On Friendship

I’ve written this entry in fits and starts. I’ve started writing about various topics, including mentoring and what it means to be a woman in the dojo. But I scratched out all these beginnings, because what I really want to talk about is friendship.

This week, a good friend of mine left her position as karate instructor. And, although she intends to continue training, the reality is that she will likely be absent for a while: in order to let me and a colleague of mine find our feet as instructors (we’re taking on her class), and also, I suspect, to find her own footing i.e. to discover what it’s like to train again as a student, rather than as a teacher.

We’ve known each other for almost twenty years. We started karate at around the same time. Then, possessed by a kind of youthful restlessness, I left the dojo. I left without telling anyone, even my sensei. Six years later, I returned. My friend, who was still in the dojo, told me that she’d been hurt by my departure. I don’t blame her.

While I was gone, she was promoted to black belt. When I came back, we started training again, together, both inside and outside the dojo. We came early to class to put in some extra practice. Both passionate about the outdoors, we always attended the dojo’s outdoor classes. We trained on our own on the local university’s campus. Because she was already more advanced than me, she would often lead, helping me polish my kata.

Two years ago, we started a routine. I would attend her weekly class. We would then both take the advanced karate class with another instructor. After, I would drive her home. In the car, we would talk about karate. We would tackle the subject of a difficult technique, or sing the praises of a particular kata. We would talk about writing, and the similarities we drew between our writing and karate practice. We would talk about children, and parenting.

The hour would be late. Because we’d trained for three hours, we’d be starving. We would talk about how hungry we were. She would mention the steak she was going to have for dinner. She would tell me about how she had joined with others in the purchase of a cow, and that they had divided up the meat: this was both cheap and, since they used all parts of the animal, environmentally responsible. I mention this fact because it shows something about her personality, and how she is a thoughtful person, and full of integrity.

It was dark outside. Often, it rained, and the rain would pitter patter on the car’s rooftop. Still, we talked.

Eventually, we would say goodbye. I would be reassured by the fact that I would see her the following week, and that our conversation would resume.

I will feel the absence of our talks. Although I’m certain that we’ll see each other outside the dojo, I’m going to miss the particular cast that karate class has lent to our friendship: the regularity of our meetings; the parsing over of kata. I’m especially going to miss that feeling you experience when you’ve been practicing karate for several hours: a sense of well being and of openness, both suited to good conversation. I will miss our Tuesday evenings, my friend.