We had the good fortune of connecting with Dawn Croft and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Dawn, the decisions we make often shape our story in profound ways. What was one of the most difficult decisions you’ve had to make?
The question of whether I would continue running the dojo after my Sensei’s passing was more difficult than anything I’ve had to wrestle with before or since. It was mid-2018, and I had been there ten years. The dojo and its members were lodged deep in my heart, and I certainly felt a profound obligation to continue the legacy of my teacher’s life’s work–but I knew that honor, duty, and even love would not be enough to sustain me in the end. The school would, sooner or later, become an albatross and a burden–someone else’s dream–if I didn’t feel called to do from a purely authentic space and for my own reasons. Complicating things was the fact that I had been a traveler my whole life, picking up everything and moving on over half a dozen times by age 35–and I loved the freedom of it. But a dojo is a community, a family, a physical structure, a church. You don’t just shoulder it and take it with you on the road.
So as hard as his dying was in itself, I did some even harder inner work in the months leading up to the day cancer took him. And though I was blessed with close friends and trusted advisors, ultimately it was a question that only I could answer for myself from the bedrock of my being–one, as far as I had framed it, that would define the boundaries of the rest of my life. Committing to this dojo and taking responsibility for its future would have to be a lifelong promise. Anything less wasn’t worth committing to at all.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve loved martial arts since I was fifteen years old, but I never really saw myself in charge of a school–much less a style. That crown was placed on my head well before I thought I was capable of or ready for the responsibility. But our mentors (and by extension the wider universe) usually have a far more accurate picture of the level of challenge we’re able to rise to than we do ourselves. They’re not saddled with our self-doubts, after all.
I’m mostly wired as a Lone Ranger type. The idea of forging a solitary path is part of what enchanted me about karate when I was young, and my early adulthood involved a lot of me riding off into whatever sunset had charmed me without much thought of how it would affect others. But in my heart I was always longing for a powerful community that preserved individuality while accomplishing huge things–and that’s exactly what the dojo has become. Losing our Sensei, going through a stressful location change, and navigating the crazy and unpredictable challenges of the pandemic has fortified and enlivened us into something that hums with joy, clarity of purpose, and even greater potential. When I walk into my school, I can hardly believe I’ve been chosen as the person to lead such an incredible group of huge-hearted, searingly intelligent, wildly diverse human beings. And just when I think we’ve found nearly all of them, more show up–and stay. We don’t really advertise or market anything. These amazing people just find us, and know they’ve found a home when they get here. Time and again it’s, “Thank you. I’ve been looking for something like this for so long.”
Everyone has their own picture of what martial arts are, or what goes on in a traditional martial arts dojo. And there are plenty of spinoffs on the traditional model–almost all of them offering something positive, I believe, to the community. But so many of us are craving a practice that increases physical vitality without being punishing or tedious, promotes healthy emotional regulation without a therapist’s couch, challenges our minds and inspires our curiosity without an academic structure–and ultimately calls us back to who we are in a way that feels deeply spiritual and quietly personal. Through my own journey and those of my students I know that this path can provide all of those things to those who are called to it, and I do my best to craft training experiences that address all these forms of human growth while remaining true to our traditional Japanese lineage, grounded in sound biomechanics and energy principles, and woven through an unshakable community of dedicated seekers and kind souls. Put simply, we’re all just trying to be better people, and I think that often makes our school feel like a fresh, inexhaustible spring–a sanctuary and a touchstone in the midst of our sometimes chaotic professional and family lives. It’s something we do for ourselves, but the goodness always ends up spilling out into our families, business, and projects as well.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I adore this city, heat and all–and it’s only gotten more magnificent in the last ten or so years. The fact that you can immerse yourself for hours hiking the desert right in the middle of the city on the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, tool through Arcadia where there’s a headlining, chef-driven restaurant (or three) every block, or escape on a five-star staycation at half a dozen resorts within a 20-minute drive, makes Phoenix an incredible place to live.
A few of the must-dos for a weeklong visit would include a twilight stroll through the Desert Botanical Gardens, a field trip to Ranch Market at 16th and Roosevelt (México in our backyards!), a drive up South Mountain for a sunset-and-city-lights picnic, a meal at Asi es la Vida (for true Mexican, not Tex-Mex cuisine) and the Teepee (HERE is your pile of melted cheese!), an early lunch on the stunning patio at Chelsea’s (eat the cornbread), and a nightcap overlooking the city at the Thirsty Camel at the Phoenician. And there’s so, so much more.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Most of the credit goes to my late teacher, Soke Rudy Crosswell, founder of Kurobayashi-ha Shito-ryu Karate-do and Okinawan Kokurin Kobudo at the Arizona Budokan Academy of Martial Arts and Inner Studies–and to our amazing instructor team, students, and families who have supported us in the years following his passing.
I’d also like to thank the Arizona Pranic Healing community, particularly Drs. Rhonda Steinke and Jeff Potts at Heath Through Prana and Health Through Nature in Tempe, for tirelessly supporting the local energy healing and meditation classes that inform many of the principles we rely on at the Arizona Budokan to enhance our training.
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