A martial arts friend and colleague of mine sent me an email yesterday to wish my happy Mother’s Day. He said, “This may seem weird, but I wanted to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. Not sure if you think about it this way, but you are truly a mother to your dojo.” It was the nicest thing I heard all week.
Back when I first earned my black belt as an 18-year-old, my father was very proud and confessed a secret desire that I would one day open my own dojo. At the time, I had different motivations. I wanted to eventually settle down to a comfortable job that would provide a reliable pay cheque so I could one day raise a family while doing Jiu-jitsu on the side as a hobby. There was no money in Jiu-jitsu, at least not the way I wanted to run things.
Seventeen years later and things are… different.
I have gradually built up a small, adult-oriented Jiu-jitsu dojo in Vancouver over the past 7 years, having started by renting spaces, then sharing a unit, now running my dojo in my own unit. The progress has been slow, having made the decision to focus on adult students. Everyone knows that teaching children is where the money is, but my passion lies in teaching an audience that is mature enough to appreciate all that details that made me fall in love with the martial arts in the first place. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished that I had the inclination and desire to teach young children, seeing many of my colleagues make comfortable livings doing so. But I know myself. If I taught in a way that was out of line with my passion, I would burn out and what used to be a labour of love would become something I resented, and my passion would eventually die out.
Of course, the way I do things means I don’t have as big a network from which to draw in new students by referral. As a result, I do other contract work on the side as performer in the film industry to make a living. It’s flexible, but it’s not always consistent. Some weeks I get no shifts, other weeks I work more than a normal person works in a full-time job. Sometimes the shifts overlap with my Jiu-jitsu classes and I have to leave things in the capable hands of my dojo’s other instructor. Other times I get up before 5am, work a 10-hour day then hurry to the dojo a little haggard but eager to teach my students. It’s not a perfect system, but it allows me to do what I love and teach on my own terms. And with time, the dojo will grow.
You may think I’m playing the sympathy card here, but it’s quite the opposite. I LOVE the life I have chosen and don’t regret it for a second. It may have its trials at times, but what life doesn’t? I may not get 3 weeks of paid vacation each year, but in a lot of ways my regular life is like a vacation. I may have decided not to have children, but in nearly every way, the dojo gives me the satisfaction that most people report from having children.
My father doesn’t even remember having encouraged me to open my own dojo all those years ago. Part of him now wishes I hadn’t gone this route preferring a more predictable lifestyle for me more like the government career he had his entire life. Sometimes part of me wishes I had that simpler lifestyle too. But every time I step on the mats, I realize that I have created a place that can give people all the benefits I’ve gained through my martial arts training, and have brought together a mutually supportive community of students. And the feeling of warmth that gives me reminds me that I wouldn’t trade it for the world.