And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye;
and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye?
Or how sayest thou to thy brother:
Let me cast the mote out of thy eye;
and behold a beam is in thy own eye?
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye,
and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Matthew 7. 3. – 5.
I have just retuned from the second weekend in a row of two awesome seminars with Franck Noël sensei. The second of which had a teacher’s class. I have been at these teacher’s classes two times pr. year for a couple of years now and they always bring something interesting to my mind. However, very often it happens to be something other than the actual focus of the class which stays with me years after the seminar. Time will show what will be my remaining feelings from this fall’s seminar, but right now there is one particular thing that is on my mind most of my waking hours.
The teacher’s class is from how I understand it open to whoever is interested, but concerns ideas and principles of teaching and helping others in aikido. I have never been much of a teacher myself, evading the responsibility at the slightest opportunity by leaving it to others more willing and more fitted to the role. However, I find it deeply intriguing how to transmit to others what we have experienced during our time in the keiko. This is pretty much identical to what we are doing on the tatami all the time during practice, in the communication between partners, but in a more formalised way.
There are many ideas about how teaching should be done. I will not go into what is right or wrong. I have my ideas, and everybody has their own. I am merely making and observation here. It goes for teaching, practicing, observing examinations and demonstrations, and life in general in fact.
So back to the teacher’s class: We usually get an assignment from Franck. What the assignment is wary from year to year, but we usually divide into groups of five to ten people to find solutions for the problem at hand. We discuss possible solutions, practice a bit and prepare to demonstrate our idea for the whole group. After each group has made it’s presentation we have a few minutes of discussion about that group’s contribution. This has been similar all years, but I noticed a tendency I think has been present at all these classes. I have not spoken much myself, but I have been thinking exactly as others have been saying. We have all been searching for mistakes.
When Franck makes his evaluations he is considering both positive and negative aspects of the solutions presented. However, from us students evaluating each other, we have only negative comments to the people making their contribution. I think of all the years I have been there, I can’t even think of a single exception from this. Nobody were ever pointing out something positive the others did or said. This even happens within the groups while discussing which solution to present.
This is not special for any particular group or seminar. In fact I believe it is human nature. Just look at any examination or test examination. Even at the post keiko throwing some might interfere sometimes with their opinions and commands for how it should be done. Or look at the commentary field of any YouTube video, from any field. We are all very eager to point out other’s mistakes. However, can we do better ourselves? And most of all, if we do have a solution, even if we can’t do it ourselves, will really that solution, considered all consequences of the changes we would have made to the presentation discussed, be any better?
Everybody has an opinion what is the best way to do it, but who gets to decide which one is universally better? I guess we have all heard somebody (maybe somebody important even) say: “You have to do it like this” at some point, but is that really true? That way has both advantages and disadvantages, just like every other way. There are consequences originating in every change we make. Of course, our excuse is that we are trying to help, but really, how does this help? Any fool can point out a problem, but finding a real solution is too challenging. And advising somebody to make a form with a different set of advantages and thus also disadvantages is not really any solution at all. However, our ego silently applauds us for being able to see the “mistake” though.
This is totally something I think is deeply important in regard to both teaching and practising in general. Our ego is naturally drawing us towards looking for the flaws of others. A teacher might say that it is to help the student improve, but what about suggesting a solution, and maybe even put focus on the solution instead of scolding a person for the mistake they made? This also applies similarly in the keiko. If we are looking for a mistake, we will most certainly find it. However, if we look for an opportunity, we might find that as well, and what is more useful?
I often hear laughing from people watching, when I fall easily, and I do not take it badly, because I understand where it comes from. We are doing a martial art, and it is not just playing around doing athletic movements. Still, when the road is clear for me and there is nothing in my way, I have no more concerns. It is done. In my mind I am not jumping, but rather launching off tori’s arms in the most natural way I am able to at my current level. I have no wish to stay behind and look for a possibility to sabotage what we are doing.
