Who is Teaching? – Kim Taylor, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph, Nanadan Aug 2, 2013

One of the curious things about those who have just started teaching iaido is the multiple personality disorder they develop. You know what I mean, every instruction is preceeded with “Joe sensei says…” and “Al sensei told me that…”.

Students get it too, for the first few years they feel the need to justify every footstep by remembering who told them to step that way. It’s not unexpected of course, every teacher has his own way of doing things and every student who encounters more than one teacher (or is silly enough to read the advice of teachers on the interwebs) seems to catalogue what each has told him so that he can justify the movements to the next sensei. “Well Fred sensei told me that I should do it that way”. (We can talk about the advisablility of saying that to a sensei some other day).

There is value in remembering your various sensei, and there is value in knowing that this sensei did this kata this interesting way, it makes for a respectful view of your art, it makes a good story for the new students and it explains historically why those guys do that and we do this. Unfortunately if you use it, like most new teachers do, as a way of borrowing authority (if I tell them that some big sensei says do it this way maybe they’ll do it since they won’t do it if they think it’s me saying it), it’s not really a good thing.

You will notice that eventually most senior ranks and most senior teachers will get down to “I do it this way” and “You should do it this way” without any of the hiding behind someone else’s hakama-strings.

When you have been doing this long enough you will come to the understanding that there are a LOT of ways to do anything and eventually you can’t remember all of them so you have to pick one. If you’re smart you’ll pick one that works for you, that makes sense with the rest of what you do, and that is the exact same way (in your head if nothing else) that your sensei does it. It’s the only way to keep the voices in your head quiet!

By all means, remember who said what, but for your own practice, you have to integrate all this teaching into your own budo. Thats what we mean by “make your own ryu”. We don’t mean make up a new way to do it, or pick ways to do it that are distinctive and unique. Budo isn’t laundry soap, new and improved doesn’t count for anything.

So there’s the ‘why’ our new instructor keeps name dropping, we all get it, but should they be doing it at all? Well there’s little enough harm beyond wasting a few seconds during class if they’re teaching alone so why not. But, and here’s my big but, for Kami’s sake don’t do this stuff when your sensei is in the room!

The old guys just blinked, but seriously, I’ve heard of classes where the assistant instructors will tell the students “this is the way so and so does it” while their teacher is in the room. Of all the ways you can tell your sensei that you don’t respect him, that’s one of the most efficient. If you tell students out of class (or maybe in a class where sensei isn’t present) that there are other ways to do this stuff, “but don’t tell sensei I told you so” that’s OK, it tells the students that there are more voices out there than one, and it makes them tolerant of other points of view while confirming that you feel your sensei is the one true pathway to the goodies. But to tell students that, while your sensei is in the same room, in earshot, is to tell them that your sensei is only one voice in the wilderness, that it’s OK to listen to any stray bit of wind that comes along while you stumble through the woods. It’s damned disrespectful yes, but it’s also damaging to the younger students.

Put simply, you don’t play Marco Polo with 12 people.

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