I Am A Sensei's Wife: Putting Karate First

Yes, it is true, I am a Sensei's Wife. I forgot my own name years ago. I think it was about the same time that I began to be known as "the lady at the counter", "Sensei's Wife", "that Karate guy's wife", the list goes on. I have never minded this. I am going to tell you why this little thing that 10 years ago would have driven me insane, brings a smile to my face today.

My second "date" with my husband entailed me sitting cross-legged on a gymnasium floor, watching him go through a 2 and 1/2 hour karate exam. He and the other students gruelled themselves physically over various techniques, various physical exercises and literal "fights" (which I was later instructed to call Sparring Matches). All of this, while a man in white pajamas with a black belt around his waist belted out screams and yelled words I did not understand. The students bellowed responses were more words that I did not understand, and they never minded the yelling and scolding that they received. My husband got his yellow belt that night. We then went out to supper. I remember thinking, "this guy is insane and I need to stay as far away as I can from him".

My thoughts then were and are pretty much what every spouse, male or female, goes through and thinks of the first time they watch their partner in karate. Especially if they have never seen the like before. I would like to tell you about the man that 21 year old "insane" individual has become and the journey that we have both taken to get there. As you may have now guessed, I did not heed my thoughts and run away.

A Passion for Karate and for Life

As I watched more and more of the karate classes and got to know him more, I began to realize that although I had grown up constantly in search of and often coming in contact with things that "spoke" to me, there are plenty of people in this world who never find that certain something that they truly love. Not a lover, not our children, not our families, but something that we love simply because it is a part of our being, an essence of us. As I listened to him over the years and watched him train I began to realize that karate for this man was not just an exercise, nor a way to stay physically fit. This was a passion like few people know that early in their lives, if they experience it at all.

Many a long weekend was spent sitting in the pouring rain, or scorching sun, "watching" while he trained with the other students. Often I would be irritated that I seemed to be wasting my time watching all of this training, but when I would voice this to him he would only reply, "Honey, I want you there with me, watching me, I need your support in this". So I would sit, watching. No, there were never many other spouses over the years that sat and watched. Although, there were many that watched the first time, most did not sit there endlessly through July, the month of summer training camp. I realize now, that this was needed in preparation for the life we chose.

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When my husband was a brown belt, we moved on my urging to a remoter area. We were 14 hours away from his school, and still after two and a half years I did not have the understanding of what this would do to this man. This was because I still viewed this as a sport. Something that he could just pick up and do at another school, wherever we ended up. We were at our new residence 1 month before he checked out the local schools. But he always came home saddened. He missed his Sensei, the way he taught, the friendship they had developed, and he missed his training with his fellow students.

I began to realize that this man had become a family with this school that he missed so much, and essentially I had taken him from that family. He did travel on occasion to his former school, but a fourteen hour drive is expensive and hard on the system. He always came back more saddened than when he left. Saddened because now he no longer even felt a part of that growing family. They were growing, but leaving him behind.

As years went by there were times that he did not train at all. But I will tell you that this man never smiled unless he was consistently training in karate. I began to realize that it was a way of life, and that he was at a place in his life where we have to choose between two paths -- one path goes on to your destiny and fulfillment and the other is the one we all try and get off of.

We married in the summer of 1994 and bought our first house. During a rather stressful conversation in the car one day, being so desperately sick and tired of listening to the "some days" of a man's hopes and dreams, I pulled the car to the side of the road and turned to him. This is what I told him, "For five years I have patiently listened to you talk about "one day" and "some day" and "I wish" and "I wish I could", all over opening up a karate school, which you know that you cannot do without first obtaining your black belt and talking to your Sensei. Now you have a choice -- you can either get off of your duff and phone him and talk to him and we will open a school and see what happens, or you can shut up about it. But if I have to listen to you swoon about this for another five years, I will die. Live a little, what have you truly got to lose?"

Well, my husband was not so thrilled with my response, which happens every now and again still, but I am a wife... On the way home a song came on the radio. It was a song that he still to this day believes gave him the motivation to open up the school we now operate. It is called "Standing outside the Fire". His favorite line is, "life is not tried; it is merely survived, if you're standing outside the fire".