Some might have the idea that uke and tori are doing some kind of competition with each other. The way I see it we are playing the same music, only I play guitar while you are playing the drums. We will perform better if we both try to make it the best it can be, right? Because after four repetitions we exchange instruments and play the other role. If we try our best to sabotage for each other looking for mistakes we will probably make a horrible spectacle together. However, if we do try to make it work, it might in fact turn into something nice.
Sometimes I hear questions if something is possible, or the statement that something is impossible. Yes, how do we decide to call it possible or impossible? On what grounds? If one trying to prove that is possible would compete with one trying to prove that it is impossible it will most certainly become a mess. I do not think that any of the things we are doing in the keiko are supposed to be taken as exercises for preparing for battle situations or street fighting. We are studying principles through cooperative research. Each of the exercises are designed to be educational, not to be applicable in a violent situation. Of course, there are several opinions about this. I will not start an argument with those that disagree. I will not try to convince you, and you will certainly not change my focus of study.
Sometimes I find people who have been scolded by their teacher so many times for falling too easily, that they are becoming “muted partners”. The message is clear, but they stay behind looking around, wondering if they are allowed to fall now, looking if their teacher can see them. Of course, it is not ideal to fall by oneself, but that is also a way to learn how to make the fall. Sometimes it is a good exercise to do some ukemi practice without a partner or with an inactive partner just as support. Once the fall is second nature for us, and there is no fear connected to it, it is no problem at all to wait for the partner to send us on our way. At least that is how I feel. Standing behind being afraid to fall is the total beginner state, in my mind. And standing behind being scared of being scolded for throwing ourselves is a constructed dead end which I think is a consequence of this tendency we have as humans to point out mistakes of our fellow men.
However, there is a horrible trauma in many of us, thinking that it is not real unless we are behaving difficult towards our partners and try to resist each other. OK. I respect that. But, should we be scared to explore the subtleties of our art just because we are afraid to be bullied by dorks on the commentary fields of YouTube videos? So what if we are doing exercises which are not martial in themselves? So what if some part of the human population think that we are fake? If we believe in what we are doing it should be enough, right? Besides, on the tatami we will find 95% or more people who will look for a problem and stop us when they find it. Could it be useful for the whole environment to be the one who are always searching for the solution, both as tori and as uke?
An other interesting situation is if we see the sensei doing something we didn’t do before, and we were not paying enough attention to catch it? What do we do? What did we see? What did the teacher say? There are usually a few things we can start with no matter how little we understood. I have met people who would rather go and sit at the end of the tatami because they did not feel that they understood 100% of what the teacher was showing. Well… understanding comes with the keiko, so I believe that we have to start with what we have and make the best of it. Catching 100% of what was shown might not even be within our grasp within our lifetime, in fact, with some teachers. By searching for a solution it will be possible for us to practice. If we are looking for problems we would be standing there being overwhelmed with the number of problems we have found.
It is also very interesting how we look at life. Are we enjoying the beauty of the sunset at the beach, or are our eyes focusing on the doggy bags and used diapers in the garbage bin nearby? Or maybe we are disappointed that the Sun is not square instead of round, and the sky monochromatic instead of, you know, the spectacular sight that it is? Are we enjoying our dinner focusing on the amazing meal we are eating, or do we focus on the slightly incorrectly folded napkin? Most of us don’t really have a choice. We are where we are, because life put us in that position. Very often we are only seeing the problems because we are too stressed and under too much pressure to even look for the beauty of it all.
Sometimes we are not able to find a solution. I have experienced not being able to fall sometimes, even if I want to! The person throwing was trying so hard to throw that I really could not. Even bending the knees and just go down was impossible because of the tremendous weight which was on me. Of course the partner might assume that I was looking for a problem, but in that case I could just not find a solution.
Still. I find it a very interesting observation that everybody is so concerned with “helping” others with pointing out their mistakes, but very few have any solutions to offer. It goes both for the keiko, for teaching, and for life in general.
Enjoy your keiko. Aikido makes people happy!