One (Very Unexpected) Tool For Better Living

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gene dunn martial arts instructor

photo by Francine Schaepper |

There’s something called the “uchi deshi” in Japanese martial arts. This is the live-in student, the one that takes care of the dojo. And at an early point in my martial arts training, I became the uchi deshi at Mr. Miyazaki‘s dojo.

I would clean and straighten up around the dojo, making sure it was ready for classes and to receive the students.

Once day I was vacuuming the school before anyone arrived, and Mr. Miyazaki had come in. He came over to where I was and stopped me, saying, “That’s not how you vacuum.” 

So I said, “Sensei, please show me how you would like me to do it.”

He recovered the vacuum and proceeded to move very directly, in a mindful and on-purpose way that’s difficult to describe. It looked almost like he was fencing, with movements I’d seen him use when teaching karate.

By now you can probably understand what he was saying to me – that you have to vacuum like you move in karate, like you do in martial arts. And that’s how I vacuum now. I vacuum as if I was doing oizuki, or the lunge punch, which was Mr. Miyazaki’s charge.

I never forgot that lesson.

I think what was profound for me is that was the first time that the master had showed me that martial arts is not just for the dojo, that even the physical elements transcend into daily life.

Here’s what I mean: perhaps you’ve discovered this for yourself already, but I sometimes find myself knee-elbow escaping in my sleep. I don’t roll over – I sort of scoot out and hip away to adjust my position.

As it turns out, good training brings mindfulness to everything we do. In that way, the technique can also permeate our every day life. 

Keep in mind that it’s your teacher’s wish that you view yourself as a martial arts practitioner in the global sense. It’s larger than Jiu-Jitsu, it’s larger than Judo or Karate. It’s a bigger concept.

Part of the joy of practice is to let it saturate every area of our lives, not just only what’s going on on the mat. The deeper principles that transcend “me versus you” or “shortcuts to success” add a certain gravity, a profundity to how we live.

I believe as students, many of you do that philosophically while you’re in the dojo. But there are also subtle ways to find the technique in everyday life.

This was Mr. Miyazaki’s gift to me in that moment with the vacuum, to be able to find the tools for better living wherever we look.

For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.

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  1. Laurie Johnson

    Makes sense to me…. I allow my training to run over into all parts of my life. Unless you are a martial artist, most people don’t realize it is a way of life for us. Thanks for posting.


    I often witness people being complacent and not focused on the task ahead of them. It’s seems similar to the episode in “Karate Kid” where Daniel-san is painting the fence and doesn’t understand why until the end…

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