Dear dojo family,
My turn to shift into a more independent life of self- and world- exploration has inevitably arrived, as I head off to Western Washington University this Fall! When a sempai makes this change, the dojo follows into its own transition of changing roles and uncertainity as to how the leadership positions in the dojo will be filled. After the sempais who I held in esteem – Chris, Brad, Brian, Shirin, Katrina, and Justin – and my leadership peers – Kate, Bria, Tim, and others – suddenly had all physically “moved on,” I was left feeling rather panicked under the pressure of living up to their influence in attempt to carry on the responsibilities they left behind.
Oddly enough, the benefits I gained from what began as a somewhat intimidating change are not only what have set the foundation for my future, but are also what have shaped who I am as a person. So as a first step in giving back to the guiding community that has prepared the way for me, I would really like to share with everyone — especially the rising young athletes — my experience as a dojo staff member, and the reasons why taking on this position has by far been one of the single most rewarding decisions of my life. Perhaps it will encourage some of our valuable dojo family youth to consider integrating dojo leadership into their own repertoires!
Convenience: Timing is Everything
One of the first things students need to consider when applying for a given job is convenience. Obviously, students need to be able to adapt all of their activity schedules around their job schedules without becoming impossibly torn in too many different directions. As a high-schooler, this was my main incentive for working at the dojo — as my parents put it, “You’re already spending several hours a week there, so you might as well get paid for it!” This turned out to be pretty ideal — it cut out unnecessary transportation time, and my main activity schedule (karate) automatically harmonized with my work schedule (also karate).
Granted, I still had to learn to balance my non-karate-related activities with my time spent at the dojo, which, luckily, proved not to be severely difficult with Shihan Joni as an incredibly flexible and understanding employer. Like any employer, she expected me to be timely and dependable, meaning I couldn’t skip work for a birthday party. But unlike other employers, she is also my Sensei – meaning the importance of school, family, and other character-building responsibilities took precedence for her as well as for me. It was easy to coordinate my work hours with my school hours (which often changed during my time as a Running Start student). Basically, the attraction of convenience was too much to resist when I began work as a high school freshman, and it was also what allowed me to keep contributing to the dojo up until the end of my senior year.
Skills: Resumes and Things
Another major thing to look for in a first job is what it can do for your resume. Everyone wants a set of foundational skills that are attractive to potential employers for their essence of diligence and leadership. People also want something unique that will stand out against stacks of other resumes.
As far as satisfying the demand for exclusivity, putting “Karate Instructor” at the top of my skills list as a teenager pretty much did the trick. And the rest of my resume overflows with all the foundational stuff that involvement in karate inevitably leads to, like leadership skills and integrity. Working at the dojo also took it beyond that, to a more engaged, advanced level of versatility that a fry cook position doesn’t offer to the same degree:
- Interpersonal skills: I learned to work with many types of people, ranging from four-year-olds to their grandfathers, and people from many different backgrounds, learning styles, and cultures. This required me to become a broadly effective communicator, which took a lot of patience and was an incredible learning process in itself.
- Occupational Skills: Aside from teaching and assisting in classes, my other responsibilities at the dojo covered the basics of running a karate school. This included basic reception skills like answering the phone and taking messages, selling merchandise, creating advertisements, taking inventory, filing, data entry, and more. I also was expected to help keep the dojo well kept by cleaning every day before classes.
- Karate Skills: Extending beyond the resume, my position as an assistant (and later, an instructor) gave me an incentive to keep striving for better karate skills. It was my job to be a good example for other students by striving for excellence myself. This meant that I had to keep training hard, and it meant that I could receive additional advanced training given to the leaders of the dojo.
Referring to these skills in my resume landed me an on-campus job at my university that was not only highly competitive (over a thousand applications come in, and about 300-400 are accepted), but also prefers to hire people with experience working in the food industry, which I do not have. You might be surprised how many people understand the significance behind honorable martial arts training.
Community: Your Extended Family
Finally, my increased time with the members of the dojo ended up creating for me a network of people with whom trustful relationships were established — a gift that I wouldn’t dare take for granted. Many of my peers became close friends, as our mutual understanding of the values taught in karate-do reinforced our trust for and reliance on each other; it wasn’t long before we began to enjoy each other’s company outside as well as within the dojo.
I also developed an instant community of mentors, training partners, and fellow leaders around me, as well as found many opportunities for work and the volunteer service I needed for school within the dojo family. I fondly remember going for runs with peers, taking family camping trips with dojo friends, raising money for the dojo (AND getting in community service hours) by auctioning yard work hours at a silent auction, running a summer camp for the “Little Dragons,” and countless hours of babysitting the kids I helped teach or children of the adults in my class. I reaped unlimited benefits and support from connecting with parents, students, and peers on a societal and personal level that contributed greatly to my overall success throughout high school.
Seize the Opportunity
My strong recommendation to any intermediate-advanced member of USA Karate, based on my four years of experience working there, would be to start volunteering. Considering how doubtful I was in myself when first starting as an assistant, I was highly surprised to find how rewarding it was to enhance so much of what I thought I knew through helping others. In a job for which I never really felt truly qualified, by being challenged, I discovered strengths and traits in myself that I never knew existed.
I am enrolled at Western Washington University because I want to teach elementary school. I never may have known that this is my calling had I not experienced the exhilaration of watching yellow belts perform with confidence a kata that I helped them learn, or saw understanding break over another student’s sweating face, or laughed to the point of tears while playing “Ultimate Ninja” with eight-year-olds. We all seek to make a difference in some way, and I can leave the dojo every day knowing that I have. I hope sincerely that the next generation of gifted karate-ka will be inspired to seek for themselves the same joy!