Beginners, Good Teachers (cont.)

Confidence, Self-Doubt, and a Good Teacher

Some tangential thought regarding O-sensei and his disciples/students – the master/disciple relationship in aikido.

Most of his deshi likely came to study under him to become “stronger”, to learn something from this teacher, or some other vague goal. Did any have it in their mind the desire to become like that old man? In a teacher/student relationship in which the teacher openly and freely becomes the primary object of the student’s attention, the student cannot turn his mind to the technical details as much, or more saliently, the technical actions of the teacher.

In a more common, more distant teacher/student relationship, the student focuses more of his attention on the technical action, and specifically the action in the abstract, removed from the person performing it, E.g., the instructor stood at this angle, moved according to that timing, etc. Accordingly the student focuses on his own acquisition on (his interpretation of) the action or ability e.g. standing at the same angle. Also, because the relationship is less-context dependent, the teacher’s action can be and is probably typically performed on any person or thing, as opposed to the student himself. The teacher can instruct by standing back, making observations, and saying “do this, do that”.

In contrast, in aikido teaching relationships the student receives the teacher’s actions very literally and directly. Emphasis on how to perform the action of the teacher on another person is clearly not as emphasized. When it is emphasized, traditionally the teacher and student implicitly try to get the student to recreate the experience that the teacher was having on the student initially. Of course part of the recreating is facilitated by “do this, do that” instruction, so there is overlap with other relationships on the teacher/student relationship spectrum. Perhaps this aspect is where there can be a more objective right and wrong.

In other aspects it is less clear. There is, to start, the unavoidable phenomenon of, “I do not and cannot know the exact experience you are having by relating, e.g., moving, working, etc. with me.” If I, as the teacher, don’t know what my student is feeling, I can provide him only with the “do this, do that” instruction and the experience of relating with me. I cannot help or make him know how to achieve relating the same way I do with him (and him specifically). It is truly a singular experience for the student. As the student strives to acquire or achieve whatever it is that he wants to, traditionally, I can only offer corrections or guidance with respect to the “do this, do that”, objective details as they develop alongside the student’s efforts to realize whatever it is that he wants according to his experience of our relationship. If he appears to stray from the objective aspects, then he may be subverting the very core characteristics of the thing that we are doing, in which case I may choose to intercede in his creativity/being lost or not.

If I, as the student, don’t know how the teacher is managing to relate to me in the way that he is, then all I have is my experience of our relationship. As a student, by nature I don’t grasp it. If I not only am struck by it but wish to seek it or achieve it for myself, then I must have been moved by it, inspired. The teacher’s breath is in me. The teacher can offer instruction in the objective aspects, but I will still likely be faced with the gap between where I am and the mastery that I am being shown. How can I act more fully in the same way as my teacher? In Western thinking, it may be “to become” the teacher. In Japanese thinking, it is “to know the breath” of the teacher. I don’t necessarily blindly try to make myself a copy of the teacher. That would not be honest to the truth that I am a different person. I would have to use my own creativity to conceive of “how it must be like to be the teacher” or at least “how it must be like to be the kind of person able to act/be like the teacher”. Of course not only do I have a different personality, different habits, different blood, different DNA from the teacher, I have a different history as well. Therefore I must synthesize all that I am made up, which now includes inspirational experiences thanks to my teacher, to construct who I want to be.

I can always change who I want to be i.e., my goals. I may consciously limit my acceptance of the inspiration and accordingly limit the instruction I take in to the more objective aspects. Particularly since actual contact with the teacher is necessary to improve my grasp of how it is to relate with him, once I am away from him I may justifiably give up on pursuing my memory of the inspiration and instead achieve what I can create on my own. This could entail pursuing only the objective aspects. It could also entail pursuing or building upon my own experiences more creatively, though loyalty to my teacher and accordingly to his vision are likely to keep me from doing so and leaving people, including myself, doubting whether we’re doing the same thing at all.

If the student understands he is clearly the primary person carrying the burden of asking the questions, conceiving his own goals, and figuring out how to achieve those goals, then he is free to exercise his creativity and intrinsic drives. He would be unburdened by the obligations to achieve goals that were not his own. Even if he agreed with those externally imposed goals, his emotional stance in relation to them would be different and the way in which they fit his own vision may be neglected and forced. If a student, or any person, is told that he is free to create and figure out a task for himself, and yet there are explicit or implicit extrinsic pressures, the student would experience the dissonance between what actually is and what is being told to him. Consequently, he must determine the distance to hold in relation to the various sources of pressure. The sources could be the teacher, the senior and junior peers, the community, the student’s own voice. If the pressures other than the student’s own voice dominate, then the student in order to proceed, must put to rest his own voice. If the extrinsic pressures are in accordance with his own voice, then there is no dissonance. If the student’s own voice dominates, then he must achieve some resolution in stance with respect to those other pressures.

How to synthesize the potentially positive aspects of his own voice and extrinsic pressures?


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