Printed in MAWired, Vol. 5, No. 2, Feb. 1998

Sabunim Who?

Thomas Howard

Deep in the heart of my last meditation (ok, I was at work and bored out of my mind, which is VERY near to an out-of-body experience) it occurred to me that I am now called by the title under which I first knew my most influential instructor.


This was NOT conducive to tranquil thoughts, particularly when I recounted the many ways my instructor had an impact on my life. The idea that someone might be expecting that from ME was frightening.

Actually, the fact that *I* am expecting that from me is terrifying.

Many students have an interesting mix of what they "expect" from their instructors, in many cases putting them on pedestals, giving them superhuman powers, etc. . .it is rare to find a student (well, a young one at least) that expects a human who simply has a Way to teach.

And so it worried me----not because my instructor was superhuman, quite the opposite. It worried me because my instructor was fallible, human, occasionally forgetful, made mistakes, and still managed to demonstrate almost all of the good things that martial arts are known for in terms of character, inner strength, and physical control.

He's not superhuman----but he's a great guy.

And so, the idea that *I*, with all my faults, petty annoyances, and irritability, am expected to uphold the values of the art he taught me is scary. Not because he expects it of me (though I'm sure he does) but because *I* expect it of me.

After thought, I suppose I could simply relax, reasoning that "Well, this IS why I studied the martial arts----for those exact reasons, that precise gaining of physical power, mental and emotional control, inner strength----so since I'm at this point, I must have them."

Except for the fact that it sounds remarkably like pompous arrogance, I'd really like to believe that. And I suppose, in a small way, it IS true. I have grown in many ways because of the martial arts, and I'm a stronger person because of it.

But that's certainly not a reason to simply relax about it.

I've got to demonstrate it continually as a part of myself to my students. I've got to be patient with problems, demonstrate self-control with annoyances, and above all NOT attempt to preach the Gospel According to Sabunim Thomas ---instead, simply teach the martial arts as I know them, and hope the "character-building" part shows through.

Because it worked for my teacher, and it made a big difference to me.

And so it still worries me---and I suppose that is a good thing, because that way I won't forget about it, or worse yet, simply assume that it's a part of me automatically, so I can act however I like. Most likely, the day it STOPS worrying me is the day when I fall off the path. You should always worry a bit about whether or not you are being as good an instructor as you could be----it's continual incentive to get better.

Thomas has just finished making arrangements to move to a larger building to teach more students, and is having the obligatory "can I handle this?" panic attack. Any comments, help, or Valium may be sent to him: here, or go to to make fun of him there.