Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Philosophical discussions and when to have them


There a handful of subjects that have popped up lately, not only with me, but also pertaining to the dojo, that don't exactly fall within the normal realm of class discussion. They relate to budo, to be sure, but not necessarily the techniques themselves (I talked about the balance of philosophical and technical approach to the techniques themselves here).

Rather these topics pertain to the more... I don't know, "peripheral" aspects of budo. Actually, now that I think of it, it probably pertains to "reishiki" or etiquette, at least in part. But by etiquette, I mean more than just referring to your teacher as "sensei" or bowing at the right time and place (although that kind of thing is part of it).

It extends to how you treat the dojo itself, the art itself, other martial artists, other schools, your gi and obi, your weapons, the people around you even when you're not working directly with them.

Consider that last one: if I work with you one-on-one for any amount of time, I bow to you at the beginning of our session and at the end, and you do likewise. But what comes in between? How do I maintain the spirit of that bow when dealing with the class as a whole?

Part of the problem is, there's not as much "bowing" going on as perhaps there should be, literal or figurative.

Now, before I go any further, let me first make it emphatically clear that this dojo (including the people in it) is a truly wonderful place just as it is. I would rather spend time there than pretty much any other edifice on planet earth outside of my own home. And that's no accident. But we can always improve, right? Our own budo training is a daily reminder of that.

For starters, I think I need to start by remembering to bow when I'm supposed to. I owe it to the dojo, to the art, to my current teachers and to the teachers who have come before me, to my peers, and to my students. (I can't very well criticize anyone for a lack of etiquette when I myself am one of the chief offenders, now can I?)

I also want to seriously consider the words that come out of my mouth in the course of a lesson or discussion. Are they course and foul, even if only spoken in the spirit of humor? Or do they uplift and encourage?

I heard somewhere that the subconscious mind doesn't understand or "get" sarcasm like the conscious mind does. So, for example, while you might joke with your friend about how "dumb" he is, his conscious mind may laugh, but his subconscious mind takes the word at face value, and deep deep down, believes it. Why does that kind of humor come so easily to us, me included? Perhaps another deep-seated need on our part to belittle others to make ourselves feel better?

Well, that's a whole other discussion in and of itself. The point is, our choice of words matter, and the atmosphere and spirit of a place can whiter or blossom depending upon them. In you own careers, have you ever had the misfortune to work with a person that some might label as a "toxic personality"? I have, and it's amazing how they can change things for the worse, just by their attitude.

But all of this, then, raises another question: where and when is it appropriate to have this sort of discussion? For some reason, at our dojo at least, it feels rather awkward to broach such a subject in the midst of class, as if class is for discussing the techniques and how to do them, nothing else.

Yet, didn't Ueshiba often speak of love and peace and harmony in direct conjunction with his art? I don't really know the answer to that, since I was never there, nor do I know anyone who was, but I think I've heard tales along those lines.

I don't know the answer. As I said before, I suppose the best start is with me, and let that suffice for now.


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