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As I watch autumn colors begin to appear on the trees and creep up the sides of the mountains, I'm reminded of the first time I visited Maruyama sensei at the Arch Street dojo in Philadelphia.
Thirty-one years ago as a white belt, I traveled to Philadelphia to attend two classes taught by Sensei. For me, as someone who has a hard time interacting with groups of both people I know and strangers, this was a terrifying experience. Arriving early, I climbed the 4,500 steps to the second floor of the Arch Street dojo and entered.
Sensei was the only one there, vacuuming the mat! Needless to say, at least to those of you acquainted with Sensei, it wasn't long before I found myself pushing the vacuum around the mat. It wasn't until much later that I recognized the gift that Sensei had given me that night. Allowing me to vacuum the mat gave me time to acclimate myself to the mat and the space. It kept me moving and doing something so that when students began to arrive for class I was far more relaxed than I otherwise would have been.
I am always mindful of that incident whenever new students come into our dojo. And while I don't have them vacuum the mat by way of introduction, I do try to make them feel totally welcome and put them at ease. New students are, after all, the life blood of any dojo.