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Dojo Family

By Sara Aoyama

The idea that the dojo should function as a kind of extended family was one of the easier ideas in martial arts for me to buy into. And for someone like me, with no family in the local area, it is an added benefit. Recently I had a chance to see the dojo family philosophy in action.

It was a Sunday night. I pulled into my driveway, parked, and walked around the back of the car to go inside the house. As I walked past the back of the car, I thought I saw something small lying on the ground. It was too dark to see clearly, and I instinctively backed off not wanting to think I'd hit an animal in my own driveway. After getting the kids inside the house, I turned on the driveway light. We all looked. Indeed something was lying there. It looked bigger than a squirrel, but didn't seem to be a cat, thank goodness. I knew I had to go outside and take a closer look. But, I was suddenly finding that practicing martial arts had not as yet given me any courage to deal with a situation like this. So, I called a friend to borrow her husband. Yes, I really did. But he was sick. She suggested that I call the police. I thought that was a great idea, but the dispatcher explained that this was out of their realm, and that the animal officer was unavailable on Sunday nights.

I definitely wanted the animal out of my driveway before daylight and the Monday morning carpool. I looked out the window again, hoping that the animal had just been stunned and had gotten up and left while I was on the phone. No such luck. Considering my very limited options, I decided to call the person I thought I could depend on. I casually said to the kids,

"I'm going to call Sensei."

My son was immediately horrified and said, "You can't call Sensei! He's a vegetarian!!"

"Well, I'm not going to make him eat it," I muttered defensively, and picked up the phone.

Unfortunately Sensei was not in. I left a polite phone message saying that I had an unusual matter that I needed his assistance with.

Half an hour later, the phone rang. I picked it up, expecting it to be Sensei, but instead it was Sempai Matt. He wanted to talk about the dojo schedule. I had other things on my mind and suggested that he come over to my house to talk. It was about 9:30 and Matt, a young college student, was suspicious about why I didn't want to talk on the phone. I had a bet with myself that Matt was from a hunting family and could handle this. I explained the situation, and casually mentioned that I'd already called Sensei for help. Matt was just as horrified as my son and said, "You can't ask Sensei that! I'll be right over." Just the response I'd hoped for, and I grinned in relief as I hung up the phone.

Matt arrived, and we went out to the driveway. There is safety in numbers! He took a look and announced that it seemed to be an opossum. I asked hopefully, "Are you sure it is dead? Maybe it's just playing dead?"

For that I got a withering look and a comment about blood coming out of the head. With very minimal assistance from me, Matt took care of the problem. We went inside just as the phone rang. Sure enough it was Sensei, speaking in his most concerned and caring voice, "Hi, Sara, I got your message. How can I help you?"

With all my nervous tension now gone, that was enough to send me into a burst of laughter, and I didn't think Sensei needed to know the situation. So I just said that Matt and I had a question about the schedule and I handed the phone off to Matt, no doubt leaving my Sensei in extreme doubts about the sanity of his eldest student!

In the middle of the night, though, I started feeling guilty, and sent off the following e-mail to Sensei.

"Hi Sensei,

I just wanted to tell you that Matt is really a great dojo brother to me! Tonight, I was driving home with my parents and kids around 8 pm, and when I got out of the car and walked around it, there was an animal lying there. It was too dark to see clearly, but it scared the heck out of me, and we are all really squeamish. After nobody else could help me, I said to the kids that I was going to call you and see if you would help. Both of my kids were really aghast and said I could not call you, but I figured I could. Then when my phone rang I thought it was you... but it was Matt. So I told him I had this problem, and he was very willing to come over and deal with it, even though it was late at night.

Not that he wasn't laughing at me, but I admit I am very squeamish about blood and dead animals. I also wasn't even sure what it was and didn't want to look too closely. But I went out and looked with Matt and we think it was an opossum. I don't know why an opossum would be in my driveway of all places. So, Matt kindly helped me dispose of it, but of course was laughing at how squeamish I was.

Well, it is good to know that I can call on Matt for strange things that I really would not care to handle (but would have if I had to). I don't feel good that I killed an animal, but I think I just won't go there and try to forget about it.


And Sensei replied:

"Hello Sara ,

Of course you can call me for anything. I may be so bold to say you could call most, if not all, green and brown belts to help you. At least I would hope so. That's what a dojo is about. We are a family.

Sorry about the dead animal. What can you do? You did not mean it. I will touch base with you tomorrow.


Phew! So that's my new definition of dojo family--the people who will come help you with the dead opossums in your driveway.

Sara Aoyama (aka the Opossum Killer)

About The Author

Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she majored in Japanese Language and Literature. She spent more than twelve years living in Japan where she dabbled in a number of other Arts such as Ikebana (flower arranging), Cooking, and Shamisen. While living in Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects of Japanese society. Currently she lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she started training in Shorin-ryu Karate at the Brattleboro School of Budo in May, 1998 after watching her son train for three years. She works as a free-lance Japanese-English translator. Most recently, she is the translator of "The Art of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

beginner, beginner's mind, dojo

Read more articles by Sara Aoyama

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