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April 2009

51. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 7

"The unexamined life is not worth living."    Socrates

Lets sum up where we are in our search for Humans.

First, knowledge of self or who we are and how we got here is critical both for improving our own self image, understanding our actions, reactions, provocations and responses and then using that knowledge of self to gain a better understanding of others and why they are who they are, all of which lifts us out of the rut of just being a drone and enables us to better communicate with others, most especially our students,

Second, how we present ourselves to others has impact on their opinion of us and by extension, our opinion of ourselves; after all, if others view us as ignoble slobs who dress like a chimney sweep on a windy day, then we likely will not have a high opinion of ourselves either, our self-image being dependent upon how others act towards and treat us.  Once we understand US, then we should use our new understanding of image and presentation to gauge how others (including our students) view themselves as portrayed by their public presentations (do they have elegance or view/dress like they have zero self-respect with that lack of self-respect translating to lack of respect for others)?

Socrates' quote is pretty indicative of much of his life philosophy and teachings and should become a part of who you are if you are to excel in life and in Aikido and as a Sensei.  Oh, and just because you do not run your own dojo does not mean that you, as a senior Yudansha in whatever dojo you train at, are not a Sensei if not an actual exemplar.

The kohai look up to you so if you have no self-respect, present a slovenly image and allow your internal insecurities to flow across the tatami like a garden hose left on high in the front yard then guess what; they will parrot your low-class, pedestrian example and will become less than the Budoka that you claim you want to portray.  In a very real sense they will become (the lesser and pedestrian) you; instead of surpassing you as all parents should desire for their child and all Sensei should desire for their students.

A life lived shallowly and only on the surface with no recognition of what is underlying (much less any degree of understanding that could actually lead to ...... gasp! ...... CHANGE FOR THE BETTER) is exactly how the vast majority of people (pedestrians again) live for their entire lives.

Socrates was right.  Each of us has a responsibility for examining his/her own life and heeding that higher call to look deeply at ourselves such as;

  • What are our motivations?
  • What are our fears and are any of them even rational?
  • Can we tell the difference between right and wrong and how do we make the decision of when to be judgemental (in making that determination of right vs. wrong) and how do we act upon it?
  • What makes any individual special?
  • What are our personal core values and do we follow them in our actions with ourselves and towards others, or do we talk a good game but never follow the game plan?
  • What mistruths and logical fallacies have we had programmed into us by others (our family of origin for example) and of those which have value, and which should be discarded as fast as we can walk to the trash can to pitch them in?
  • How do we determine what about us needs to be changed, or left as is?

It is my firm opinion that none of us will ever complete this task but that we should attempt it nonetheless.  To do otherwise (to not make that painful effort) menas that not only are we not human but that we do not need to be a Sensei or an exemplar and lead others into a live lacking introspection and personal growth.

A very old, very country but very real phrase and one that my prime Sensei used many times was, "A pigs' eyes weren't made to gaze upon the stars".  How true (unfortunately) for only a larger view, accompanied by a serious life-long effort to look at and understand the stars will enable us to become more than we are and one must become dis-satisfied with our current lot in life before we can begin to lift our gaze.

Here's a book you may find helpful; it did me.

The Examined Life: Philosophical Meditations  by Robert Nozick

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas
April 2009

50. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 6a

Yes; I'm cheating by putting 6a but since the office looks like an Alaskan "White-Out" during a seal hunt I thought I'd put this up, catch your attention and come back later today or the next and address it .................

As we mature, grow older, gain seasoning (life seasoning, not Emeril-like) AND understand ourselves better (there's that self-awareness thing again) we should consider that Aikido can become a means by which we fill the hole in our soul and find purpose.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, Texas
April 2009

49. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 6

"Clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society."  Mark Twain

Now that we've beaten the dead horse of self-awareness several times, we should have at least a glimmer of why understanding ourselves will help us understand and communicate better with others; including other Aikido players who may or may not be a good "fit" for your dojo and are safe on the mat (as in not abusing other players).

It can be tough but if you as Sensei judge someone to be "not worthy" then take a stand, make a decision and be judgmental as you kick them to the curb.  Understanding you and your motivations allows you to make a better judgment call since that understanding will allow you to evaluate their motivations more readily than is possible were you to be wrapped up in your own issues, and unable to see past the trauma sitting on the end of your own nose.

