Monday, July 19, 2010

A little more patience, please


"Patience. I need more of it—and fast!"

So the old line goes. And as another old line goes, "It's funny because it's true."

In fact, it reminds me of the old "Tae Kwon Leap" skit. And when most of us in the martial arts world think about struggling with patience, we think of Ed Gruberman: the impatient beginner, the guy who wants to know how to trash some bozos now.

It sounds almost cliché, but it's odd, and even a little sad, how often I actually run into students in the dojo struggling with patience. They may not be as much of a jerk as Ed, mind you. Sometimes, they're nice, well-meaning people.

It's just that they're in way too much of a hurry. They always want to move on to the next technique, they want to do what their higher rank peers are doing before they're ready. Or they immediately question what you're trying to teach them. You know, "Well, so-and-so said you do it this way..." or question whether or not something will even work, as in "But what if a guy does this...?" or, once you show them something, they immediately want to know the counter, how to get out of it.

Right. If you've ever taught a MA class, you know what I'm talking about.

The ironic thing is, in those situations, patience isn't solely the problem of the student. As the teacher, it can become very tough very quickly to deal with such a student without wanting to just dump them on their head. Indeed, I've known a few fine teachers who have done just that (myself included). I know a current rokudan who started out a little strong-willed and had the pleasure of getting put through the ringer once or twice by our shared sensei's. Fortunately, he got the hint, and quickly became one of our dojos many great assets.

Unfortunately, I think that kind of result is fairly rare. Many never get the hint, and end up leaving. Do we then justify it? "They didn't have the right attitude anyway."

When it happens to me, I wonder about my own patience. How can I demand more patience of a student if I myself don't have enough patience to tolerate his behavior?

It is, I think, a matter of levels. Much like weight training, you start with a certain degree of weight, and you struggle with it. Over time, your muscles build and it becomes easier. At that point, you gradually increase the weight, and the struggle begins anew. I suppose I made it past the first round or so of "patience training" as it were. I'd have to ask my teachers if I ever asked the same dumb questions I just got finished making fun of, but I think I did what I was told for the most part, trusted my teachers and kept plugging away.

But patience, I find, is not a singular thing to be gained; it's not a literal Holy Grail, an object that, once found and possessed, means the quest is over. Like a muscle, it requires continual exercise to prevent it from succumbing to atrophy, and also requires increased resistance in order to strengthen. And it could always be stronger.

So how do you deal with those students? Surely, patience doesn't mean you simply sit back and tolerate their behavior, allowing it to go on unchecked? Perhaps it means finding a delicate, diplomatic way of explaining to them how their behavior may actually be hindering their progress?

I wish I knew the answer. By all means, if anyone has any thoughts or experience they could share, I'd be more than grateful to hear it.


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