smiled as he thought about his friends coming by for a visit. It had
been over five years since he had left the formal study with his Master
to move away and start his own Dojo. Except for a couple of formal ceremonial
events, his contact with this Master and his fellow students had been
As he attempted to clear a spot on his cluttered desk for his tea, he
thought back on the years of their association. He looked upon this
evening with great anticipation. This was both exciting and an honor.
There was a knock at the door, he stood up to straighten his gi and
noticed a couple of soiled areas on his pants. They are small, he thought.
No one will notice. He crossed the room and opened the door.
There they stood, Sensei Paul and Sensei John. It had been years since
he had gazed on their smiling faces. He realized how good it felt to
laugh and be greeted by his old friends.
He invited them in and offered them some tea as he cleared off a place
for them to sit. They looked at each other, smiled and accepted. It
was wonderful having them here!
After some small talk the conversation turned to old times and their
experiences with the Master.
Finally Sensei Paul said, So this is your Dojo! How about a tour? But
of course! the Sensei beamed. I thought you would never ask! As you
know, I started this Dojo over five years ago. I feel that I have some
really good students.
By the way, could I ask the two of you to give a small demonstration.
My students would both enjoy and benefit from observing the two of you
in action. But of course! they said together.
Just then his best student Joe stuck his head in the door and said,
Hi Tony, are these the guys you were telling us about?
Sensei Paul and Sensei John looked puzzled as Joe stuck out his hand.
The Sensei suddenly realized Joe s inappropriateness and said, Bow to
the visiting Senseis!
Joe s face turned red as he quickly withdrew his hand and bowed and
Everyone is pretty excited about your visit, the Sensei said apologetically.
The Sensei showed his friends the Dojo and then provided them with a
place to privately change into their gis. They then entered into the
Main Hall. The Sensei clapped his hands, gaining the attention of most
of the students. O.K. Let s get into a line! he said.
The students shuffled onto the mat. There was no bowing as they stepped
onto the mat to form a ragged line.
The Sensei ordered the students to bow to the picture of his Master,
then his guests. The Sensei noticed that at least two students were
hardly bowing. He hoped that his guests would not notice. They did.
As the students knelt to face the picture of the Master, the Sensei
noticed that not all of the students were kneeling properly and some
were looking around during the meditation. The meditation lasted a coupled
of minutes, then the class began.
After a brief warm-up period, the Sensei taught the class how to block
a kick and to counter punch. The Sensei watched the students as they
practiced and felt a sense of pride that most were doing it properly.
Half way through the class the Sensei had his students sit along the
edge of the mat. He introduced Sensei Paul and Sensei John. He informed
the student of their long association and what an honor it was to have
students of the Master to visit. He instructed them to observe carefully
the two Senseis as they gave a demonstration of martial arts as taught
by the Master. The Sensei then walked off the mat.
Sensei Paul and Sensei John, standing at the edge of the mat, turned
away from the picture of the Master to straighten their gis. They then
turned, glanced at each other and smartly ran onto the mat. They bowed
to the picture of the Master, turned and bowed to the Sensei and then
to each other. They then snapped into a fighting stance.
It was as if someone had slapped the Sensei, then dowsed him with cold
water. Their kicks, blocks and punches had a snap, preciseness and power
that had not been present in this Dojo in months, maybe years. Every
move spoke of control, intention and will. Every move reflected the
The Sensei realized how far he had slowly drifted off course.
In the beginning everyone referred to him as Sensei, never Tony ! He
would never have considered calling his Teacher anything but Master.
To call him Fred would have been unthinkable and certainly not tolerated,
and yet he had allowed his own students to become informal .
When he started everything was clean. All the students were required
to clean the Dojo daily. A strict code of conduct and etiquette was
constantly reviewed and enforced. Now his eyes wandered from the martial
arts demonstration to his Dojo, his students, his life.
Sloppy! he thought. A sham!
His face grew red with embarrassment as his eyes fell on his students
who obviously did not know etiquette or respect. The Dojo was grimy,
the mats were not clean, the trophies of past accomplishment and glories
were covered with dust and obviously had not been polished in years.
His office was also cluttered and dirty.
Sloppy! he realized. I have become loose! Great loss of face, he thought
as he hung his head. I have disgraced myself, my art, and most of all
Where did it start going wrong? As he reviewed the history of his Dojo
in his mind, he realized that it started going wrong almost from the
beginning. He saw how things had changed little by little. The meditations
in the Dojo started getting shorter and shorter each day by ten to twenty
seconds, until now they were just a brief moment of silence.
He observed how the etiquette and rules of conduct stopped being enforced
or even explained to the new students. He saw how he had become close
friends with some of his students and they no longer treated him as
a Sensei, but as a friend.
Familiarity breeds contempt! he thought bitterly.
The demonstration ended and the Sensei stood. The final straw, his soiled
gi. How appropriate, he thought as he bowed to his visiting Teachers.
He turned and faced his students.
Stand up! he barked.
The students stood.
Bow to our guests! he shouted. Bow to the Master! He then ordered to
class to sit.
Everyone looked at each other with a puzzled look. The Sensei seemed
to have a grave expression along with a steely glint in his eye that
only a few of his original students had ever seen.
He instructed Joe to have the students clean the mat. He then thanked
his friends and asked them to meet him outside after they had changed.
He then stepped out into the cold night air.
He was in deep contemplation as his friends joined him.
I am most embarrassed and ashamed. I have become a Sloppy Sensei. My
Dojo was unfit for the purity of your visit. How sad that in doing a
demonstration your gis got dirty! Great loss of face! he said as he
hung his head. I beg you not speak of your visit here and I pray that
the Master does not inquire about me. I have disgraced us all!
His friends looked at him sadly. They knew he was seeing the situation
clearly. Still, they did not come to judge or correct. They came only
to visit an old friend who had actually started his own Dojo.
Words cannot convey how I feel about the importance of your visit. You
have jogged my memory and placed a clear mirror on my life. I have much
to clean up and straighten out. Please allow me to invite you to return
in the near future. If things aren t different around I will remove
my belt and burn it. I assure you.
But of course! they replied.
Sensei Paul and Sensei John then smiled at each other and Sensei John
said with a grin, I must say that it does appear that you are indulging
a bit. Perhaps, but a little self flagellation is needed when the Master
isn t around to personally do it! , the Sensei laughed.
He felt a sense of lament as he watched as his friends drive away. Joe
stuck his head out the door of the Dojo and said, The mats are all clean.
Is there something wrong Tony?
Sensei! Call me Sensei! I will return when I am ready. Tell the students
to be in a line. A straight line!
Lots to do... Must take the moment. I cannot allow time to fog me. I
will no longer be the Sloppy Sensei! This Dojo will be ready. The students
will be ready. I will be ready so that at any time, if my Master should
visit, I will have done honor to the Art and to my Master!
Sloppy Sensei Commentary:
One of the hardest things to do is to keep The edge . Life is so seductive
and the old sloppy patterns creep in slowly.
This is where having a Teacher comes in handy. One can measure up the
current experience with those of the Master and gain a reality check.
It must be noted that the Sloppy Sensei was also an impeccable student
at one time. He could draw upon his experiences and his immense respect
for his Master and the art. From this mirror, he could correctly ascertain
where he was and his alignment with perfection. Another sterling quality
that the Sensei demonstrated was his willingness to honestly look at
himself without ego-justification, He honestly looked deep within the
situation and assessed the current situation and how it all came about