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

Enough of the black and white. Now what if you are tentatively believing but have walked in through the door and likely to remain inside? The thing is you may stay tentative and spend the rest of your days with aikido being a light weight on your scale of priorities and things that bring meaning to you. You’ve been handed the memo that says, your being here requires this, entails that, etc. to which you say, okay, I accept. Likely you walked through the door with some degree of open-ness and curiosity, but of course not necessarily a preconceived level of commitment. How does that change or stay the same? (Of course there are many possible motivations to come to the dojo e.g., social contact, recreation, but here the discussion is on teacher-student relationship and commitment to aikido, not to the dojo, community, recreation, etc. aspects.)

One of the things that probably strengthens one’s motivation is encouraging experiences. From a teacher, it may be emotional e.g., “You’re doing a good job”, status-based e.g., the feeling that you’re in close contact with someone of expertise and prestige, or insight-based e.g., learning or realizing something that you did not expect thanks to the teacher/peers as a catalyst. Overall these experiences give you the feeling, “There’s more possible, and I can achieve it!”

Not to be confused with the gratifying or affirming feeling of being associated with someone of prestige, one may also be motivated by the feeling of getting what you need. The dojo and teacher may provide you a setting that provides discipline, order, and direction. It may be where you can discover sides to yourself, including unpleasant ones, that you would not otherwise discover or face. Furthermore, if you are getting this it may or may not be due to the intentions of the teacher and peers – it may be an epiphenomena or the teacher’s goal, or a blend of both.

There may be more but at this point I’d like to look more closely at the above two factors.

While the first one may at first glance appear superficial, it may also relate to the skill of the teaching, not just the aikido skill, of the teacher. Certainly one of the encouraging experiences one has is when one can now do something that one couldn’t do before. While part of the teacher’s job is to present challenges, it is also to be a relevant part of the student’s journey relative to (e.g., overcome, choose not to tackle) those challenges. This may relate to the idea of student faith in that a student, especially a beginner whose motivation may not be robust yet, may emotionally and rationally be dissuaded from placing faith in the teacher’s skill/aikido and/or ability to provide that skill. So, while a student’s open mind and heart are crucial components to the student’s learning journey, the teacher’s affirmation of the student’s efforts and possibly achievements (or more likely feedback or confirmation of the student’s current state) is valuable. The teacher’s affirmation of student effort may come in the form of continuing, whole-hearted interaction with the student in the context of the student’s endeavor (as opposed to, say, their mutual interest in baseball or gardening).

The second factor, which has to do with need, may be trickier because a person’s experience of wanting or needing may cloud their grasp of what they really do need and what they really are getting. The student’s faith and sunao-ness/self-honesty/open-ness may be especially crucial in this aspect. One may simply be getting gratification despite the face of things the one is getting harsh training and discipline. Whatever the specifics may be, it is crucial that the student seek to be straight with himself about what he is getting out of the “bitter medicine” aspects. Masochism, physical, in the form of dedication and subservience, in the form of ceding the weight of control and responsibility, may closely resemble faith. But I believe that the integrity, agency, and responsibility of the individual are central points in the matter. Thus the sunao-ness of the student might be expressed as, “I really do need this or that and I really am working,” or “I really don’t know what it is I want or need but I really am striving to know.” Implicitly behind both of these statements would be, “I need you, the teacher, and/or this place in order to fulfill this need. I have faith that the role you play with respect to this need is real.”


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