I studied (Okinawan Goju-Ryu) Karate not too long ago. It was perhaps the only athletic activity I every really enjoyed in my life. I because a karateka (student) in my mid-fourties. I studied at the local YMCA where my shihan held class for beginners. Beginners were age 5-n where n is something closer to my age. I was the ONLY adult in a class of pint-sized kids. Fortunately, my sensei grabbed a few other adults to work with me so they could assist their kids. Soon I befriended a few other karateka in my “demographic” while I continued to train.
One interesting lesson I took away – and there are many I should harvest – is about the relationship between the teacher and the student. While its obvious to most folks the karateka with the black belts and extra markings are teaching. But what happens in the dojo is interesting as I’ve relied on younger (as in my kids’ age) karateka to guide me through a kata or other basic technique (kihon). Everyone is a student, and everyone eventually becomes a teacher if they stick with it long enough. No one advances into the senior belts and eventually the black belt until they are leading classes and helping less experienced karateka.
There is a sense of humility and emptiness one needs to experience in order to harvest the benefits of a younger teacher. There may be a teenage black belt in the dojo who I am expected to address as “sir”. The dojo knows no ages as all are shown respect. This notion quickly revises the essence of diversity training I’ve received during my career. We are taught to look beyond apparent differentiators in our lives to collaborate and cooperate in an enterprise. Such is no different and reinforcing within the dojo.
Some may consider me rather old. Others may consider my still a kid. But with my current consulting assignment I’m blessed to see a large number of individuals who are so very different from me. One gentlemen (who I want to call “kid”) is considered an expert on our team with a particular technology. Others are from a variety of countries and backgrounds which makes for some FINE dining when we get together. More importantly, we are collaborating and learning from each other. We cannot let title, age, or other differentiators block us from the opportunity to learn and grow from other individuals. Otherwise, we simply poison ourselves and stunt our own personal growth.