Though good fortune
allowed me to study with a master, some of what passed
had nothing to do with martial arts. One lesson, in
particular, dealt with gifts .
Within our school, Sensei
maintained a lifetime collection of memorabilia.
Covering the walls were dirks, daggers, knives, Oriental
exotica, paintings, collections of photographs,
certificates, etc. On entering the room, one resisted
the temptation to gawk at surrounding walls. Not being
mindful of training activity translated to accidents.
Once orientated, visitors walked the perimeter walls
appreciating the vast collection before them. Typical
were blow guns, halberds, middle sticks, battle axes,
steel rods, fiberglass whips, ropes, and an occasional
bucket of sand, crushed rock, or pebbles for iron hand
Entering, one passed
through the anteroom, which Sensei referred to as his
office. Actually, he avoided administrative details,
it's sole purpose was to store his decades collection of
photographs. Think of someone in the arts, and within
the collection you'll find Sensei working with the
person, sitting with him/her over dinner, or teaching
the person. On the major wall, mounted behind Plexiglas
were his most treasured photographs, where he posed
alongside his students of long-standing. Looking to the
desk, you might see a collection of knives, or a display
of exotic herbs. A jug of Di Dot Jaw was forever brewing
on the outside deck.
There was no end to what
might materialize in this menagerie!
Early in my experience, I
learned if I entered and stared at an object on the
wall, or something new on the desk, he would inevitably
take it, and "gift" it to me. When this first occurred,
I was taken aback, surprised, but delighted at having
received a custom-made, ivory handled knife. One other
occasions, I received training shoes (new), reusable
breaking boards, and ultimately, several of the custom
art works from his walls. If he saw me look, he was
compelled to give. The same applied to all his students.
Though he was not a rich man, Sensei felt it important
for all around to have remembrances of their experience
with him and this was accomplished by passing on his
This ritual progressed
for the many years I knew him, and among his students
(from white belt to black sash), satellite collections
of memorabilia flourished.
The story could end here.
However, after receiving
my black sash, I began to notice just how frequently
students would enter the dojo and gawk needily at the
exotic displays. Only then did I grasp how frequently
this happened. It pained me seeing how regularly Sensei
reached into his trove and passed out the goods. I never
truly discerned the magnitude of his generosity until I
ran the mental arithmetic and saw how several times each
class, he passed gifts to random visitors, to students
being promoted, a child dropping by, a birthday
mentioned, or even a holiday passing.
Sensei noted my unrest,
but said nothing. Many of his contraptions were
singularly unique, and could not be found anywhere, at
any price. It became difficult to spend any time in the
dojo without confronting this reality. With each class,
Sensei continued being plagued with this stream of
unbridled greed, until one day, I made mention, "Sensei,
do you ever feel people are taking advantage of you."
He responded only, "Sure
I love my toys, especially while they are here in my
clutch. When I see someone else, a student, visitor, or
friend, completely captivated by something that has been
so important to me, it becomes even more important to
pass it on. I'm sure those objects I can do without are
even more precious to those who receive them."
I realized as he spoke
what he said was not the case. Though I had a
significant collection of his artifacts, virtually all
were sitting in closets, or simply stored away, rarely
used, and seldom shared.
If that was the ultimate
outcome, was Sensei well served in making the gifts in
the first place? If he was aware of the truth, why go
through the exercise? Why fuel the greed of
others? Why relinquish his treasures?
Only then did it occur to
me, what I witnessed was part of my continuing training.
Sensei knew he was not Santa Claus, nor was he the
good-natured benefactor others thought he was. It
disturbed him that people would covet the goods and
possessions of others, but it was not for him to draw
the battle line, at least not on this issue.
Underpinning all his teachings was an unshakable faith
in the integrity of human nature. He understood we live
in a society which bombards us with influences
compelling us to forever hunger for sexier mates, faster
cars, bigger houses, more prestigious jobs, fancier
clothes, louder jewelry, and just about everything else
which you don't have, but feel you should. He taught a
master martial artist has no interest in possessions,
and can get along just fine without wealth and
influence. Being a realist, he knew his attitude was the
exception, what surrounded him was the common, typified
by a never ending surge of sycophants, students,
visitors, friends of relatives, relatives of friends,
researchers, and even Black Belts, all of whom felt the
need to be the center of his universe while in his
In time, I noted the
countenance on visiting faces as they passed through the
threshold. They would greet Sensei, then
stare about, and in seconds, eyes would come to rest on
some newly spotted object of interest. Sensei's response
was always the same. "Take it!" Being the
eternal optimist, he hoped for the day someone would
say, "No, Sir, but thank you anyway".
It took years, but in
time, I was able to enter the dojo and give my attention
fully to Sensei, without being distracted by the objects
in the surrounds. In time I learned also not to stare or
covet the occasional catches, whatever they might be.
Eventually, when asked by Sensei if I’d like something
from his collection or anything, for that matter, I
could confidently respond in the negative.
"Sensei, I'm here for
you, and to learn."
With a mirthful twinkle
in his eye, he would acknowledge, "Good, let’s get to