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Loyalty to Your Dojo during Covid-19

The picture shows the loyalty of students to their Dojo.

Loyalty to your dojo is highly required during the global Corona crises. Many dojos already face financial challenges due to the lockdown. But loyalty should also given to you teacher (sensei), your fellow karateka, and to the ones, who are loyal to you. True karate spirit means: Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other – especially during Covid-19. By Michael Ehrenreich

It sounds like a tale from long ago. None of us has experienced anything like this. We live in times marked by uncertainty, people risking their lives for us and our loved ones, restrictions on personal freedoms, and loss of community. Nobody imagined such a situation just a few months ago. Now, social distancing, lock-down, stay-in-place-order, closure of businesses, and the ban of sport activities are normal. Different parts of the world have different laws in place. But, we all experience fundamental restrictions. Everything feels like a bad dream. We hope to wake up soon. But it is not going to be over any time soon. We will have to deal with this situation and its aftermath for a while.

We Miss the Dojo

These are not easy days for any of us. We miss our freedom, our friends, our family, and our normal life. We miss our daily practice in the dojo. We are all suffering to a certain degree. We all need to make sacrifices, and most of us are willing to do so. This is a time to practice self-discipline. Rather than seeking our own interests, we now need to consider the best for our community first. This is a time of self-reflection. And, this is a time to show loyalty.

Running a martial arts school is not an easy thing to do. Most dojo owners that I know chose this way for their love of the martial arts. These days, being the owner of a dojo feels like facing the abyss. Saying that, we witness dojo owners trying everything to stay in contact with their students. They send out training programs, send live stream online classes, offer online advice, send out regular emails, cancel the summer break to make up for lost practice time, freeze contracts, and much more. And they are hoping for this nightmare to be over soon.

But these are unprecedented times. There is no proven solution for all of our problems. These are new challenges for all of us. So, we have to try everything out ourselves. All that a dojo owner can do now is staying in contact with his or her students. Give them advice for an active life-style under a lockdown. Give students purpose in these difficult times. Most dojo owners understand their responsibility and prove great loyalty towards their students. They make a tremendous effort by showing amazing creativity in dealing with this new reality.

Loyalty to your Dojo

But responsibility and loyalty are not a one-way street. In this article I am speaking about dojos, not about clubs or schools. That does not mean that I hold little regard for those institutions. Far from it. But a dojo is a different place, a different idea. A dojo is not merely a space for our practice or a place to socialize with each other.

As karateka, we believe that a dojo is much more than this. Granted, it is a place of skill and expertise acquisition. It is a place for us to get stronger and acquire real-life fighting skills. But it is also a space to develop self-fulfillment, self-confidence, self-esteem, and a deep knowledge about ourselves. Being part of a dojo goes far beyond any contract. It is a way of life. In a dojo we learn about the important things in life, beyond gyaku-zuki, Heian Shodan, and ippon. A dojo teaches us about ourselves, it shows us who we are.

Loyalty to your Teacher (Sensei)

Of course, we develop our skills and our personality by our very own effort and discipline. But it is the instructor or teacher (the Japanese call him or her, “Sensei”) that guides us through this whole process. First, the Sensei helps us to discover who we are. It is the teacher we need to thank for our accomplishments. And because of that, this is not the time to leave our dojo for good.

This is not the time to leave our teacher behind just to save a few cents. As we all know, it is in difficult times that one reveals his or her true character. We all, teacher and students, are foremost karateka. And as such we show our true character by our willingness to fight this fight together. We will watch each other’s back, and we will be there for each other. This is what karateka do.

Loyalty to your Fellow Karateka

We have been witnessing an amazing sense of community in the last few weeks within our karate world. There is, for instance, an online group called Karate@home, started by Martin Buchstaller and Nadja Körner. I do not know Nadja, but I have known Martin for many years. He is not a professional karateka. He has a daytime job, as I think Nadja does as well.

Still, he works many hours every day to help karateka from all over the world to join in a daily online karate class taught by changing instructors. Actually, they hold two classes a day. Thousands of karateka from over one hundred countries benefit from this service, all for free. Martin and Nadja do not make money from it. They do this out of their love of karate. These examples of loyalty towards our fellow karateka give us hope for the future.

Loyalty Paid with Loyalty

Of course, I know that there are bad apples within any group of dojo owners. There is always this so-called sensei who is just trying to exploit difficult times for his or her own benefit. Or the other “sensei” who is just sitting out this situation, not putting in any effort in trying to help his or her students. But we need not concern ourselves with some bad seeds in our community. It is not worth our time. As always, as karateka, we focus on those that inspire us, those we can learn from. It is those who prove to be loyal to us that we pay back with our loyalty.

Focus on the Once Who Show Loyalty

By the way, I do not own a dojo. I was the owner of a martial arts school in Athens, GA in the United States for over ten years though. That is why I feel the pain many dojo owners are experiencing right now. I witnessed first hand, as a dojo owner, the financial crisis of 2008. And, like many other school owners I lost students during that time. More often than not, students left our dojo who were not impacted directly by the financial downturn.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich teaching a student makiwara training. Michal is the author of Loyalty to your Dojo during Covid-19.
Michael Ehrenreich teaches how to train with a makiwara.

And yes, I asked myself if the idea of Bushido had somehow escaped those people, especially if they were advanced students. But again, it is not worth bothering ourselves with those people. We remember the words of Alexander of Hales when he observed that it is the shadows that highlight the light even more. In other words, we need to focus on those who do show the true spirit of karate and stay with the dojo. It is those true warriors we can count on.

True Karate Spirit

These are challenging times. Not all of us will get out of this crisis unhurt. But we also see some tremendous sense of community within our karate world. We see some true karate spirit, some true warriors. And it is those examples of staying-together, of showing loyalty to each other that give us hope. This will eventually all end and we will get out of it stronger than ever before. Seeing our karate community sticking it out together makes me proud to be a part of it. As a matter of fact, I have not been this proud of being part of the karate community in decades. Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other.