He obtained permission to open up the school at the level he was at but would need to train intensely to be ready for his black belt exam in one year. Our first night of classes we had 98 students show up to take karate. My husband came out to me at the table and said, "I don't think that I can do this, there are an awful lot of people in there." There was a glint in his eye that night that was indescribable, a wanting, a needing to be part of something like what he had left behind. So I smiled and said, "get in there and teach baby. You can do this, you have dreamed of this."

The following year he trained six days a week and taught three. We fought on the days he didn't train because he had no time for his family. It was stressful and it was testing. But as the months went by, I watched a man who was for the most part a man that rarely smiled, turn into a man with a constant gleam in his eye, and a smile on his face. I continued to reach realizations about a person consumed with "living" karate. A person who most times feels the need to put karate first, even above his family at times. A person that is not whole unless they are training.

I sobbed my way through his black belt exam. I screamed at him to keep his hands up while they busted his ribs and yelled out phrases like "osu!" that six years before I had not even understood when one man sent him flying through the air like a rag doll with one kick to the legs. My father took pictures when my tears made it impossible to see through the lenses. It was three days long. I massaged his muscles. I encouraged him to stay when he contemplated leaving the country so he wouldn't have to finish it, and I watched a man terrified that he couldn't do it -- that everything he had given the better part of his life to would result in failure.-?

I had never seen a grown man want something so badly that they were willing to give everything they had to get it. I was beginning to understand a person who "lived" karate. To say that it brought us closer at that time would be a lie. He was a man focused on one thing, karate. I was slowly becoming accustomed to this way of life.

It took months for him to heal properly. But we started our own summer training camp three days after that exam ended, and he taught five nights per week for a month. To be honest I rarely witness the man not teaching. Occasionally he will get a cold that makes it impossible for him to talk, and he will sit, while the now higher belt students instruct according to what he wants to go on in the classroom. But it never lasts, as it drives him crazy not to be in there, being a part of the new family and school that he has helped to create.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

For many people that have never trained karate, or have never witnessed years with a person who has, they would call these kind of people obsessed. That, we all know, is not healthy. Take away for a moment, the physicalness of karate and look at the spiritual side of it, then look at the mental side of it.

Some of us spend our entire lives searching and never finding, striving but never accomplishing, yearning yet never satisfied. All of this for an internal contact with a higher power: something, anything, above and beyond ourselves but yet still coming from within. A connection with something, an eternal partnership of sorts with the universal energy, power within, chi, whichever you like. Something we believe in that only speaks to us. Some leave this world never even becoming enlightened enough to search it out. Karateka are a kind unto their own. They strive for all of these things, they realize even more. Karate becomes a part of them that they can survive without, but not live without. It is a way of life.

Many spouses cannot understand the time that a karateka puts into their training, and I will not tell you that it does not make you feel abandoned at times. I will not tell you that you will be "drawn" to take karate yourself over the years. What I will tell you is that to watch a person grow and realize their own true potential, something that "speaks" to only them, is one of the most incredible experiences that I have had in this lifetime.

When a member of your family spends three or four nights per week at the dojo, don't stay at home and be lonely. Go there, watch them, look into their eyes and try to see the passion that is there. Try to see what it is that karate does for them. When you realize what a big part of them their karate really is, you will not want them to stop. For how could you ever ask a person that you care about to give up a part of themselves. Would you ask them to cut off that leg because it doesn't quite match the other one? We all sacrifice a few things for the ones we love. Myself, I am not a karateka, but I finally understand... I am a Sensei's Wife.

Recommended Book:

Dancing the Dream: The Seven Sacred Paths of Human Transformation
by Jamie Sams.

Widely recognized as one of the foremost teachers of Native American wisdom, Jamie Sams reveals the seven sacred paths of human spiritual development and explains how exploring each path leads to shifts in our personal relationships.

Info/Order this book


About The Author

CARY DUFOUR is a Graphics & Web Site Designer from Northern British Columbia, Canada. She operates a Martial Arts School with her husband. To find out more, you may contact her by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..