Take a look at those kids who are walking, or more likely being driven, to school today. Or the kids in your class. In 50 years they will be telling their grandkids what a rough time they had growing up. At the same time they’ll be telling their budo students about the giants that walked the earth, thundering swords, kicks high enough to reach the ceiling in your little hovel of a dojo.
Hovel, you were lucky, we had a hole in the road.
Those giants? They’ll be you. And the kids, they’ll be telling their students that they are poor imitations of the folks in the golden age. At least that’s the way it has always worked, the guys that taught me when I was a beginner were pretty amazing I’ll tell you. They really were, especially compared to me back then, trying to put one foot in front of the other. It’s the comparison that makes the impression, the distance between sensei and beginner.
As you get along in your studies you become less impressed with the skill levels of those who are closer to your own skills, and it naturally seems that something is being lost, after all the school that is now only a block from your home used to be at least five miles away when you were six.
We might, for the sake of our own legacy, feel that it is unfortunate we have such easy access to video in our day. If our students film us now and show those videos to their students surely those new students will see that we are really nothing special. Much better if we let the stories grow until we become giants in our own right.
Don’t worry about it. Those students will still be told that you were amazing and looking at the video they’ll believe it. They’ll still know nothing and will still be convinced that they’ll never be able to do what you are doing. As for your own students, well they will know, video or not, that you put your hakama on one leg at a time. Seeing Haruna sensei sitting around the kitchen in his droopy Japanese underwear having a smoke and drinking coffee didn’t reduce my awe of him one bit. In fact it added a lot of respect to that awe. Here was a fellow at the height of his skill and fame in Japan who would come to Canada to teach twenty or thirty of us poor kids. We didn’t need someone of his skill, a good third dan would have been sufficient, but he came anyway and our abilities took a leap every time.
Looking back at some of the video from a generation or two before him shows people who fought for their balance, who didn’t cut straight every time, whose grip was a bit off, whose injuries forced a strange shape into an arm. These are the giants who passed their skills along to our teachers and I don’t know about you but I find it comforting that they aren’t really all that far away from our own abilities. I am reassured that given another ten years of practice I might be at their level (that would be about 40 years worth).
See, I just did it, I made them giants and myself a poor imitation. That’s not a bad thing, it keeps me wanting to improve, wanting to learn. When I figure I know enough I’ll have nothing to do except lord it over my students (even more than I do now). That day will be the beginning of the end, the tipping point, the first of the final days when… did I mention that every generation figures we’re ten minutes from apolcalypse? That’s genetic, it keeps us one step away from the tiger in the grass, that conviction that there’s a tiger in the grass.
Anyway, keep in mind that this is the golden age, it only goes downhill from here, you are the shining giant of the future.
Don’t trip over the plug to the video camera.
March 1, 2016