Hah, Saturday morning, it’s dark out (I wake up early these days) and I walked down to Balzacs for my coffee, may even slip across the street to the market just to get my dose of “I hate people” as I try to walk through the crowds.
I was tempted to post the “old post” that faceplant gives me most days, it was from 2015 and referred to some sort of “bonehead” (as I put it at the time) iaido initiative that I was convinced would never go anywhere. I said I’d be tempted to retire if that happened. Let’s see… when did the section shut down the senior gradings? Honestly, I never fail to be surprised by what people will do and what others will follow. At any rate, I didn’t retire, didn’t have to, I was shunted sideways (to where I wanted to be, as it happens) because I couldn’t agree with the decision. No senior gradings, no need for my rank, it’s as simple as that. A couple years later and I’m doubly happy, I can barely sit through an hour in front of my computer without having to lie down and let my back stop screaming at me. (Apparently it’s a bone thing, I’m rooting for arthritis). The last jodo gradings were tough, I can’t imagine trying to satisfy all the etiquette for sitting a tournament.
I’ve mentioned this before, I have not quit iaido, despite what people are being told. Who is making this stuff up? We’re having secret iaido gradings, I have quit doing iaido… honestly, if you hear any of these things just drop me an email and I’ll tell you what’s actually happening. No need to “find out through back channels and rumour”, I’ve got no secrets. I’ve still got some use left in me, and as long as I’m of use, I’ll be there when asked. Just don’t ask me to do things that will damage the jodo section, like approve of “unwritten rules” which I have been recently assured are still in full effect. Despite me asking Japan for a list of them, and being told no such things exist. I also checked with several other countries and again, no such thing.
“I came up over de hill and dere dey were, gone!”
These unwritten rules and “Japan wants us to” stuff is all of a piece. In my notebook I have written down “In Chile they shake, hug and shake again”. This is the greeting etiquette up there (famous map of South America with it at the top). This is how I greeted folks when I visited. As a student of etiquette, it was quite a lot of fun watching the various South American countries negotiating the shakes and hugs at the seminar. Which pattern do you use?
My assumption, always, is to use the etiquette the other guy is using, see if you can catch it on the fly, pay attention to him and to what he is doing. Do that. The whole point, especially if you are Mr. Sensei, flown in to be a big shot, is to let the other guy relax, to put him at his ease. From a budo point of view that’s to your advantage (for those of you boy scouts who figure you shake left handed to keep your right hand near your knife). From a human point of view it’s just obvious that etiquette is to ease the way, and the fastest way to do that is to adopt the etiquette of the folks you’re visiting.
Yet what does the “ugly foreigner” end up doing? Making everyone uncomfortable by insisting on his etiquette and implying that the locals are “doing it wrong”. When the foreigner is visiting as a big cheeze this effect can be multiplied, as the locals are made to feel they are somehow inferior for not knowing “how to do it”.
I love this stuff in the budo world, you won’t get far on the net without reading some “old Japan hand” telling you about how it is done in Japan, how gifts are handed over, how you respond to a question and how to pronounce that response. All great stuff if you’re in Japan, or in the dojo in Canada but otherwise?
You see the other way etiquette goes is when you are receiving visitors. In that case, especially if you are higher social status than the visitors, if you are the big sensei who is greeting the visiting students, you do exactly what I’ve been saying. You do the etiquette that the students seem to want to do, they don’t know yours, so you do theirs. Why? I mean you’re the big cheeze in your own country, why not teach them the correct way? Because you are the big cheeze, because your job is exactly that, to teach, and you can’t teach anyone who is not open and accepting, who is not at ease. Put them on their back foot from the start and they may never recover their balance, they may spend their entire visit worrying about doing something else wrong.
How about using a “third party etiquette”? How about a Canadian going to Chile and using Japanese etiquette to greet people? Umm seems a bit silly outside the dojo doesn’t it? And what is Japanese etiquette? My visit to Japan resulted in a lot of western etiquette being exchanged with the sensei there so I don’t know how Mr. Manonthestreet is supposed to greet someone.
In the dojo? Oh yes, there’s an etiquette there for sure. Bowing, here and there, sword held at a certain angle, how to walk, drilling down into how to bow for goodness sake, which hand goes down first, how deep. Oh yes and I can explain it all to you because it all means something. There is no sense of doing it this or that way because it’s the latest fashion and if you don’t do it right you’re a gaijin. That’s how Japanese kids make kids who have been overseas for a while feel like they don’t belong any more. It’s anti-etiquette. And the ones who say “you have to do it this way now”? That’s etiquette as a weapon, as one-upmanship. I know something you don’t, so I have power. (I know the unwritten rules and you don’t and I’m not going to tell you what they are so you have to listen to me or else.) This is not true etiquette.
Etiquette is like the approach and separation of a kata, to allow the kata to happen, to keep the attention on each other as you begin and end so that nobody gets a wrong signal and nobody gets hit on the head with a stick. It’s not silly in the dojo, but it’s also not arbitrary, it has to make sense.
Shake, hug and shake again, let’s face it, that’s somewhat arbitrary and I don’t even know if that’s universal in Chile, it might just be the crowd I was visiting. Those guys don’t use it when they visit Canada, or at least I don’t remember using it, just the good old Canadian “make a fake at a handshake and hug like a bear instead” I think. I don’t remember, my mind is going.
No such confusion in the dojo.
Now someone is going to mention the several-years-long discussions about the tape during iaido gradings right?
Shake, hug, shake again.
Dec 29, 2018
April 6, Seito Bugei Juku seminar in Peterborough.
May 17-20 Annual CKF International Jodo and Iaido seminar and grading, (Kurogo sensei and Mansfield sensei) Guelph.
November 8-10 Annual CKF International Jodo seminar and grading (Kurogo sensei), Mississauga (Port Credit).