Much has transpired since my previous Kyokushin Chronicles update.
Previously, I wrote about my revelations regarding integrating various aspects of different fighting styles, walking the taboo cusp of aggression, and aspiring toward balance—all internal changes that were occurring in me due to the Kyokushin Kaikan environment. This time, I want to look outward and detail my social observations.
Throughout my time at the dojo, my social status has changed, but one thing has remained constant: I’m a gaijin. That’s not too significant: one of the esteemed sensei is Polish; and one of my senpai hails from Australia. The factor of pertinence is, even when compared to the other, white foreigners, I alone stand out. I am, in effect, doubly gaijin. To this day, children, and even some adults, that have seen me week-in and week-out cast lengthy—often shameless—stares (even when their attention truly ought to be elsewhere). To top it off, I was a white belt, which in Kyokushin is not the bottom-of-the-ranks position that one would expect. No, it is less than that; it literally signifies nothing.
Last month, I took the promotion exam. In preparation for the exam, I increased my time in the dojo tremendously. Two of my black belt senpai—the prodigious pair that we refer to as the Twins—took notice of my efforts and were kind enough to grace me with their private tutelage. Under their instruction, I achieved the goals I set out for myself. Moreover, there was another, unexpected development. I was able to forge personal relationships with the Dynamic Duo; and in turn, others became more willing to socialize with, and even support, me. After passing the promotion exam and ascending two levels, I became a legitimate member of the kaikan community—and was conferred newfound respect and camaraderie. My relatively elevated standing has served to make the dojo a more welcome environment for me. It does not erase my so readily apparent gaijin-ness, but it does provide a counterbalance of sorts. To be honest, though, I have been privileged in my own right from the very start.
Due to my (supposed) ability to converse in Japanese, my status as a student at Doshisha University, and the weight of the University of Chicago reputation, I have always had great favor with Shihan—the kaikan head. His approval has granted me a special, privileged status among my peers that significantly eased my burden of social integration. Over the last month, I have learned much about the hierarchy in the dojo and my place within it. For all its quirks, it has been a remarkable journey.
With my impending return to America, recent weeks have been a period of reflection. My time at the dojo has been my most important experience in Japan. It is the place where I established the lion’s share of my most treasured bonds. While I am not one for much sentiment, I can say without hesitation: I will miss the Kyokushin Kaikan.