Mark Twain's quote is interesting and I was fairly old before I knew where it came from since my parents drilled it into my skull from when I was wearing diapers.  (I'm old enough to have actually worn diapers, the cloth kind that mom had to wash by hand and boil because Pampers hadn't been invented yet).  Becoming human and refusing to remain a pedestrian encompasses a much broader swath of the universe than just undergoing self-imposed psycho-analysis.

"Clothes make the man" ...... ????? .... Hmmmmm.

Science has proven that when you meet someone for the very first time it takes no longer than 30 seconds for you to form your permanent impression of them (and them of you); a snap judgement that they'll have to really go to some effort over time to change.

30 seconds (some studies say it's actually less than 10 seconds).  That's pretty quick but it likely stems from our cave man days when you topped the ravine and met Mr. Ugh for the first time.  Was he there to kill you, steal your woman and make your baby his personal valet, or was he just looking for his lost rock.  Since it was truly Darwinian times and only, ONLY, the strong, tough, mean and devious survived and you couldn't sit down to break bread before judging him (there was no bread for one thing, only fruits, nuts and raw meat).  In response, mankind's evolution created this snap decision process in our subconscious minds that allowed those who had it and could use it to survive.  YOU are their descendant which means you have it too and you use it daily whether you realize it, or not.

Back to Mark Twain.  I read an article in the newspaper this week that says it all and also shows one big difference between a pedestrian and a human.

Humans rise above the rest of the pack and strive to be the Alpha dog regardless of whether the pack that stays behind resents it or not.  Unlike the Beta dogs (the pedestrians) the human has a goal, a larger view or a longer term view that makes them dissatisfied with their current lot in life.  Part of this rising above is ........ ta da ....... dressing better in all facets of life.  Remember another old saying, "If you want to be the President then dress like the President and not the yard boy."

The article said that due to being PC ("politically correct") then denim (blue jeans) has become the means by which people "downgrade" their appearance.  This doesn't mean that blue jeans cannot be "dressy".  They certainly can be if done correctly as part of a larger couture idea, but when it becomes a matter of jeans being acid stressed with holes cut into them on purpose, baggy, dirty, not washed or pressed or in a word, "slovenly"; then the wearer is making a deliberate attempt (subconscious or no) to follow the premise of "thou shalt not dress better than society's most slovenly.  To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism - of believing that appearance matters."  (the little "...." indicates a direct quote from the newspaper article)

Huh ....... what about that first 30 second snap judgement of that person met for the first time??????  No matter, lets go on.

"That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste."

WHAT THE HELL!  There IS good and bad taste and we use that first 30 seconds to decide whether that guy we just met has one or the other and by that determine whether we intend to be his friend, co-worker, drinking buddy, or uke that we give our body to for practice.

Grrrr .............. let us not digress into vehement criticism of pedestrian thought processes no matter how entertaining or intelligent or elegant/sophisticated they may not be.......

"Denim (or just badly fitted and cared for clothes period) is the carefully calculated costume of people eager to communicate indifference to appearances.  But the appearances that people choose to present in public are cues from which we make inferences about their maturity and respect for those to whom they are presenting themselves."

Thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU for stating why we should choose to become human and elevate ourselves above the pedestrians and the crabs down in the crab pot who are merrily boiling away and trying to pull us back down to their base level as we scramble to escape to a better quality of existence.

OK Sensei and all you Sensei to be; take this and apply it to people you know on the job and in the dojo and start to link how people care for their personal appearance with how they act at work or on the mat.

Then go buy some better clothes for yourself and see if they are tailored correctly and while you're at it get yourself some really good French cologne to top it off and gain a little "elegance" for yourself.  Japanese sometimes think Americans smell like spoiled milk because of all the cheese products in our diets so let us prove them to be mistaken.

Ciao (I forgot the Japanese for "Later Dude")

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
April 2009

48. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 5

"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, a boy's love, or a whore's oath."

The Fool from King Lear

By this time I'm assuming that you've at least considered beginning a very personal study of what makes you tick.  Along with that first book, I also recommend a second.  Both of these books are entry level and the second is regarded as a "pop icon" but if they begin to spur your interest then I've succeeded in making you take a step back and think about not only who you are, but in recognizing a little of yourself in others and becoming an observer of others' behaviors, thinking about who they really are (beneath the surface of the public mask that we wear to hide our "true selves); a talent that can be learned and developed and one that is critical to successfully running a high level dojo.  Here are the books again and then on with King Lear ("...cry havoc and loose the dogs of war....")

