By Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan
Having just read the obit for Pat Murosako sensei in the Kenyu newsletter I’m feeling somewhat reflective so of course I am in my local typing on the newly finished bar. It looks nice.
Murosako sensei was one of my earliest arse-kickers. Way back in the late ’80s he got hold of one of the early editions of The Iaido Newsletter which was mailed around as a ‘zine. Look it up kids, its pre-WWW. The copyright was “photocopy and share this”. Sensei got hold of John Prough who was one of the early supporters of “the cause” and complained about this know-it-all kid who presumed to write about iaido. John fired right back at him “so write something and correct him”. Pat did, I published it, and he wrote more. When I finally met him years later he was exactly the fellow I expected and I’m sorry he’s gone.
There’s nothing wrong with being told you’re wrong. It’s good for you and if you’re humble you take it for what it is, a correction. Everyone can be wrong. I can be wrong and I’ve learned more by being wrong than I ever did by being right. I’m talking about the Murosako sensei sort of criticism here, the “here I am right in front of you and I’m telling you that you’re full of it” kind. This is vastly different from rumour and gossip which is entirely cowardly and unsuited to even listening to, let alone considering. The sole function of gossip is to make the gossiper feel superior. A hurtful and harmful sort of pride. The function of rumour is to damage someone else by accusations that cannot be challenged because, often, the target isn’t even aware of being attacked. Again, a cowards weapon that only works if gossips take it up.
But in your face criticism? Bring it on, teach me sensei.
Be humble, understand that you can be wrong and that you can be corrected. Welcome that correction like a scientist. Scientific knowledge? No such thing, the whole enterprise is based on making an educated guess (hypothesis) and trying to prove your guess is wrong. If humble is admitting you can be wrong is pride the opposite, not being able or being unwilling to admit you’re wrong? No, not for this essay, pride is knowing what you know.
Let’s call pride the hypothesis of budo. I know what I know, this is what I know. Now what’s humble in budo? It’s being willing to be taught. I know what I know but I’m willing to let you prove I’m wrong.
This is all face to face, or at least signature to signature. If I’m wrong about something tell me so, but you’d better be willing to back that up or you aren’t going to get through my pride to my humble. Rumour? Forget it, you aren’t in my laboratory.
Humble is a good thing. Don’t confuse it with sack-cloth and whips, err, excessive self-doubt and the conviction that you’re no good at all. That way leads to listening to rumours and believing the gossip about you, and even more shameful, believing the gossip about others.
How’s your rank? Do you deserve it? I deserve mine, all of them. I deserve them because I was given them by people I respect. I didn’t invent any of them, and I’m damned if I’ll take a back seat to anyone or any country. That’s my pride talking.
Now, if you want to point to people who are my rank but better than me, I’ll watch and learn. That’s my humility talking.
To talk about self doubt, let’s talk gradings. Here’s one I hear a lot. I got my grade in Japan, so it’s better than yours because I got it in Japan. That’s pride. How about I got my grade in Japan but I got it as a foreigner and they probably figured I needed a grade to promote the art overseas so they passed me even though if I was Japanese I’d never have even been allowed to grade. That’s self-doubt.
How about…. I got my grade in Japan. Period.
Here’s another one. I got my grade overseas but in front of a Japanese panel so my grade is better than your grade in front of a bunch of know nothing foreigners overseas. Pride… errm, since we’re overseas would those overseas foreigners be the Japanese panellists? Never mind. How about, oh I got my grade from a bunch of Japanese visitors but since I invited them to my country and gave them a good time they probably felt they had to give it to me because I invited them. That’s self-doubt.
See how this works? How about….. I got my grade in my country. Period.
Got your grade in your country from a panel of your peers? I can’t think of a way to be prideful or self-doubtful about that except to respect or disrespect your own teachers. Do not go there. OK go there and think about what all that means. Now, happy you went there?
How about…. this is what my teachers feel my level is. Period.
Rumour, gossip and criticism? How about, “you figure your grade is better than my grade? Why not show me instead of talking at me?” I’m not talking tournaments or competitions here, I’m talking about show me. Since I will certainly have different criteria for better or worse than those used in a tournament, you’d better be prepared to show me on my own terms that I can learn from you. It’s you and me kid, you have to show me that you’re better at my game than I am. Good luck.
Yet it happens all the time. I get taught by all sorts of people, higher ranks, lower ranks, my rank… all have taught me and I’m pleased to be taught. Proud to be taught by my own damned students oftentimes. Most especially proud when they pass me by because I’m way too old to be the guy on the floor, my job now is as a teacher getting as many people as I can past me on “the ladder” and up to the next floor.
You’re better than me? I’m proud of you.