Once a Student, Always a Student
May 16th, 2003
I was no more than eight years old when my best friend then and now, Ronnie Banik,
came over to my house along with his parents. As usual, we would spend our times
playing video games, riding bikes, and of course, watch a full hour of NWA Mid-Atlantic
Championship Wrestling?. Ronnie started talking to me about how much he enjoys the
karate class he’s taking. Before I could ask a question, another best friend of
mine known as Vinay Rajagopalan, pops his head up and says to me "If you come to
class, you should not horseplay!" "Horseplay? What’s that?" I asked. "It’s something
you should never do in Sensei's class!",replies another best friend of mine, Giri
Rajagopalan. To this day, the four of us remain close and keep in touch, and I remain,
and will always remain, a student of Suenaka Sensei. Throughout time, I have been
fortunate to stay on the right path. The purpose of my thesis is to share with the
reader the experiences I’ve had studying Wadokai , the people I’ve crossed paths
with, and how it's helped me practice love and peace to others.
I remember my first day of class like it was yesterday. A man was sitting on the
mat, stretching. I looked at my sister and said, "Oh man, am I going to have to
practice with him? He’ll kill me!" Shortly after, the man known as Sensei Tanis
looked at me, smiled, and said "Hey, you must be Giri’s friend!" The next thing
you know, my sister, Veena, and I had made our first friend in the karate class.
Sensei Tanis, in no time at all, became a big role model. He strongly encouraged
us to learn the Japanese translations for the techniques we do in class and assisted
us during class anytime we had problems with our techniques. Ronnie then took me
to the back room where everyone was changing, including Suenaka Sensei. It felt
as if I had already met him, especially after hearing so much about him from Giri,
Vinay, and Ronnie. I was welcomed with open arms, and it’s no coincidence that I
always look forward to hugging Suenaka Sensei whenever I see him, just like when
I was eight years old. As effective as the techniques are, we learned from day one
never to perform these techniques on someone else unless in self defense. That lesson
remains in me today.
As time passed, so did my time away from the dojo. I drifted away and basically
watched TV while finishing school. In a nutshell, I become a lazy bum. During high
school, it improved. I got more and more interested in tennis and lifting weights.
Those were fun days, but there was something missing. Before I knew it, I was ready
to go to college at Clemson University.
At that point in time, my interest in weightlifting grew tremendously. It was probably
due to spending lots of time with Ronnie. We bonded, and spent lots of our time
in the gym. In 1993, however, I experienced a bulging disc problem in the right
side of my neck. My right side felt as if it shut down. It took about 4-6 weeks
to recover, but I knew something needed to change. The fall semester of 1993 begins
with several clubs sitting at booths presenting what they do. There was a lady talking
about Aikido, so I stopped. I said, "Suenaka Sensei taught me karate in Charleston."
She replied, "My name is Sensei Francis [Melfi]." Shaking hands, she said "I study
under Suenaka Sensei, and he’ll be here in December if you want to see him." I really
got enthused. After all, I was 21 years old, not 7. I then looked at Sensei Francis
and asked "Do you think he’ll remember me?". She replied, "Suenaka Sensei, of course
Time in college also meant long hours in the computer labs, whether it be studying
for exams, or building computer programs. My time was thin, and I didn’t have much
time for anything outside of school. However, in time I started managing my time
a lot better because I knew that I’d be a student in college only once, and I’ll
regret it if I don’t make the most of it.
Over the Christmas holidays in 1994, Ronnie and I had a beer at Applebee’s in Charleston.
We were having our normal "guy talk", when suddenly he looks at me and says "Arun!
I think that’s Sensei sitting behind us! Let’s say hello to him when he’s done eating."
Within minutes, the two of us were hugging Suenaka Sensei. Another person sitting
next to him, introduced himself as Sensei Chad Taylor. That night, I promised them
and myself that I will start training again.
I walked in the Clemson dojo and instantly, memories of my experiences from the
karate class came back. I was now 22. At first, I would attend only once a week,
but before I knew it, I started attending regularly. Sensei Francis, Sensei Chad,
Sensei Jerry, Sensei John, and Sensei Dan were great people to learn from. I couldn’t
believe that I was back in, and was overwhelmed by how great it felt once again!
Spring Break approached, and I counted the minutes until I would step foot once
again into the Hombu Dojo.
I walked in, and I introduced myself to the students warming up. To my surprise,
many of them remembered me when I was taking the kid’s karate class! Suenaka Sensei
then walked in. I was an adult now, and seeing Suenaka Sensei once again for the
first time in 15 years was an experience I’ll never forget. It was an honor to hug
Suenaka Sensei once again and attend his class. Through Sensei Chad, I understood
a lot more of Suenaka Sensei’s relationship with O’Sensei. It was an honor just
to be in the same room as him. I graduated from Clemson in 1995, and moved to Atlanta
where I started practicing under Shihan Fen Ackerman. I was still pursuing a Master’s
degree, but Shihan’s classes were those where you can’t help but want to return
for more. I was determined to do both, and I did. After getting married in 1998,
my wife Sonya and I moved to Mableton, GA, where I started practicing at Sensei
Scott Kelley’s new dojo in Marietta. Now, it was my turn to help a new dojo begin,
an opportunity I love and still do. I remembered my experiences all the way back
to when I was seven, and I draw on each one of them to help new students grow.
To say the least, being a student of Suenaka Sensei has helped me become a better
person, and I draw upon his teachings everyday when faced with encounters, whether
it be a bully, a high pressure task at work, providing for my family, etc.. I will
always be a student eager to improve on myself and help others in need. I hope one
day to walk in the dojo with my son, Ajay Mathur, now 17 months old. Until then,
once a student, always a student.