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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Master of Teachings

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Michael Coleman began his path in martial arts at the age of 4, instructed by his uncle in karate. Nineteen years ago he opened the Futen Dojo at 1338 E. Brady St., and a second dojo followed at 2234 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Coleman was the subject of the 2008 documentary The Gift of Traditional Martial Arts to the Modern World, in which he and his teacher, Grand Master Shoto Tanemura, demonstrated the positive influences of learning martial arts. On a recent afternoon Coleman instructed a class of students on proper techniques. After the session, I joined the sensei in his office, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the Japanese table he uses as a desk.

What are some misconceptions about martial arts?

There are a lot. One misconception is about black belts. I have a sixth-degree black belt in ninpo and a sixth degree in jujutsu, and some people think that being a black belt means being an expert. People need to think of martial arts as something that develops over their whole lives. My teacher is over 60. I’ve trained with people that were 95 years old, the oldest master I trained with. And he was still able to defend himself, so martial arts to me are a lifelong thing.

What do you hope people take away from your classes?

I’ve been with my teacher 22 years, Grand Master Shoto Tanemura. What he did was start a very good student-teacher relationship. The Japanese word for “master” does not mean “master and slave,” like the connotation we have in English; it literally means “role model.”

What martial arts does is it gives you a very good and very safe place to learn more about yourself. By always challenging yourself, you learn something about yourself; something comes out of you that you wouldn’t normally have done. And in life, I believe the purpose of life is training. The world is a dojo. Your relationships with friends are training or a test of your judgment and maturity as a human being.

Is it better to turn the other cheek or fight back?

As you become better as a martial artist, you become better at judging those situations, so obviously the first step at defending yourself is to avoid. What I teach my students to do is to think about their day, and to think between here and my work, or here and my school, what are the points where I can be attacked?

What have been some personal highlights over the years?

Finding my teacher was definitely a highlight. Becoming a master, the title is kyoshi, which means “master of teachings,” that was a highlight because the test has to do with getting rid of aspects of your ego. I don’t think anyone can get rid of all of your ego, but switching from doing it for yourself and doing it for other people, that was a really significant thing for me.

Michael Coleman | Photo by David Herrell

Editor’s Note: The photo of Michael Schumacher for the May 14 “Off the Cuff” column was taken by Mikasi.