My regular karate teacher, the guy who teaches the class at my gym, is great. Well, lately he has grown an unfortunate goatee, making my crush on him disappear, but he's still a fine teacher and a good martial artist. But he's not "the sensei" -- that's his teacher, who runs a multi-site karate program. Sensei is, as I may have hinted, a jerk. He's a particular kind of aging-martial-artist jerk, of a kind I've seen before but find difficult to describe precisely. Usually but not always these are male jerks, and they have gotten a little too far on physical strength rather than -- let's say -- balance and flexibility of body and spirit. (And wow, yes, there really is no way to write about the martial arts without sounding like a fool. Bear with me.) So when they start to age they sometimes succumb to the temptation to substitute other kinds of power for the physical strength they're, inevitably, losing. Very experienced martial artists can become bullies or worse.
The classes at my gym only meet for half the year. Between terms, I train at the main dojo. I try to avoid the classes that sensei teaches -- his senior students run better classes than he does, with more attention to detail and less sitting around listening to sensei go on talking about nothing in particular other than his own special unique greatness. I've had to ask myself whether the training I can do at this dojo is worth the nonsense, and concluded that, at least for now, it is. Changing dojos is hard, and anyway this sensei must have been great once because his senior students are so good, and anyway except for belt tests he's easy to avoid. And I don't feel myself to be unsafe at this dojo, not physically or emotionally.
That calculus was undone last Wednesday night.
Sensei's end-of-class endless talk to the class began with the movie Letters from Iwo Jima, which he wanted us all to go see so that we would "understand the Japanese martial spirit" (and the set of assumptions underlying that statement already is fucked up in so many ways) and then drifted on to, whoops and oh dear, talking about the German "fighting spirit" in WWII, and how Hitler's generals laughed at him when he wanted to invade France but he was right, because he had the fighting spirit, and even though Germany was at a huge disadvantage they nearly won the war anyhow and they would have except that their Jewish scientists were all chased away so the other side got the atom bomb. But still, he concluded, even though killing the Jews was wrong, you just have to admire that German fighting spirit.
So I knelt there, staring at the ground in front of me, consciously deciding not to stand up and walk out, but I haven't been back to class since. I don't want to go back, but I don't want to get into a big fight over this either, but I don't want to just drift away, but I don't want to do anything that would make it impossible to train with the teachers I like at my gy and elsewhere, and I don't want to have to change styles again, and I want to finish learning all the kata in this style ...
But I don't want to go back.