Born To Win: Transactional Analysis With Gestalt Experiments by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward

I'm OK - You're OK by Dr. Thomas Harris

OK Sensei; so why the Shakespeare this morning?  Are you bored or what? 

No, just frustrated at work issues so I'd thought I'd continue the current stream of unconsciousness.

In dealing with clients in my insurance practice I have to rely on intuition in understanding truth from lie.  As a field underwriter, I have to submit only the truth to the Underwriters for final policy pricing and binding.  Knowing or sensing when someone is being misleading or just telling an outright lie enables me to change the direction of the information gathering interview process and modify the questions so as to not embarrass or flat accuse the prospect/client but instead to "corner" them and dig out the truth.

Before I became an insurance agent this skill was really critical when I was in commercial banking as a problem loan workout officer.  I was managing a loan portfolio over $500 million in size for the RTC during the S&L crisis in the mid-80's and knowing truth from lie was more than a little important in re-negotiating credit facilities and deciding when to execute on the guaranty agreements.

Also important to understanding how to use this talent is ..... knowing yourself.....!  You cannot effectively negotiate or understand the opponents/opposition/borrower rep/Aikido player unless you understand yourself so that you do not project your insecurities onto the person that you are interfacing with.  Doing so interferes with effective interpersonal communications.

OK ......... so to sum up this installment pedestrians make snap judgements and over react to situations and project their internal issues onto the person they are talking with.

So do you think this may explain why talking to some people is like talking to a toilet?  It just repeats the same talking points and pretty soon you give up and walk away.  They are unable to see how what they say impacts you and cannot see your response nor adjust their comments to match you in finding the most effective means of communciations.

Humans slow down and step back and try to understand where you are coming from and why you are reacting the way that you are and this stepping back also allows them to make that determination of truth vs. non-truth. 

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
April 2009

47. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 4

We've been discussing (well actually I've been mono-blogging) about people vs. humans; a blog-o topic I thought about after reading the latest installments of Dune where some of the main characters talk about the differences between the two.

Thus far my prime point has been that the world is chock full of people (or pedestrians) who could improve their lives if they so chose but, due to the overall impact of live experiences choose not to.  This may be due to emotional trauma or hard wiring or current life circumstances or bad spousal relationships or controlling parental units or they are, as my great aunt used to say, "star crossed".  Whatever the reason, they simply do not make good martial artists and every aspect of their flaws and negative outlook on life spills all over the tatami and destroys what is supposed to be a positive experience for all.

My point is this; how can anyone be a good Sensei and give guidance to those who could benefit the most if the Sensei himself is so flawed that not only can they not give guidance and support to young up and coming players, they can't even understand why they fly off the handle or deal with their own life issues off the mat and bring that garbage onto the mat?

Understanding who you are as Sensei, recognized that you have flaws, those flaws based in your own life experiences and finding mature responses to deal with those flaws, will do two things; make you a better person and enable you to recognize those issues in others.  After dealing with "you" and understanding just "who you are" and "how you view and deal with life" you gain a new ability to recognize those issues in prospective students and after filtering out those who are truly fatally flawed and who simply cannot be helped, you can take those who have true potential and who WANT your help in developing their potential and guide them to a new understanding of their relationship to the universe.

Wow Wilkinson Sensei, that sounds really esoteric and wonderful.

No, not really and I'm not blowing smoke up my own hakama either.  I've just had some hard lessons that resulted from my not understanding "me".  I was so introverted that I failed to recognize the potential problem in others.  I was too "self-focused" to notice.  After many years of those hard lessons (in some cases the Sensei' that I trained under very directly telling me to "get a winch and pull your head out of your .....") I began to question myself which led to me reading books and seeking lay therapy and talking to other players who were older, wiser and more senior than I as part of a very serious effort to be calmer, more confident, less insecure and less immature and wiser in how I dealt with everyone around me.

As a result, I now do my best to be objective and observing and I hestitate before making a strong move so that I can be certain it is necessary; all of which comes from the self-awareness that as a very young man/teenager/young adult I was sometimes (only sometimes? ;-)....) impulsive and acted before I thought.

