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Beginner’s Mind: George’s Cat

By Sara Aoyama

A question came up recently, on how one honors one’s Sensei. The quick answer that comes to my mind is that you honor your Sensei by living your life in a way that is good and correct. But then, we should all be doing that anyway.

I guess another way to honor your Sensei is to pass on what you have been given to others. In this way you honor your Sensei and his or her Sensei who came before, as well.

As a white belt (starting over in a new Shorin Ryu style of karate, Kishaba Juku, under George Donahue Sensei), I am not in the position to do that kind of thing. But I’ve been able to imagine that while it is easy to speak of honoring your Sensei, in reality it can be a challenge. We respect our Sensei greatly, but what do we do when we don’t agree, or when our own thoughts start to creep in?

A few months ago my Sensei’s cat came to stay at my house.

Sensei’s cat has some different eating habits from my own cat. So first I had a dilemma over what to feed the cat. My Sensei most likely carefully considered his cat’s diet and chose her food with great care. Her diet includes canned food. It stinks, and it is messy and disgusting. My cat eats the dry version of the same brand of food. It’s much easier to deal with, and doesn’t gross us out. But, after giving this some thought, I realized that my reasons for not wanting to continue feeding Sensei’s cat with canned food were only based on my own comfort and ease. So, I decided that I should respect Sensei’s wishes and continue to feed the cat her canned food. My cat likes it too, so I’ve converted a cat to a different style, so to speak.

Sensei’s cat also gets special food after she eats that supposedly cleans her teeth. If I could raise one eyebrow at will, I sure would have done it when I saw this stuff. My 17 year old daughter immediately voiced what I was far too polite to say initially. "So, mom, how did cats in the wild brush their teeth if they didn’t have this stuff then?" It seems excessive and most likely a racket to me, but again, if it is Sensei’s wish, then who am I to question it?

I don’t think it can be blamed on me that my cat peed in Sensei’s cat’s bed the first day that she arrived. I honor my Sensei and his cat the best that I can, but though I can try my hardest to influence and educate those around me to behave in the same way, I cannot entirely control them. (In case anyone is missing the point here, I am trying to draw a parallel.)

As for the rest of it, it is a constant balance and thoughtful process to come to a reasonable compromise between what I consider to be the natural and homey presence of a cat sleeping on the sofa, to my Sensei’s rather rigid viewpoint that animals do not belong on any furniture at all. In my heart, I know that Sensei is wrong, but as a student wishing to honor my Sensei, I half-heartedly shoo the cat off the bed when she sneaks up there for a nap, and guiltily try to rid the furniture of cat hair evidence before my Sensei comes to visit and discovers that his student and cat are both still not quite on the path.
Having this much to think about with just a cat makes me even more appreciative of those who teach and pass on their Sensei’s teachings to their own human students!


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About the Author:

Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University of Kansas, where she majored in Japanese Language and Literature. She spent over twelve years living in Japan where she dabbled in a number of other arts such as Ikebana (flower arranging), cooking, and Shamisen. While living in Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects of Japanese society. Currently she lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she trains in Shorin-ryu Karate. Currently she continues her studies in Kishaba Juku karate under Sensei George Donahue. She is a freelance Japanese-English translator. Most recently, she translated "The Art of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD., and “Karate Kyohan” by Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura. Aoyama is a regular contributor to FightingArts.com.


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beginner, beginner's mind, Karate, karate-do, do, honor, George Donahue,Kishaba Juku


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