Written by Vanessa R. Sasson
This piece isn’t about a festival or a great show. It is about a funeral I recently attended, one that was not covered by any media outlet, but that should have been.
It was a funeral for a great Kyokushin Karate teacher – Shihan Raynald Lammare. He died suddenly on July 23rd, 2016, of a massive heart attack. He was only 56 years old.
I have been practicing Kyokushin Karate for the past few years and like everyone else, was stunned by the news. Shihan Ray – as he was known – was not my teacher, but I did have the privilege of training with him for an intensive weekend just a few weeks ago. He was exuberant, boisterous, loving, and inspiring. He was powerful and yet gentle at the same time.
His family pulled the funeral together quickly, scheduling it for three days later – on a Tuesday. I assume that they were in deep shock. They decided on a small funeral home in Terrebonne. Given the size of the funeral home they chose, I don’t think they expected many people to come.
But Shihan Ray was a great teacher and he was, for many, a mentor. Perhaps even a spiritual friend. He was a leader in the Karate community, pulling thousands of students through the challenge of having to face themselves through their training. It is therefore no surprise that when the day was done, more than 3000 people had passed by to pay their respects.
I have never seen a lineup like what I saw that night. Thousands of people waiting respectfully in line, block after block after block, hoping to have a moment to offer their gratitude to this man who had offered so much. Locals in the community would stop and stare at the unbelievable line pouring out of the little funeral home, wondering what was going on.
I don’t think I ever realized, until last night, what I had gotten myself into when I first started practicing Kyokushin Karate. I thought it was just about getting back into shape, or entertaining myself a bit after work.
But every once in a while, I get an inkling that I have joined something much bigger and more profound than that, and last night, it hit me more than ever. I found myself standing in line with all kinds of people, all of whom were speaking with love and kindness to each other. I saw a little boy who came to the funeral dressed in his karate gi, his belt tied firmly and proudly around his waist, waiting his turn late at night with everyone else. I saw people dressed simply, while others came dressed in suits.
One man ahead of me was covered in tattoos and had a sharp Mohawk on his head. He stood stiffly, his back straight, his eyes focused as though he was trying to hold himself together. When we finally got inside, I watched as he broke down and cried in the arms of one of the family members. I don’t know who that man was, but he seemed to have travelled a great distance in his life, and that this teacher was the one who helped him along the way.
I saw so many people, but most inspiring of all was Shihan Ray’s family. They stood in line and received every single person. All the many thousands of us. Their feet must have been in agony, but every one of them stood there, receiving each person, shaking hands, sharing hugs, responding to the community’s outpouring with dignity and love. One person in the receiving line shook my hand and said, “Thank you so much for waiting. We appreciate it so much.” I don’t know who this person was – I didn’t know any of them – but here this man was, thanking me, caring for me, when he had just lost a family member. He had been standing there for hours and yet he was the one thanking me.
I cannot express sufficiently the awe I felt that night. Our society can be so cruel and disrespectful. We throw people away the way we toss obsolete iPhones. We don’t care for people or honor each other very much. We live in a disposable world, where walking away from friendships, family members, and communities is a matter of course.
And yet here, in this small neighborhood on the outskirts of Montreal, thousands of miles from Japan, a community formed around a few extraordinary teachers – Shihan Ray being one of the great ones – who brought the lessons of love and respect back home. Lessons we once knew, but we have long since abandoned. Shihan Ray was a tremendous figure in the karate community, and the community came out to recognize him, to honor him and the lessons he so consistently offered.
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