Not Starbucks – March 15, 2015, Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan

Lining up in class is not like lining up in Starbucks. You do not want to block out the folks arriving at the same time, butt into line beside your buddy or do any of a dozen passive-aggressive moves because you think your lateness for work entitles you to do them.

Lining up to practice sword in a crowded class is an entirely different matter. Its safety, pure and simple. There is no other consideration worth thinking about.

So let’s think about it. Do you line up according to rank? Good, seniors go further away from the door AND CRUSH DOWN. You’re further from the door because you understand that beginners need more space. You don’t, you guys know enough not to swing before you look to see if anyone is there so you can squeeze in a bit. Beginners are scared of the room, they want to stay by the door so if you put them at the far end they will edge toward the door. It’s safer to leave them down there where they can run outside if they get a panic attack.

Do you line up several lines deep? Seniors you are at the front to set an example, not because you’ve earned a bunch of extra space by backing up causing the lines behind you to compress. It’s your job to stay up where it’s safe for the entire class, you’re supposed to have the experience to know that, and to watch out for the folks behind you. You’re supposed to know how to find your original position so that everyone else can key off of you.

You’re also supposed to know how to make the correct formation for safety. For iaido that’s a zig zag pattern so that the second row cuts between the bodies of the first row and so on back to the last row.

I’ve been in places where the seniors go to the back in order to swat the beginners on the head and drive them forward toward sensei who is teaching them.

Good idea.

How do you come into the room? Do you barge in and walk through the lines to the front when you get there late? Really? You’re a senior and so everyone else looks out for you? Stay down at the low end by the door. If sensei wants you up front he’ll tell you to move when it’s safe.

Sensei? Where is sensei when the poor last row kids are so crowded that they can’t move? When the line piles up at the door because the seniors have decided they want double-space? It’s not up to a junior to tell a senior to move the hell back to their spot, although I’m not above that sort of thing, and I expect that senior to be shocked and apologetic at their rudeness, and not to do it again. I truly do, so I don’t do it often, I wait for sensei to fix the problem.

I’ve also been known to stand my ground and let people back into me. I instantly apologize of course and politely point out that “your spot is up there in front of me, you must have become confused”. Passive aggressive? You betcha.

Offering to switch places is another one of my nasty-isms in a crowd. I figure if you want my space maybe you don’t want yours up in front of me. I’ll gladly move up, I have no shame, I’ll show sensei my poor technique in hopes that he will fix it.

How does sensei fix these lining up problems that everyone should have figured out in pre-school when we all hung on to the rope as we went for our walk? Maybe we bring back the rope. I’ve been known to put little pieces of tape on the floor for the seniors who can’t figure out how to find their places. They get to write their name on the tape and put it down themselves. The juniors don’t have to do it, which is enough humiliation that the seniors often remember the lesson for upwards of a week.

If it’s just one senior a quick fix is to send them down to the end of the line so that they “can be a model for the beginners”. Let them be the squashee for a while instead of the squasher.

There are last-row people and front-row people and they often don’t match the ranks. At the last seminar I taught, I waited for everyone to line up and then walked to the back of the gym and taught from there. That made folks queasy I’m sure, but by switching from back to front to back it kept the lines spread out evenly.

I generally tell my students to head on up to the front row if it’s open because you paid for instruction and you get better instruction right up in front of sensei where he can give you what-for more often. I need to start emphasizing that “if it’s open” part, I’m getting a bit tired of kicking people out of the front row physically (as in taking them by the shoulders and marching them back into the second line) because they have decided that the guy next to them will move back. This is “sensei greed” and is one of the reasons I do sometimes teach from the back of the room. The second row is just as easy to see as the first, folks, often better in a crowded room where the first row is almost even with sensei.

Row popping (leaving the starbucks line to get your wallet and then jumping back into the same place without asking permission) is dangerous and rude when swords are involved. I don’t usually mind rude but dangerous is dangerous. Don’t jump out of the front or middle of the pack to go get something. This often happens when you’re allowed to videotape.

Ever wonder why taping is forbidden in some classes? If you’re a “taper” who wants to watch the instructions through a tiny screen rather than with your own eyes, keep a small camera in your uwagi. If you have to use a tripod because you’re a pro and need that massive HD camera, practice from the back row so you can get it fast and put it back without disrupting the entire class to get into your position.

Does this make sense? Sure it does, if you think about it a moment. Few sensei of my acquaintance mind being filmed, and little of the martial arts is secret, but filming is still dangerous and should be considered a priviledge. Don’t abuse it. Mostly, get a small shock-resistant video camera and tuck it away on your person. If you want to make a professional film, ask sensei, he’ll likely say yes. Then find a quiet room and film, don’t practice, film.

When walking, walk. When sitting, sit. Above all, don’t waver.

And do it where it’s safe, which is where you were put by sensei.

Sit! Stay! Even small dogs can learn this. Be as mindful as a spanial.

Now we’ll see if any of my class reads these things, they’ve got a couple hours before this afternoon’s session.

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