In the past week, we’ve been making the decision to have KarateKid switch dojos, which hasn’t been an easy choice, and has kept me distracted from thinking about other things (when I have had any chance to think at all between passing out medicine and wiping noses).
The whole move stemmed from the Friday night Brown Belt Class at Dojo A, which KarateKid had been so excited to attend now that he’d been promoted to brown belt. He went the Friday after he’d been promoted, and was just bursting with joy and pride. While he was in the class, though, the black belt who was leading the class (Sensei A was absent that night) came up to MechDaddy to say that in general, junior brown belts do not attend this class for some time after being promoted without the special permission of Sensei.
We were taken by surprise by this, since KarateKid’s young friend has been attending it, and her mom didn’t know there was this “waiting period.” In addition, the Brown Belt Class is prominently listed on the flier and it doesn’t say anywhere that juniors don’t attend – nor did anyone tell KarateKid about this rule the day they gave him his brown belt and all the paperwork for the belt.
So a week ago, at last Wednesday’s class, I approached the Office Manager during class to ask some questions. I tried to explain that we were confused about the policy and were just looking for clarification. She immediately started to edge away from me – which I should probably have taken as a sign that things were about to go very wrong!
I can’t relate the entire conversation without getting worked up all over again, but let me just say that my lines included:
- I didn’t know that juniors could not attend.
- I don’t understand whether he is supposed to ask for permission to attend.
- I’m hoping that you can help me understand.
- I’m just confused, because it’s not listed that way on the schedule.
- I’m only asking because KarateKid was quite disappointed, and I’d like to help him understand.
- I am not trying to challenge you.
- Please calm down.
- Please don’t be angry.
- Please try to understand what I’m saying.
And Office Manager’s lines included (in increasingly angry tones):
- That’s just the way things are done, you should know that.
- It’s not your place to question this.
- Why are you challenging me?
- Why are you challenging Sensei?
- You are saying that you know better than Sensei how to train your son in karate!
- This is the fourth time that you have challenged Sensei, and he’s very concerned about it.
- This is inappropriate! If you don’t like the rules, you can take him somewhere else!
- You need to stop asking questions and just say, “Yes, ma’am!”
- Get out of my office!
Sheesh. Please tell me you can understand my frustration here! I was only trying to find some answers, in a very calm way, and Office Manager almost immediately escalated into anger and yelling and deliberate misunderstanding.
That night I was beside myself, thinking I had ruined KarateKid’s karate career; it was the ultimate Mommy Guilt. I don’t like to be yelled at and internalize it terribly (I must have done something very, very wrong or she wouldn’t be yelling this way).
Fortunately I managed to regain some sanity by Thursday (hey, this wasn’t MY fault! I really was asking calm questions; it really was Office Manager who was unreasonable!) and KarateKid and I looked at several websites for other local dojos. We chose to try out Dojo B for a number of reasons, the two biggest of which were that the katas listed on their website were almost identical to the katas he had already learned, and because several people we know from other places have attended Dojo B. We took him last Thursday night for a trial class and wow, what a difference.
Dojo A is quite traditional, complete with the don’t-ever-question-Sensei-even-if-you-don’t-understand sentiment I was getting yelled at about. But Sensei A is also quite accomplished, a 70-year-old master from Japan. Things are done seriously and devoutly at that dojo, which is part of what we liked about it in the beginning.
Dojo B is very, very American, complete with rowdy kids, smiling, young, Caucasian Sensei B, and candy and stickers given to the kids at the end of class. It’s much farther from home (a 20-25 minute drive instead of 5-10), has a much worse parking situation and is much smaller inside. They allow a lot more talking and fidgeting from the kids (which I’m not sure I like) but they are so very friendly (which I really like). In fact, Sensei A has never spoken a word to me or to MechDaddy, ever, not even so much as hello, in the 9 months that KarateKid has been attending classes there. Sensei B approached me three different times to greet me, chat about KarateKid, and ask if I had any questions or concerns. He also assured me that our story about the poor treatment I’d received at Dojo A was not news to him and that he’s gained more than a few students that way over the years.
What really won KarateKid over were two main things: first, that he knew all the katas already and could keep up with the class – and keep his brown belt rank – and second, that twice a week they use weapons in their technique time at the end of class, and all students of all ranks are welcome to attend. He was also excited to learn that Dojo B sends their students out into the community, to do free classes in the parks in the summer, demonstrations at area festivals and even restaurants, and march in parades. He likes the idea of performing for people – he’s always liked demonstrating his karate for anyone who will watch.
I was also swayed when it was pointed out to me that Dojo A strictly forbids any cross-training at all. KarateKid has always talked about learning karate first and then moving on to study tae kwon do, judo, kung fu, or his ultimate quest, capoeira. (Yes, there’s a capoeira studio about an hour from here!) If we stayed at Dojo A until he became a black belt, and then he decided he wanted to learn something new, he would have to sever his ties with Dojo A. Moving to Dojo B now means that he can probably enjoy a happy relationship practicing karate there well into adulthood, while testing the waters of other artial arts when the time is right.
So in the end, we made the decision, as a family, to leave unfriendly but “real” Dojo A in favor of friendly if less-than-authentic Dojo B.
Tonight KarateKid attended his first class as a student of Dojo B, and had a little training on the kamas, or sickles. He is so excited; I know that we made the right choice. I would welcome any advice or anecdotes you have to share with me about your family’s experiences with choosing the right learning environment, whether for martial arts, dance, scouting, etc. And if you want to validate my decision while you’re at it, that would be great too!