(or "A Rant on Commitment to Training")
By Joe Maurantonio
It happened again the other day... There isn't much that a caller or visitor to our training can say that
will perturb me in the least. I'll tell them about anything that they might like to know: What training will focus on, my
personal background, what classes are like, how long it takes to get a black belt, how much tuition costs and yes... I'll
even answer "when do you teach the mystical powers" and "when do we wear the ninja mask?"
But sometimes I cannot believe that a person would ask the amazing question "Is there a dojo like this near
my house?" when they live 30 minutes drive from the Dojo. Jeez!
There's a story that has to be told... And I'll begin by explaining that I am not perfect: I'm human. I practice
patience everyday, train hard and push myself beyond my limits, share my knowledge for the growth it gives and brings, and
live my life with a high ideal for the potential of human beings.
When I was growing up, my father used to tell me to appreciate what I had and explained that society had
advanced considerably since when he was a child. He'd encourage me by expressing how lucky I was to be making a lot of money.
Why, I was getting paid in an hour as much as he got paid in a whole week! Somehow, this never comforted me. In school, I
learned about things like inflation and the law of "supply and demand."
I remember trying to explain to my father, an Italian who brought his family to America by working in Venezuela
for three years to raise money for the family's move, that I wanted to train in the martial arts. He sat and listened to me.
He listened intently. Today, I can piece together a little of what he was thinking: "This sounds like military service. It
will be good for him."
I remember my Mom hating the idea and my Dad saying that I should be treated as a responsible adult if I
was acting like one. "Who will pay for it," my mother asked. She wasn't worried about the money. I could knew that even back
then... What she was suggesting was that if I were to use family money then her decision would be against me taking classes.
"He will pay for it himself.. Just like he pays for school." That was that. In my fathers eyes, as long as
I paid for it myself - by earning the money in a proper job - and paid for my high school, too - then I was entitled to go.
If I had the commitment, then I reaped the rewards.
[Momentary digression: Like my siblings before me, I was required to pay for all my own expenses from the
day I turned 16. I'm not really sure how this came into effect. It was a "rule" before my time. Eldest Brother had done it
(in ways that were always spoken about as "legendary" around the dinner table), Older Sister had done her best and maintained
wonderful grades to boot, and Middle Brother had followed suit while managing to terrorize Youngest Brother (Me!) on the side.]
I remember what it was like when I explained to them that I was going to have to travel around the country
to really get quality training. My father simply reiterated his standing "rules": If you are a responsible person and pay
for it yourself we will permit it. So, with these words from my father, it was now my decision.
It has been almost two decades now... But what have those decades yielded?
Let's see. I tried some martial arts I liked and some I didn't. I've learned to respect many and realized
that while I don't like the sport "martial" arts, that they too have their place in the order (er, chaos?) of things. I travelled
around this country of ours (if your reading this in a country other than to the USA , and you haven't visited, give us a
About thirteen years ago, I travelled over an hour in all directions to train with people in Queens, Brooklyn,
Upstate and Long Island who were beginners just like I was. I did this because they had something to share and because I was
dedicated to my training.
Over twelve years ago, I started to travel all over the Eastern USA to train with Hayes, Caldwell, Malmstrom,
and all the other top guys in Taijutsu. I went to them and when possible (three or four times a year) sponsored a few of them
to offer training at local seminars.
It was a little over nine years ago that Hatsumi Sensei first visited a foreign country for an international
Tai Kai (in California) and I was there... Ten years ago, I moved over 2,000 miles away from New York to begin training with
teachers who were more "warrior-guides" than just fighters. To do this, I arranged for my college to permit me early graduation
(the middle of the semester) packed my bags, travelled a bit, and settled with some of the country's best teachers.
I've walked along the beach in Hawaii and swam in her waters, run through the Arizona desert and been tanned
its heat, slept in a Pacific Northwest rainforest cooled by it's breeze and climbed through the wild mountains of the Adironacks
feeling the strength of the land around me. Hey, I've stood around tornedos in the Midwest, dodged lightning storms in the
South, faced torrential rains in the North and even avoided a
hurricane while out at sea...
Yeah, maybe I'm being a little melodramatic here, forgive me.
I went where the training was. Sure, I could stand in the heat of a New York summer day or run my hands in
the Harlem river. But that would hardly be as dramatic, or enlightening. Through the experience you might learn something
at the moment. Or -sometimes- it takes years to figure out. Maybe, it was just a vacation. Down time. Have I digressed again?
During the most serious years of my immersion into the martial path, I used to run to work and training (about
three miles each way) and only hopped rides or caught a bus when training was held at a truly distant location. The reason
I did this was that I was commited to the training. I wanted to live the training and fit it into every part of my life.
One day, a few years ago, I realized that I had dedicated myself to training, that each day was spent loyal
to my martial path, and that my self discipline was helping me achieve my goals. But I also began to realize that other people
simply weren't like me.
A couple of decades (give or take some years) and I'm still a training fool. Some think of me as a "taijutsu
wizard" (my friends use this term to mean anyone who is REALLY good at anything, ie a local bowler who scores well one night
is our "bowling wizard" and a friend who crafts our wooden knives is referred to as the "craftswizard") while others may call
me a "cool fighter" or a traditional martial artist. Some refer to me as "that guy" and a few people think I'm an example
of a guy who's on the warrior path. At the moment, I feel like "Joe." Which, I guess, is more than a name it's a whole state
of being - a whole dementia.
We can all be pretty silly sometimes. New Yorkers always seem to be in such a hurry to get somewhere that
we forget "Where we are," "What we're doing," and "What we have." We end up loosing sight of "Who we are" and "What we're
trying to become."
I have a few students that travel over an hour (or more if the traffic is bad) to get to the dojo and train
with us. A couple more drive or ride trains for about a half hour. I have friends who drive about 6 to 8 hours to train with
us every couple of months... which is all pretty darn humbling. They are very commited people and you know, I look at them,
see their commitment to that training and to me and I just want to teach them more and more.
On the other hand, there are some people that live five minutes from the dojo and come to class sessions
whenever they want. They *just* make it in time for the beginning of training. They miss classes 'cause they "don't feel too
well" (which some of my teachers would have countered with "Yep, I understand what your saying. You feel weak - And you know
what? A tiger always attacks the weakest animal in the herd. The one that can't run fast enough or the one that's not feeling
well.") or for some other odd reason. There will always be "dedicated" students and "wannabees". Sometimes, a student loses
his focus for a time and is distracted by other things. Sometimes, they remember their priorities. Sometimes, not.
A good dojo is hard to find. A good teacher is even more difficult to locate. I am not talking about my dojo
or my training here. If you find a school and a teacher that are compatible with what you want to learn and how you'd like
to learn it, then be ready to sacrifice a bit of your time and money. Make a commitment to your training.
So, next time some person comes into the dojo and asks me, "Hey, is there a dojo like this near my house?"
I'm going to ask, "How far away do you live? Alaska?"