Learning to be a student, 素直(Sunao) & Faith. And curiosity

I was feeling inclined to piece together our U.S. culture of skepticism and rationality, the leap of faith, or the activating of one’s faith, and one of the episodes at the D.C. seminar of Endo sensei in Oct. 2007.

The episode: Sensei told us that as he was going around the room to work with everyone, some people challenged him by grabbing him and holding their ground or attempting other things to confound him, which in itself is nothing unusual – he experiences this almost every place that he teaches. This time, though, he went further by mentioning that throughout the weekend, some people continued to challenge him every time he worked with them. He said, challenging him once or twice is understandable – you think to yourself, who is this shihan, does he actually have some ability, etc. and you want to get some sense of satisfaction or evidence. After that, what is the point? What is it that you are getting out of it? If it’s more “evidence” you are getting by challenging him, how does it benefit you? If that is the only way in which you interact with him, what will you walk away from the seminar with? Or, in my words, if you pay your money and make time to attend a seminar, what good does it do and what motivation would lie behind your asking him to provide his resume and references, indications of his competence, etc. throughout the seminar? Or a first time date: would you spend the whole evening focusing on whether or not this person is serious, what mindset they have toward dating, whether they’re “the one”, etc.?

I think faith, or true and accepting open-mindedness, is crucial to learning something, especially from another person. It’s difficult to learn how something works, how another person is, the nature of the moment, etc. if you are doubting that it works, if your mind is occupied with how the person could be or would be, and if you are fully satisfied and done with your current experience of the moment. The acceptance and belief that it does work, that the person is actually the way they are (and in the end all you can have is your individual, unique experience of them, including rumors, reputation, hearing about what others think about that person, etc.) i.e., that the way you experience the person is the way you experience the person, and likewise for the present moment, is almost a prerequisite for curiosity and accurate understanding. You can’t really learn or come to know something if you’re still “shopping around.” Of course this belief or faith is not all on or off, black or white. And it varies depending on who you are, regardless of the facts, and it changes depending on you moment to moment, day to day, year to year, regardless of any notions you have of being one person with one identity.

I suppose this leads to something more generally salient: are my opinions, my impressions, and my feelings things that I not only have responsibility/ownership of, but something that I have some control over? If I don’t like this food or that, this person or that, this morning or the next, this topic or that, etc., am I completely bound to that way of experiencing it? Even if it changes, am I at the mercy of randomness? I think that, as long as I can have awareness of, and consequently thinking process around my thoughts, feelings, and experience, then I can affect my experience, especially of past and future memories/expectations of my experience.

So if I am a student trying to learn something from someone, my wish to do so in the first place, the way that I want it to happen, the experience of getting something, etc. are all my deal – there is no one else that I can put the ownership. But ownership/responsibility and whether I can control it are different issues. However, from the point of determining whether or not my opinion of something completely controls or dictates my behavior relative to that thing, the answer is immediately reached: Yes, I have control in the matter e.g., I can do something despite disliking it, etc.

What about belief? I can do something without believing in it but can I have any part in changing my belief? I could go about it behaviorally/environmentally e.g., expose myself to evidence to convince me to believe it. I could go about it socially e.g., hang around people who believe in it (and who I don’t dismiss). Doing these things should make the belief rub off on me. How about the case of the aikido student and teacher? Not to be overly chicken-and-the-egg, but what is my reason for seeking out this teacher, joining his students, etc.? There must be some desire there. Of course the desire might be that of someone who seeks out or directs his attention toward people who he doesn’t like just to feel justified or encouraged in his own righteousness and superiority. In that case his original motive, feeling, or way of seeing things is one that is comfortable to him and therefore doesn’t need to be changed, certainly not by others if not by himself. But it is more of the inclusive, positive/forward/seeking kind of motive that would bring a person to a teacher or dojo.

Of course, like almost anyone, you come to the teacher or dojo with preconceived, pre-aikido experience ideas and mindset, and accordingly you may experience some dissonance. However it’s not the job or obligation of the teacher or dojo-mates to accommodate your pre-aikido stance. Although they, especially the teacher, may facilitate the process, it is no one’s job but yours to decide for yourself and give the final word of, hey, maybe this was a mistake and I had notions about aikido and teachers that were way off, at least for this teacher or dojo that I chose. So while the people in the dojo certainly can act to transition you into the dojo, it’s your issue whether and how to change your ideas and mentality and what your purpose in being there is.

If I grasp the teacher/student relationship as more professional than personal, then I may have expectations more in line of receiving a service and placing priority on my comfort and pleasure. Even with such an expectation of a distant relationship, my continuing skepticism of the instructor would contradict my choice of continuing to remain under his instruction or going out of my way to attend even one of his classes.


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