Today's "Snap Comment" as we clean-up the work before closing down for the week and reflect upon the eventful last 8 days.
Preparing & packing to make my first MA seminar road trip in several years. In fact, it is the first in almost 15 years in which I will be a student instead of the feature Sensei. I'm looking forward to it since it will be enjoyable to be able to just sit there and learn instead of spending three days being on point. Shucks .... I even washed my fundoichi for the trip. Sometimes being the Sensei is a little stressful since you feel that you have to really focus on presentation (and wearing a clean gi) and setting a good example for the deshi and the visitors and guests to see me and to emulate my presentation as Sensei. After all, if they are there to learn from you then you have to wear your best face and uphold your reputation.
This been an eventful week for me. I've expelled two senior Yudansha for cause, I've picked up a half-dozen new deshi during a bad economy, my insurance agency had an upswing this week, two old deshi whom I thought were gone both came back with compliments for how I run the dojo (after seeing everyone else out there in Budo-Land) and have re-upped and I picked up a very experienced Iwama Ryu Nidan who apparently really liked what he saw and is excited about new learning opportunities. On the other hand, I'm personally excited about working with someone with a decade in a different form of Aikido (but that is so similar) which reaffirms my view of hard work on the basics and exacting precision. I view it as an opportunity to expand my understanding and more particularly to expose my senior people to someone who brings experiences to the mat they don't have (yet).
When I was first in Aikido many years ago I had the great fortune to train under several people including a man who had an impeccable reputation for fairness, objectivity, ethics and moral behavior (in addition to having a dynamite foot sweep and Aikido randori game). I stayed with him as his student for about 20 years after having moved to Houston because he was, in many people's minds, THE exemplar of what a Judo/Aikido Sensei should be in how to teach and how to treat people fairly. Even after a disastrous divorce those of us who helped him thru' it commented to each other that he really was what he presented himself as being (a real Budo man who did what it took to survive, be positive and to move on with his training and his teaching).
Sadly, as time went by and life placed its burdens upon him, as it does us all, he changed; gradually over time but the change was apparent. Before, his policy had been to never discuss with his students or guests the big three forbidden topics (sex, religion, politics) or to criticize any other persons beliefs or actions (as long it didn't impact the mat). It was his feeling, as I remember, that to do so would pollute the atmosphere of the dojo and not only inhibit learning but also create friction between everyone there.
As an example of this; how would I discuss politics in my dojo when statistically 50% of my deshi voted for Obama and the other 50% voted for McCain? How could I, or anyone in the dojo, make any kind of compliment or critical remark without offending the "other" 50%? I compliment the POTUS and 50% think I'm crazy or I criticize the POTUS and 50% think I'm being too critical. So my solution is to not discuss it nor do I allow anyone else to discuss it. If any conversation occurs then it occurs off to one side or outside the dojo between me and someone whose predilictions I am completely aware of so that there is no offense taken or given ...... and voices are low so that the mat never hears any comments.
He began to go out of his way to start arguments; monologues really that no one could object to since to do so would end our Aikido careers. It became burdensome to be forced to sit and listen to our (or other people's) religions be attacked or their sexual preferences being attacked, or to be directly criticized for our career choice or the fact that we took our kids to church.
After watching a good friend and a great dojo fall into a world of being critical of other peoples religious belief, sexual preference, family issues it created in me, and many others I know, the decision to not engage in that behavior.
Running a dojo (or a martial arts organization) doesn't give us carte blanche to conduct ourselves like we're a radio host doing political commentary. Go on AM radio sometimes and listen to those men/women who do so. It wears you down and over time makes you just a negative as they are. Some of the monologues I remember were cast as being "just in fun", "not really serious" or a "teaching moment" but for those of us who were the targets (or the witnesses) it became more than that. Sometimes if anyone objected then we were accussed to being "thin-skinned" and "not willing to open our minds to his lessons".
So all these years later I've made the conscious decision to not run my dojo in that fashion and to try best I can to avoid those who do .... keeping my opinions on sex, religion & politics to myself and totally off the mat. I don't allow others to bring that negativity into the dojo either which explains one of my expulsions this week of a 10 year student this week; his negativity having no place in Budo.
So what's the answer? Simple. There isn't one. The best any of us can do is try to avoid the endless political discussions, comments on religion and sex-based jokes that seen so endemic today, esp. on social media. I may even have to start de-friending people and re-cast the ways in which I engage in social media.
I fail to understand how I can engage in social media or plain old fashioned gossip, loop in my students, and then proceed to express myself on the internet in the same argumentative fashion as did my teacher face-to-face all those years ago .... such is the communicative decay we now see due to no longer having to personally stand in front of and face the Christian we are saying "F____ Jesus" to or the atheist we are calling "crazy" or the political opponent we just described as "stupid" and "uninformed".
The longer I run a dojo, the older I get, the more I find myself willing to terminate relationships and to call people out for their negativity (masquerading as "humor" or "teaching moments"). Life has simply become too complex for endless negativities and once it spills into Budo and the martial arts relationships with students and associates it begins to have negative impact on what all of us, as martial artists, claim to be which is teachers and exemplars .... or just friends.
And with that said, I now find that I must be certain to live up to my observations and to no longer engage in the temptations to which all of us, including me, sometimes fall victim to.
Next blog-insanity .... Part Tre' of "The Incredible Shrinking Gi" ........
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX