I sometimes wonder why humans seem to have such a strong need to put themselves and others into boxes. There are always rules for each box…if you like X, then you can’t like Y. There are usually dress codes for the boxes, too. For example, most of the men that I see at things like school functions are in the “khaki pants and blue dress shirt” box. I suppose they enjoy the comfort of their chosen box.
I’ve always hated boxes, they are so square. Really cool people don’t fit into a box. They have the freedom to decide for themselves how they want to be in the world, without paying mind to meaningless rules. When people try to tell me things like I’m too old for pigtails, I just think to myself “Maybe in your box.”
I’m glad that our dojo doesn’t fit into a typical box. Even though it’s a traditional school, we don’t just train a pre-set curriculum all the time, and we’re not stuck in the past. Sometimes in karate class Shihan will tell us to counter with whatever technique we want “Even something you saw on TV or in a movie, try it out!” He often encourages us to attend other arts and schools, and learn what we can from them. A martial art is only alive when it’s free to grow.
It’s nice to be able to have the best of both worlds. I understand what it means to train in a traditional martial art, and all the history, respect, and etiquette that goes along with it. I know and feel the difference when we are training Traditional Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karatedo, and when we are practicing self-defense. Yet I have the freedom to not be bound by a set doctrine, and to cast about my search in the way that is best for me.
Not being confined to a box is a sign of confidence. It shows that you are not afraid to be judged. Our school does not have to box anyone in with long-term contracts to get them to stay. When Shihan tells us to go seek out other forms of training, I think he is pretty confident that we will be back, and we will have learned new things to share and help the group grow. It only makes all of us stronger when we climb out of our boxes.