Practicing classical Japanese karate in a safe and collegial setting.

Kimochi – an important lesson in Japanese Culture

These days of Covid-19 have certainly changed the way our society operates – and the way we train at the Dojo is no exception.  Zoom lessons, while cool, allow us to scratch an itch and spend time together virtually but they are no substitute for in-person training. And they certainly don’t replace face-to-face camaraderie. I was reminded of this as I visited some students at their homes earlier this month to deliver new belts and rank certificates. It was very nice to people in person.

The silver lining is this: our new routine allows us to experience a Japanese concept that often eludes us in our modern, North-American rat-race lifestyle: Kimochi.

Kimochi (気持ち) loosely translates as “good feelings”. As is the case with many Japanese phrases, a quick definition is often enough to satisfy our over-simplified, North-American view of the world but it does not do the concept justice. Kimochi is more about deep and reciprocal, appreciation (for one another) thus creating a positive, feel-good relationship. Allow me to illustrate:

Many old, established, traditional Japanese Dojo (in Japan) do not collect fees. The Sensei teaches and the students learn – that’s it. Students show their appreciation in various ways. Some pay cash – no fixed amount – people give what they can; some bring food or drink; some bring gifts; some help with maintenance in the Dojo; some babysit Sensei’s kids; some help by leveraging their own profession by providing medical services, legal help, billboard space, etc. I have even heard of a lady bringing Sensei an origami bird at each class because that was all she could afford. The Sensei, in exchange, gives of himself (or herself) by sharing experience and knowledge in the hopes of enhancing students lives through karate.

This way, everyone “feels good”.

This falls squarely into my teaching philosophy. As I have stated many times, the karate is free. It is a gift I have received from my Sensei and I gladly pass it on to you. The fees you pay do not pay for karate – they pay for the Dojo. Your fees allow us to keep the lights on, keep the heat on, pay the rent, buy the mats, and cover Bob’s medical expenses thus making it possible for me to share with you that which has been given to me.

Of course, in North-American society, we are accustomed to pay for services. Often, the first question I get when talking to a potential student is “how much is it?”. Such a conversation would never take place in those old Japanese dojos. The student would simply show up, train, and give what they felt was appropriate.

I always felt that such a system in Canada would only result in closed dojos and starving Senseis. But Covid-19 has proved me wrong. Fees at the Fink Dojo have been suspended since April 1 yet students have continued to support the Dojo through fees, gifts, and, most importantly, continued training. This allows us to maintain the facility thus providing us with a place to return to for training when restrictions are lifted – the alternative would be a stack of mats in my garage which would irritate my wife to no end. Perhaps we are closer to being Japanese than I thought.

Thank you for your dedication to our Dojo.


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