Senior Secrets – Kim Taylor, Renshi, CI Sei Do Kai Guelph ON, Nanadan Iaido Renshi and Roukudan Jodo Renshi

Nobody likes senior classes. Well, maybe seniors do, but they don’t need them, even if they want them. I’m talking about the 25-30 year folks who have hundreds of seminars under their obi. They think they need senior classes because they just aren’t getting as much as they did as a kid.

Instruction! What were you thinking?

We all remember being filled up like a sponge as a beginner, a lovely time of being on the steep slope of the learning curve. Then the sponge starts to soak up less and less, (or sometimes starts to squeeze back, ie gets hard of hearing). The even-more-senior sensei just keep repeating the same old things because they talk toward the beginners. How can they not? You can’t go on to the secret stuff if you don’t know the stuff you need to know before you get to the secret stuff right?

Umm, what secret stuff? You mean the stuff like protect yourself at all times, respect the line, use your hips, fix your grip? That kind of stuff? Because I don’t know any other kind of secrets and I’ve been doing this for heading toward 40 years. I’ve been practicing Seitei Iai for well over half of it’s existance, (really? ouch) so if there are any secrets there that I don’t know, either I’m very stupid (likely) or they are so well hidden that they can’t be found.

At the last jodo seminar there were no senior classes, just a big class with an experience range of a few weeks to decades. During the event I heard more than one senior say “that’s it, I can go home now”. They had their lightbulb moment, that something they can latch on to and use to get a bit further in their practice.

Every class is a senior class if you are paying attention and all seniors know this. So why the fuss? Why would anyone want or offer a senior class?

Well, there are times when people need their rear ends kicked, and that can mean being yelled at or told to do something over and over again. You don’t do that in front of the students any more than you should argue in front of your kids. If for no other reason than it tends to make the kids take sides. Oh that senior-senior is disrespecting my sensei, he’s a bad person. Yeah whatever.

Next, seniors tend to get corrected for things that beginners can’t see. Small weight shifts that mean a lot but can’t be seen on video. That was one of my lightbulb moments last seminar, a tiny weight shift during a movement, something I might later demonstrate and my beginners will say “I don’t see the difference”. Something, incidentally, I was having trouble doing until the Pamurai said “turn your back foot” and it clicked. I got the correction instantly, I saw it, but it took a student to make it click… and I sometimes wonder why I teach.

A beginner watching that stuff won’t “get it” so why waste their time. Sure, they may think they can get it, all of us figure we can get it all, now. The thing that makes a senior is that they have been around long enough to realize that they didn’t, they couldn’t, get it all when they were a junior. There is stuff you have to learn first before you learn the stuff that comes later.

This weekend I’m heading to Chile to teach for, I hope, about 7 days straight. I’ve asked them to work the dickens out of me because I’m not interested in doing any tourist stuff. I’m a terrible traveller, I dislike it so much that I can be talked out of going to my cottage easier than I can be talked into it. So why am I going? Because they asked and I am a senior, or at least as senior as we have around these parts and so I go. I deeply appreciate the invite and of course I will be happy to be there. I like those guys. I’m sure it will be interesting but the reason I’m going is that I am one of those “gone before” types who might be able to impart a few “secrets” to the local Jodo folks.

There won’t be too many, they have been coming to Canada for several years and know their stuff. That’s actually one of the secrets I try to teach when I go places. The locals are usually just fine as teachers. They know what they know and they pass it along well. My most useful service as the “visiting sensei” is not to teach the seniors, but to confirm to the juniors that their teachers do in fact, know their stuff. The best teachers tend to preface their instruction with “well I’m not very good at this but so and so sensei said…”. Those are the ones who still have an open mind, and it’s my job to reassure their students. (The ones who tell their students they know it for sure, that this is the way it is, tend not to go to seminars anyway. Waste of time.)

In other words, I try to work myself out of a job. I did mention I’m a terrible traveller didn’t I? I get lost, I get confused, I can’t prepare myself out of a paper bag. Packing makes my stomach hurt. When I found out that I wasn’t paying for my own way on this trip I immediately invited the Pamurai to come along and be my bag carrier. She loves travel and she has taken over the planning. I’m just going to do my Christmas thing. Shut up and go where I’m told and do what I’m told to do. Yeah, I just said I don’t like Christmas. It involves travelling.

In Chile I will be teaching as usual. I will be talking to everyone but only the seniors are going to hear some of what I say. The beginners are going to be asking which foot goes where and how to pass their next grading. The seniors will be hearing what I say about the maai, the line, the grip, you know, all the stuff those beginners already know.

The seniors will hear the “why” they are doing what movements they are doing. (I’ll have my “in my opinion” tatoo on my forehead). The juniors will hear the “where”. At least that’s the usual way it goes.

The last seminar I taught at, I had the seniors and it went exactly that way. Those who were ready, who had enough time in practice, got the secrets, the rest got the “where”. It was a big, open class, no restrictions so there were a lot of people there. Would I have taught differently in a more restricted senior class? Not at all, but what would have been different was that there would have been far fewer people on the floor and I would have been looking at them more individually than I could in a big class.

Just like I would be able to give more indivdual attention in a beginners class where the seniors were forbidden.

“Why can’t I be in the senior class? I’m certain I would benefit and I’m afraid that you are teaching stuff that is secret, that will give those in the class a leg up on me!” They are a leg up on you, they’ve been around longer. Deal with it.

What if they are learning something that’s secret, something that you don’t know. What if they’re learning an entirely new school of budo? New to you that is. What if?

Well, maybe they are. If they are it’s a beginner class, not a senior class. What is different is that the people in that class will be able to pick up the new school really, really quickly. Maybe the senior-senior only has a limited time to pass along the new kata. Bang, there it is in a whole giant chunk, you got it, now go digest it for a while and then teach the beginners if they want to learn it. It will take months to teach them alongside all the other stuff they are trying to learn whereas it took you guys hours.

Oh, and eventually the ones who figured there were secrets to be had will understand that it wasn’t a secret class, it was an efficient class.

Want to learn the senior secrets? Stick around and keep your ears cleaned out.

Kim Taylor
Nov 24, 2016


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