“You must unlearn what you have learned.”—Yoda, Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)
Don Lorenzetti, my childhood karate teacher, my sensai, loomed large in the working-class Verdun of my youth. This is due, in part, to the extreme scarcity of worthwhile father figures in my neighborhood. At least a third of my friends lived, like me, in single-parent households where father was nowhere to be found; and at least half of those who did have fathers around, wished they didn’t—because dad was a drunk, a lazy loser, a teenager trapped in a man’s body, who smacked mom around from time to time, watched TV all day, and spent the rent. Don was the very opposite of this. He was a man who kept his promises, a grown man you could count on, and an adult who always acted like an adult.
In the midst of a thoroughly screwed-up neighborhood—wracked with record levels of unemployment, a pernicious culture of poverty, and all sorts of social problems—there was the Centre de Karaté Verdun: an island of order in the midst of a sea of urban chaos. Many of us looked up to Don. And for good reason: he was a thoroughly honourable man: a real mensch. He was more than just our sensei: for many of us, he was a moral exemplar and a fountain of wisdom. Though I’m 41 now, I find that I can remember much of what he said to us with astonishing word-for-word accuracy. And I can remember the only time I ever saw Don lose his temper.
A few boys had recently come to our karate school from a defunct dojo in LaSalle. The clueless charlatan running their martial arts school had taught them a remarkably stupid way of punching. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that punching this way in an actual fight pretty much guarantees that you’re going to break your wrist. Anyhow, because these students had practiced this bad way of punching thousands and thousands of times, it had become a kind of second nature for them, a very bad habit. So before Don could teach them how to punch properly, he had to first undo the damage done by their accursed education. It would take months, he once said, to get these new students to the place where most new students were on Day One. In the midst of a particularly difficult class, wherein three of these students injured their wrists severely, Don thundered: “It would be better if you knew nothing!” I see the wisdom in what Don said more and more with each passing year, especially now that I’m a teacher. What my students don’t know isn’t the problem; it’s some of what they think they know.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)