you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive response to my entry. And thank-you for your generous remarks! Now, post-partum, my challenge is to return to my previous form! Again, thank-you. regards, Laure

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