Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Patience, Acceptance & Submission

Teaching Aikido is learning Aikido... or an aspect of it at the very least. As a profession, teaching is very noble indeed. Not because the teacher becomes respected by his pupils, but the spreading of knowledge ennobles a person. A teacher must understand something to teach it to others. But the transmission of such a knowledge can only be happen once the teach lives to what he teaches.

Just as you do not respect a politician who flouts the law, you cannot respect a teacher who does not abide by what he preaches. Although you can cut some slack for other people, you hold a teacher to higher standards. Unconsciously everyone realises that the position of a teacher requires a dedicated soul, one that will be judged harshly... more so than other people, because a misstep would have repercussions a thousand times over. 1 person can lead so many people astray by wrong teachings or mistakes.

Undoubtedly, you do not begin Aikido by teaching. You start as a lowly 6th or 10th kyu student going through the process of understanding the philosophy, the principles, the techniques and technicalities, gaining strength and power as you practice more and more. You will do this forever until of course you reach a point where there's a barrier to your understanding. No matter how hard you go about in training, something prevents you from penetrating this barrier. Its not the normal plateau. Eventually you will realise that for you to actually assimilate all that has been imparted upon you from your teachers, sempais and peers, you have to give something back. Its your turn to be the sempai. To guide and teach your kohai. To spur your peers and to push the limits of your own sempai. From a student, you have now taken the step of a teacher. In doing so, you will begin to understand things that you did not understand before. 

Just like when you took that black belt. You may have felt undeserving of it, but now that its around your waist, there's this inevitability that you have to ensure you retain the right of wearing it. This is only possible through pouring more effort into training, making sure that you do not revert to a lackadaisical practice. 

Call yourself a sensei, and you have to act the part. At first, it may start as an 'act', using memories of how your teacher appeared to you, you try to present yourself the same way to your students. Much later on, the act 'becomes' you, you have now assimilated the essence of being a sensei. Of course, there are good and bad senseis... your objective however is to be a good one, that goes without question.

So what does all this have to do with the title? 

Patience of course is a virtue, and you are a patient reader to read this long rambling of mine. As a student we have to be patient. A grade 1 student that has no patience for his lessons may try to jump into a grade 5 lesson. But he becomes painfully aware that everything he reads is beyond his understanding. Even if he were to spend a year reading it, he would probably misunderstand most of what he's trying to learn. Yet, if he were to go through the basics and progress step by step, when he reaches grade 5, it becomes easier for him to achieve understanding. Thus, patience is needed when learning something. If you try to progress too fast, it sometimes backfires and causes us to lose time instead. Teaching requires patience too. Sometimes it is the teacher that is impatient, wanting his students to progress faster. Perhaps partly to prove that what he is teaching is correct, or partly because he wants to begin more advance techniques... but just like pruning a tree into a bonsai, if you prune too much the tree dies, pruning too slow and it becomes a normal tree. The key to patience is understanding.

The 2nd stage of learning is acceptance. Patience allows us to adopt a pace most beneficial to us, but acceptance of the lessons is needed to make all that patience to be worth something. If we frequently resist the methods of learning or the lessons itself, be it passively or actively, we create barriers to our learning. It is not easy to learn acceptance, much more to enliven it in ourselves. Most times, what we call acceptance is just adherence. You can only accept something if it is with full awareness and willingness. Adherence is only complying to the situation at hand so as not to prolong your suffering. Teachers though have to practice acceptance in a different way. To accept that sometimes things don't work out the way it was intended. To accept that not everyone can learn from you, acceptance of students who irk you or the sacrifices that you have to make... acceptance teaches us humility and is amongst the most powerful lesson in life. 

The final stage is submission. A submission of your self to a higher power. By relinquishing your tenuous hold to control things, you become more powerful. Though that power is not yours, it is a power that is overwhelming. Imagine holding on to something, the stronger and tighter you squeeze it, the more of it that spills from the top and bottom of your clenched fist. The more tired you become and the weaker you get, soon all is gone from your control. Imagine the anger that you have over that person who overtook you. The more you see him infront of you the more agitated you become. Pretty soon, you can't see anything else but him. Let go and things become clearer again. Submission in students is not to lay yourself to the whims and fancy of your teacher. But submission is practising hard to the best of your ability, but releasing the need to control the pace of your understanding. Let it go, it will come naturally. Essentially, you have subdued your ego. Teachers too are the same. To let go of the need to control everything. 

These three stages of learning applies not just to a student/teacher relationship... but in the daily life and daily practice of Aikido as well. It was taught to me not by an Aikido teacher but by a friend who learns from wise men. Yet, so universal is the concept that it fits perfectly well in the Aikido concept. We do not act aggressively against an opponent nor do we react to him, thus we practice patience. He attacks and we do not fight nor do we avoid, but we accept that attack thus we have learned acceptance. Once we have received the attack, we do not fight to control that energy, instead we let it go and flow, we subdue our desire and ego to overpower our opponent and we have now understood submission. 

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