A Teacher Moves On...
Remembering Sensei Dawn Callan
I met Sensei Dawn Callan earlier this year (six months ago?) although I’d heard her voice as part of Steven Barnes THE WARRIOR’S JOURNEY class, which I had taken last year, and was most impressed with her interviews with him.
She had a voice that seemed to somehow reach inside your chest and grab you by the heart. I’ve known one or two folks like that in the past, but none quite like Dawn.
She was a martial artist, writer, and instructor, but most of all, she was awake.
Earlier this year, I began working with her as her student. Due to pandemic concerns, it was all virtual, but it was far from… simple, I’d say, she challenged me in a unique fashion (as great instructors and coaches do), and suffice to say, I am also not easy myself, either. I tend to be challenging as well.
But progress was made, and I noticed it immediately in my training and in my writing.
In fact, my COMPANION CHRONICLES series was launched this fall with her encouragement, and the most recent paperback copy is likely on her doorstep today. Dawn was an integral part of this series happening as it has and believed in it more than perhaps I did myself. She felt what was being said in these stories was important. As a writer, I’m always a bit shy about writing or saying stuff like that. Writers aren’t supposed to talk like that. And I write to entertain, in the end. Sensei Dawn was adamant that I also write to make the world better, too.
She said that’s why she taught, also, to make the world better.
It was a concept that I struggled with in the months we worked together. I learned a lot from her, much of it below the surface of my understanding and I’m still working on comprehending it. She told me that’s how it would be, too.
Dawn passed onward this weekend (Saturday morning) and, given her age and health concerns, it wasn’t necessarily a surprise, but it was still a bit of a shock for me and my family (she’d become close to all of us) for it to happen that sudden.
Though my current novel FREEDOM RUN launched on Sunday, I couldn’t bring myself to send an announcement out. I had much to think about and consider.
I’d lost my mother two and a half years ago, and while I was fortunate that I got to spend her last days with her (of which I plan to write about at a later date), in many ways having Dawn in my life the past months gave me the opportunity to talk about things I still needed to talk about with my mother. I’ll be forever grateful for that.
We’d spoken last Wednesday at length and while conversations with Dawn often felt organic (and, well, they kinda were) there was always an intent behind her words and actions. She never stopped aiming for truth, never stopped being a teacher. What was fascinating was how she could work an inspiration or insight in from a seed planted weeks or months earlier, and make it appear before you as though it was magic.
And maybe it was.
I’d just sent her HOMO DEUS, the sequel to SAPIENS, and we were discussing both books at length and talked about animals. She loved animals and considered golden retrievers to be angels in canine form, a phrase I loved. It was also a dog she aligned with, spiritually. She loved all animals, but Goldens were “her,” the ones she identified with the most. Very loving, very kind and supportive, fiercely protective.
She asked me what “my” dog was, and I’d told her I’d always been fond of bull terriers and hoped to own one someday. I kind of identified with them. Plus, my family and I always thought there was a bit of a physical resemblance between me and the bull terrier (face-wise) and always laughed about it. Dawn chuckled at that, too.
”You know that’s not a sheepdog or a shepherd, that’s a fighting dog,” Dawn noted. “You realize that, yes?”
That hit me deep because an earlier talk of ours, regarding martial arts and self-defense, was about the difference between wolves (predators) and sheepdogs (protectors).
I’d always identified with the latter in my journey as a martial artist (as do many of my brethren) but Dawn’s Wednesday observation was that I was identifying with a creature that was bred to fight… for sport.
Not survival, not for the protection of others, but for sport.
”You don’t have to fight for the entertainment of others anymore, Joshua,” I believe she said, but I don’t know if she said it out loud or in my head.
But it was said.
I will miss her, very much, and I absolutely learned from her.