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Finding a good dojo is a lot like house hunting. You have a list of qualities and features that you must have, ones that you would like to have and a few that are "bonuses". You usually have a price range in mind and you also tend to know the size that will suit you and your needs.
When it comes to house hunting, sometimes you find your "home" right away. Other times, you search and search and search some more. Sometimes it is the unexpected "house" that catches your eye, or even better, it seems to find you. They always say that you will "just know" when you have found "the one".
I of course, have never been house hunting, but I have heard of the joys and difficulties of this process from family and friends. I have however, went dojo hunting before. With the first dojo I went to, it was the only one I could afford ($10 a month for two classes a week) and it wasn't too far from my house (though my Mom still complained about the drive). It quickly became a home away from home and I made some good friendships and found some new people that I added to my extended family. Eventually, life caused me to leave that home behind. I was sad at the time, but looking back, I think I needed to move on. I needed a different home; I had outgrown that one. I still keep in touch with those I became close with, but I have closed that subchapter of my life.
Without really planning it, a new home found me several years later. In a desperate attempt to get my grouchy husband out of the house for something to do (the poor guy couldn't find a job for a while and was going batty), I helped him find a dojo. I had no interest in doing martial arts again and told him that I was merely going along for moral support. We went to one dojo and he wasn't really enthused about the place, so we decided to try another. It was further away and rather unassuming from the outside. It appeared to be an old church and it sat across the street from an old, but well maintained cemetery. The moment we walked in, my husband got this goofy grin on his face that just wouldn't fade away.
I knew at that moment, that my husband found his "home". We went back the following week to give a class a shot and my husband decided he liked it and wanted to join. Problem was, he refused to join without me. After pissing and moaning and not being able to win (my husband is rather stubborn), I figured I would join long enough to get him into it, then I would "lose interest" and quit, leaving him to do his own martial art thing. It seemed like a brilliant plan at the time….
Slowly, this humble and unassuming dojo started to become my sanctuary. Before I knew it, the sensei and the other people who trained there slowly became friends and eventually they became family. I no longer had any plans of leaving. It suddenly seemed like a ludicrous idea a madman had conjured up. That was when I realized my "home" found me. I was happy; I was content. Occasionally, there were times when I had to force myself to show up, but once I got there, I got that warm, homey feeling and knew I had made the right decision to come. That "warm, homey" feeling was probably just me being hot and sweaty from rolling around with the boys, but I enjoyed it none the less.
One day I found myself contemplating leaving my "home"; flying from the "nest". It wasn't because I was unhappy there…. I was VERY happy there, but I had a strong feeling in my gut that it was my time to go. My family was calling me and I needed to migrate where they were, but I was afraid. I wasn't ready to leave the "nest". I flapped my wings and contemplated diving, but it was a difficult thing to do. In the end, my sensei told me that sometimes, life is bittersweet. He told me that unless I experienced bitterness, I would never appreciate something sweet when it came along. At that point I cried, but I felt that he had given me his blessing to move on... and a month later, I flew the "nest".
I flew and I flew and I flew. It was a long journey, but I had family and a job waiting for me. After many days, I had reached my new abode. It is a lovely townhouse in a nice area, but something is missing. Everything I had before is here, except the dojo I left behind. I gave up one family to be with another. Although I am certain I made the right decision, I still miss them each and every day. I ache to fill the hole that is now empty. I know nothing will replace them, but I long to have a "home" and until I find something to fill that gap (even a tiny bit), I won't truly be "home." So, I have gone "house hunting"…..
Like southern Oregon, my options are limited. I had three options there and I have three options here. None of the three are affiliated with Birankai, but that isn't a deal breaker for me. None of them screamed my name when I looked at their websites, so we decided to go to the one that is closest. It is only 3 miles away, which is much closer than the 18 plus I was doing each way before.
The dojo was quiet and unassuming and the people there seemed friendly enough. It was all the little, unimportant things, that had me feeling out of place. Everyone practically yelled something in Japanese that I didn't understand, at the front door before entering. The only bit I understood was the end where they said "onegaishimasu". The mat space was big and felt like it would swallow me whole… and the mats were canvas. I was used to this cozy little dojo with imitation tatami. They lined up in several rows of threes, where we lined up in one big line. They bowed, clapped twice and bowed again, whereas we just bowed once to the shomen. When it came time to demonstrating techniques, it seemed like there was an awful lot of talking. It was all relevant, just a lot more chit-chat then I was used to in my old "home".
I struggled to find some similarities, but all I seemed to notice were differences. They put the top of their foot on the mat for backwards ukemi, where we kept our toes active. They did a lot of backward rolls, where they were frowned upon in my previous dojo. All little things, but for someone desperate to find another "home" that was just like the previous one (unrealistic I know), they were devastating. In an attempt to find something similar, I began to look at the broad picture. Stylistically, it was similar and they also weren't huge on breakfalls, which is nice. I like doing them, but I hate doing them all the time and those are tough on my husband's body after a while. I was able to recognize what techniques they were doing and slowly I began to see that I would be able to hold my own out there. They had a nice mix of yudansha, mid level kyus and a few beginners. I don't know if that class is representative of all their other classes, but if it is, I will be one of the only females there… which is what I am used to.
At the end of class, they invited us to join in their circle. Things were going good until the end. The way they leave the circle is odd and my best guess is that it is based off of seniority, but I stood up to leave at three different times… and each of them were wrong! HAHA. By the time I finally got up to leave, I was confused and humbled. My husband seems to like the place, though he didn't get the same goofy grin he got before. We are going to go back in the beginning of the year to try a few classes and see if we fit in. In the meantime, I am hoping that maybe, just maybe…. Once I am there, I will realize I have found "home" once more….