It was the last karate class of my final semester. Guelph wasn't that far to drive from where I would live, to continue training at the university. I'd assumed that was what I would do. At the end of the class, the sensei walked towards me. He reached out with his hand, shook my hand, and told me he had enjoyed having me as a student. He wished me the best of luck and said goodbye.
Crap. So much for that plan. Regardless of what I did in other areas of my life, I knew I wanted to continue my studies and training in karate. I also wanted to continue with the same style, Shorinji-Ryu. Now, I didn't have a sensei or a dojo to train at. I wasn't sure of what to do?
I thought a lot about it. Then I remembered the sensei's sensei. He had been a guest instructor at the university dojo a few times. I knew his name, but I didn't know where his dojo was.
For the life of me, I can't remember how I found out that his dojo was in Hamilton. I must have had contact with someone who knew the location of the dojo. The sensei didn't have a phone, so I would have to drive there to ask him in person for permission to become his student.
I had never driven to Hamilton before, so I studied a map. (That was long before the days of GPS and Google maps.) Before I drive to an unfamiliar place, I memorize the two street names before, and the one after, my destination. It reduces the chance of getting lost.
Fortunately, I found a parking lot close to where I needed to go. I had to walk through an alley, onto a side street, and then onto the main street. After a short walk, I found the address I was looking for. There was no sign to indicate that there was a martial arts dojo in the building, and it was adjacent to a strip club. I wasn't sure if I had the right place.
It had taken almost an hour to drive there, so I decided to take a chance and see if this was the place. I opened the outer door, walked into the small vestibule, turned left, and looked up. That was an awful lot of stairs. I hoped it wasn't at the top.
I started climbing the stairs. I stopped at the first landing, where there was a door to the left. I think it was a lawyer's office. I continued up to the next landing. It was an artist's studio. It had to be at the top, on the fourth floor.
When I reached the top landing, I turned to face the door. This one didn't have a sign to indicate the type of business. I knocked on it and waited. After a few moments, the door opened, and the sensei stood there, looking at me with a penetrating gaze.
He was bigger than I'd remembered, tall and heavy set. I had never stood this close to him at the university dojo. He had a formidable presence about him. He said, "Yes?" with a deep, rumbling voice.
Although I felt intimidated, I was determined to follow through with my plan. I introduced myself and explained my situation to him. Then I asked if I could train at his dojo.
He asked me a few questions and agreed to accept me as a student. He asked me to step inside. He showed me the training hall and indicated where the change rooms were. I was happy to hear there was a change room for women, which meant I wouldn't be the only one.
We discussed the training schedule and class fees, I told him I was fine with both and would be back the next training night. I thanked him and I left.
I stood on the top landing and prepared to walk down the staircase. I paused for a second and thought, "That is a lot of steps". Going up and down once a night would be a workout in itself. And then again, it would strengthen my leg muscles and improve my kicking ability.
And so began the next leg of my martial arts journey, training karate and kobudo (weapons) in Hamilton. I belonged to a new dojo. I was happy and I trained with that sensei for several years.
My first visit to meet that sensei had been during the day. One night after class, I was to learn that what appeared to be a busy and safe area by day, could be very different at night.
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.