The other day I was teaching a class, students were having fun and enjoying themselves, and then one student, fairly new to class, laughed at something that had been said. Normally this is not an unusual event, but this new student almost immediately stopped laughing, put on the most serious expression, and sincerely apologized to me.
I knew this student’s background, so I knew what was going on in his head. He had trained in another martial art before studying with me, one in which things like smiling, laughing, or worst of all, questions, simply weren’t allowed within the dojo. Training was supposed to be a serious thing! And this young man thought he’d somehow broken a rule, was worried he may have upset his new teacher, and was now waiting to be scolded.
If you’ve only studied in a To-Shin Do dojo this may sound strange. But this is a conversation I’ve had dozens of times over the years, and more than once already this year. There are some schools out there that teach that only unquestioning obedience, a serious expression, and reckless injury-prone training is worthy of being called martial arts. Laughing and having fun mean you aren’t taking the art seriously. If these students ever find their way to one of my classes, they inevitably end up apologizing for enjoying themselves, as this young man did.
I’m so thankful that I never trained in a school like that. Of course, I never would have trained in a school like that.
One of the greatest signs of strength in a warrior, I believe, is the ability to also be gentle, to smile and enjoy life. In fact, for this kind of warrior, that joy of life is what leads them to pick up the sword to begin with. In our martial art, we’re training to be strong, but also to be more empowered and more complete human beings. Basically we’re training to win no matter what the situation. So for that reason too, it’s no surprise we’re smiling and laughing. We’re winning!
Of course, there are struggles and challenges in training. There are times when you won’t feel like laughing. And there are indeed times when you need to be serious, when laughing actually would be inappropriate and takes away from the skill being practiced at that moment. That, in truth, is what these other schools mean but their ‘no laughter’ rule (and yes, I have actually seen that as a rule listed on dojo websites). They mean that there is a seriousness to martial arts that should not be forgotten, that it is not simply a fun activity, but something much deeper and more important. But there is a time and place for serious. And a time for laughing. Just as our elemental strategies remind us that there is a time and place for evasiveness and a time and place for standing our ground. The whole point of the training is to not only do them both effectively, but to know when to do one versus the other. And sometimes a dojo IS a place for laughing.
Every class should have at least some smiles in there somewhere. Even if it’s a frustrating day (and let’s face it, we’ve all had them) at least smile at the beginning, because you’re there to learn some great things and are surrounded by supportive friends who want to see you succeed. And smile at the end because no matter how challenging it was, you’re closer to being able to use those tools. You’re one step closer to success, and that’s a step farther than anyone got who didn’t make it in to class that day.
Enjoy your training. Smile! And if it is an appropriate moment in the training, it is even okay to laugh. That is the kind of warrior I believe the world needs more of.