Like I said, understand who you are.  Go buy that book I mentioned in Part 1 of this series and get busy finding out who you are and view it as a growth experience.  Also, like I said before, keep it private and don't tell anyone that you are doing that.  If they know it will make your self-conscious and you will not be honest with yourself.

Don't worry ............ I've beaten this dead mule enough so we'll start looking at other ways to become "fully human" and a better Aikido player and Sensei.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

46. We Shihan Sift People to Find the Humans - Part 3

So there you are; sitting in your Big Sensei Chair (ya' gotta capitalize it, that chair is important, just like that cup of coffee and the banjo ...... :-O  ?) and in walks a potential new student.  The parent who brought them in is very energetic and interested and asks a ton of questions and says that Little Johnny or Little Janey have really been looking forward to training with you.  The child, maybe not a child, maybe a young adult, maybe someone in their 20's or 30's, looks, appears interested but says .......................... NOTHING!  As T. Williams put it, "Big Daadddy" speaks for mee".

OK Sensei, QUICK! ................ give me an estimate of the new students' personality and whether or not they'll be a fit for your dojo!

Wait a minute you say ............ that's not fair ............. I haven't even spoken to them yet so how can I give a fair and balanced estimation of their personality?

Duh!  Every sales motivational course in the world including Dale Carnegie and The Franklin Planner course (2 of the best known and most reputable) teaches what is well proven in all psychological studies; that is, whether we realize it or not we form an opinion about that person in the first 30 seconds we meet them.  So, give me an estimation of the new students' personality!

When I was younger, my father and grandfather both were very dynamic, forceful individuals and as a result, I sometimes felt browbeaten to the point to where in public I was told to be seen and not heard.  So when they weren't there I cut loose and became too loud and too concerned about being seen and heard.  Understanding myself and the influences from my family of origin that colored my growth, and the steps that I had to take to become my own person, allows me to gain a little more control and comprehension about snap judging other people, and it enables me to get control of my impulses and learn to be a lot more circumspect about how and when I step out to interact with other "humans" (I have a great distaste for dealing with "pedestrians" in case you haven't guessed by now).

Whether you or I like it (or not) is immaterial; that 30 second decision exists and has been proven time and time again.  So, do you want to do the 30 second decision subconsciously, not even realizing that you are doing it and running your dojo based on not understanding that it exists, or do you want to have a little more control over it, knowing that you can only acquire that knowing by studying yourself and understanding the emotions each situation brings forth in you, and then by doing so perhaps recognize a little of yourself in others which gives you a little more compassion and insight and a little more ability to manage your relationship them?

Just a thought for today so have you bought that book yet and gone thru' all the exercises yet?  Do you know why you yell at your kids and sound like your mother?  Do you have a little better feel for why you act and react and instigate and passively sit in defined circumstances or push your spouses' buttons?  Are you ready to be a high level player or Sensei but not willing to become a student of other people by becoming a student of yourself?

My 30 second snap judgement; the parent is a massive control freak who just brought their 30 year "child" to the dojo because dad thinks it's a good idea.  The 30 year old is divorced with children so they possibly got divorced because they married someone like their father or mother who exerted control until they got fed up and walked out.  The 30 year old, once amputated from their control freak parental unit, will go one of two ways on the tatami once they get to Yudansha (maybe sooner) and that infamous psychosis known as "Shodan-itis" kicks in.

The first possibility is for them to become their parental unit and control and dominate other younger players.  They will end up being thrown out of the dojo should they not be able to grow out of this programming from the family of origin because their negativity casts such a large shadow across your mat and could cost you good students.

The second possibility is that give sufficient positive reinforcement and encouragement as part of normal mat discipline, they grow out of that submissive, childish role and become a good player who encourages other younger players to also grow and mature.  The dojo, and you, saved them from a life of becoming their parent and never growing into their full potential which after all, is SUPPPOSED to be what Budo, and by extension Aikido, is all about.  Right?

Understanding "You" helps you understand "Them" such that you can guide them and offer them the right encouraging comment at the right time in the right way so that you spur them on.  Understanding "You" allows you to take off the blinders and either decide to NOT take that prospective student (because you get a little itch in the back of your skull that says, "Watch out, there's something not quite kosher here", or that itch says, "Yes, they likely have some issues but they really want to learn and I think that they'll be well worth my time and effort to help them become a really good Aikido player".

Go buy the book and figure this one out for yourself.  Later on in this series, we'll discuss the idea of being a self-starter.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
April 2009