Orphaned at 50 – June 4, 2014, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Not to stretch the sensei as dad metaphore too far (it’s a lot easier to boot out a student than it is to boot out a child, for one thing there’s a lot less legal paperwork to fill out) but let’s go with it and talk about being an orphan.

I’ve been practicing 6 or 7 martial arts for up to 30 plus years, some of them, and at a quick count I’ve lost almost as many teachers as I have arts. This can happen for many reasons and it’s happened to me in several ways but in all cases you’ve got to deal with the lack of a teacher so let’s examine some ways to cope.

I started with Aikido in 1980 and began iaido in 1983 when I realized I needed to work on my posture. Circumstances (ie lack of time) made me drop out of Aikido for a decade or so as I concentrated on iai and left the aiki to my sensei and, after he retired, to the other senior students. Recently I have gone back to help teach classes as one of those instructors retired and moved away.

It’s a university club and there are no highly advanced folks who need highly advanced instruction so I’m coasting on my old skills and not demonstrating much in the way of how to fall down. That might change if I keep losing weight and my knees permit but I’m not holding my breath. The club is hooked in to its organization through the other instructor so I don’t need to worry about the grading stuff, I just go in and ask the class what they want to work on and we work on that.

As a result of those things, and the fact that I really can’t do Aikido any more (I can’t take the falls if I want to be walking in ten years) I haven’t felt the need to find myself a teacher. This is one response to being an orphan, if you’ve got the credentials (I have an antique teaching rank) and you have something to contribute, just keep teaching as usual.

As mentioned, I began iaido in 1983 at an aikido summer camp as it happens. My first lessons were in Muso Shinden Ryu and I worked away on that as much as I could until I found an instructor close enough to study with regularly. He happened to be Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, another school, so I switched styles… slowly as I discovered recently since I seem to have made extensive notes on the first two sets of Shinden at some time.

Having started an art with one teacher who I could not follow easily, I found another teacher close enough and switched arts to keep learning. This is another response to the loss of a teacher. If you’re not at teaching level and can’t realistically teach a class on your own (to get the bodies together to have a place to practice, which is the most common reason to teach) you must find another teacher.

Jodo is a strange journey for me. I started in the early 90s (well I started in 1980 if you count aiki-jo but I’m referring to Shindo Muso Ryu) after attending a seminar and being asked to continue. I already had two koryu but agreed to study ZNKR jo in order to introduce it into the CKF. This we did a few years later. The jodo journey has been one of seminars and multiple instructors, of some koryu and much seitei. The result of which is that I have never had a teacher I could say was my sensei. Now there is one person in the art who I consider my examplar, my ideal, but there was never the sensei-student relationship. Of course I have been completely impressed with all the Japanese sensei who have come to teach seminars and while my jodo may be best described as “mogrel” I continue to practice with no cause to complain.

So here is another way to deal with being an orphan, pick up your instruction as best you can, and for having no particular teacher, we have certainly had excellent instruction which was actually not as varied as it could have been. With a standardized practice like seitei jo we have managed to learn enough to progress a bit through the grading system. Of course the other way to look at it is to claim the Kendo Federation jodo committee as our “sensei”, and that wouldn’t be all that far off.

So three ways to deal with being an orphan, just keep calm and carry on, find another teacher, or if you’ve never been anything but an orphan, learn as much as you can from the foster parents.

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