Monday, October 09, 2006

New Worlds to Learn

Last Thursday evening we signed up Monk for aiki-jujutsu classes. This is the first time he's ever taken any martial arts classes--in fact, D and I have never had them ourselves. (Although, interestingly enough, both my brother and my Mom have taken martial arts classes in the past. Mom started them when she was in her fifties, I guess. Cool mom.)

After checking out the website for the particular dojo where we would take Monk, having a phone conversation with the sensei (yet another vocabulary to learn!!!), and visiting on Thursday evening--I was especially excited to have Monk begin.

But I was also surprised by the amount of misgiving I had about it. First of all, and I don't know how I'd managed to miss this as long as I did, I'd managed to forget that the word martial connotes military. I guess that's where we get the concept of martial law, for instance.

The sensei sent us home with a book about aiki-jujutsu and as I read through it, I was surprised and a bit concerned to see the military principles incorporated in the practice of akai-jujutsu. (The section that lauded the people who had committed suicide--warriors, women, and children, alike--was more than I could stomach.) Suddenly I became aware that basically we'd signed Monk up for Japanese military school. And I didn't know quite how I felt about that.

At the same time, I was delighted to see that this place takes its Japanese heritage very seriously. Inasmuch as it's possible to contextualize the discipline of aiki-jujutsu in Japanese culture, this dojo is interested in pursuing that. Given that the class we're teaching tomorrow has to do with liturgical inculturation, I'm especially interested in how this is possible!

Quite related to this, the other thing that I was surprised to be concerned about is the extent to which aiki-jujustu is part of another faith. As a family raising our son in a Christian family, I was surprised to find myself a bit concerned about introducing our eight-year-old to another way of conceiving of the world. And I am more than a little chagrined that Christianity has failed for the most part to teach children the contemplative aspects of our faith. The dojo where Monk will be going teaches Japanese yoga to the kids as well as martial arts.

At the end of our appointment with the sensei last week, he asked Monk: "So, do you want to practice?"

Monk nodded and immediately began to take off his shoes to climb onto the mat. But I could tell, after a moment, that the teacher wasn't asking him to step out immediately. Then it dawned on me--he was asking Monk if he wanted to engage in the practice of learning aiki-jujutsu.

This is how I've come to love to think of Christianity, although I don't think it's a widely held perspective anymore. Recently I read a liturgical theologian who pointed out that in the first century, Christianity was not a "worldview"--that is, a way of perceiving the world; rather it was a practice, which is to say, a way of being in the world.

This is precisely the thing that I feel like Christianity has failed to teach kids so far (and I implicate myself in this as well). And yet, at least at this particular dojo, they seem to teach it unapologetically.

I dropped Monk off at the dojo this evening. The class meets four times a week, although we'll only be taking him three of those time. The other evening he'll be at church. I could tell I was feeling nervous, because I simply wasn't sure what he would be taught.

But when I picked him up, he was aglow. Most of the first session was "lecture." And I could tell he'd listened closely. When I arrived, as I waited outside, I saw the kids lying on their backs, clearly learning some of the yoga positions. I was surprised to find it moving. And was grateful that the teacher seems to trust the kids -- and respect them enough -- to teach them these things.

These are some initial thoughts. Though I have others. Better keep it here for now.



revabi said...

What a neat analogy you have here.
Zach wanted to take Karate, so we took him to see it first and meat the teacher. It took maybe 3 minutes and he wanted out of there. Good for Monk.

And wow I say a way cool mom.

Katherine said...

I read this when you posted it but didn't get around to commenting, but it really captured my attention and I've thought about it quite a bit in the last week.

"Suddenly I became aware that basically we'd signed Monk up for Japanese military school. And I didn't know quite how I felt about that." I would share your concerns about military teaching... but then I also recognize that this school is clearly reaching kids on a deep level, demonstrating respect and honor. I share your love for thinking of Christianity in terms of practice, but I personally have been especially poor at sharing Christianity-as-practice with youth. That this school is connecting with Monk and the other students is amazing.

Thanks for writing about this, and I'd be certainly keen on reading your further thoughts about Monk's aiki-jujutsu journey.