Sensei

Jun 12, 2015
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Transcript

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

OK, so I moved to Japan to attend the first year of a very, very, very small school. One of our professors was this guy, Teramoto-sensei(ph). And Teramoto-sensei is a bad-a** in every way it is possible to be a bad-a**. He is respected as one of the top Japanese art historians in the world. Studied as a fifth dan black belt, which in lay terms means that once you get your regular black belt, you haven't even begun to contemplate dreaming about a fifth dan. In fact, they'll kick you in the teeth for even saying it.

Anyway, he's cool. He's got this in-depth knowledge of Japanese culture and teaches me basic forms of etiquette. Glynn, don't just stick your chopsticks to a bowl of rice. That means you are offering food to the departed. Glynn, pour your beer holding the bottle with two hands. It shows respect. Remember, you represent your school. We represent each other.

He spoke of the way of the samurai - of the Bushido Code. The way to die with honor so that one trained in the Bushido - when falling off a mountain, they will not scream, but only accept their fate. While someone untrained will holler and yell, even though there's nothing to be done. The problem was that Teramoto-sensei taught Japanese art history, where we go into a dark room. A student volunteer operated a slide projector while Teramoto-sensei showed us slides of statues and temples and paintings. And it usually took me five or 10 minutes, at the most, before I was fast asleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF LECTURER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Glynn-san. (Foreign language spoken).

WASHINGTON: I wake up quick. Try to play it off. Wipe the drool from off the side of my face. I vow to do better. Next day, back to the slides. We'd stare pictures of old Buddhist statues. And we had have to learn what the various hand gestures symbolized, or something another. One finger up meant the first incarnation of the ways of the thing that went around. And there I was, asleep again in the class in Teramoto's class.

(SOUNDBITE OF LECTURER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Glynn-san. (Foreign language spoken).

WASHINGTON: And because everyday I'd fall asleep in class, no matter what I did, it embarrassed me to see Teramoto-sensei say out of class. But I loved him outside of class. He'd say stuff like, what would you rather be - a snowball or a rock? And I didn't know. And I wanted to find out. I wanted him to like me. And one day, he said something like - the real student will find a way to climb the mountain. And I knew - I just knew he was speaking to me. How could I find a way to climb the mountain?

Finally, I understood that I would dive into the eye of the storm. I would volunteer to be the person turning the slides, for then, only then, would I stay awake. I ask him, may I operate the projector? He looks at me for a long while, then nods. And I take over the terminal and wait for instruction. I hold the slide clicker in my hand. Teramoto-sensei commences the lecture. This statue is from the Heian period. All right? Next slide, please. I click. This one is from the Edo period. I was so tired. It's like kryptonite. Next slide, please. Click. This is from the Muromachi period. Next slide. Next slide, please. Next slide. Someone smacked me upside the head. Even holding the clicker didn't work. I was fast asleep, no matter how hard I tried.

I see him after class and he tells me, the cat that runs into the fire will never get stuck. What? The water tastes of mountain and the mountain tastes of water. And I promised him that I would think on that, which I did. For several years, I contemplated. I thought hard on everything he had taught me. I finished school. I got a job. I had experiences. And one day, living in Ann Arbor, I saw a poster that the great man himself would be giving a lecture at the art school. I gathered up my fellas. And when Teramoto-sensei came out on the stage, there were five of us former students sitting in the front row.

He looked down at us and I saw real joy in his eyes. I saw it. He nodded. We nodded back. Then, he proceeded with his lecture. And he dimmed the light to show some slides. I fell asleep. Afterwards, when we took him out to eat, I had to ask him, what was all that stuff about? Why did the lion dance in winter? How does the wind smell the grasshopper? What were you trying to teach us? (Laughter) Teach you? He laughed and laughed. Teach you? Glynn, I just wanted you to have nice dreams.

Today, on SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, we proudly present "The Guide," amazing stories from real people taking us where we need to go. My name is Glynn Washington. Please hold my hand, as I do not want you to fall off, 'cause this is SNAP JUDGMENT. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.