It would seem inappropriate to say anything without first acknowledging the magnitude of the disaster that has overtaken Japan in the past week. Even though we practice Taekwondo, which is a Korean martial art, we have been very influenced by Japan. The first book I read as an assignment was an overview of Japanese martial arts and culture. The book I am reading now is by an Aikido master, and it talks much of Japanese culture, tradition, and Zen Buddhism. I am really not sure what to say, I am glad Mr. Walsh wrote a post (as I thought maybe he would) as he has had a firsthand view of Japan, so if you haven’t already, read his post. My thoughts go out to the people of Japan.
The book I am reading is called “Kodo; Ancient Ways,” by Kensho Furuya. There are many things I could comment on in this book (and I will); it is a collection of articles written for Martial Art Training magazine between 1988 and 1995, then there are also comments from the author in the margins. About every other page is dog-eared from Master Pearson, when he read it. I talked in a video blog at the beginning of the Black Belt Retreat about a comment which reads “In learning, pay attention! Pay attention! In life, pay attention! Pay attention!” I was thinking about this as the retreat started, as a timely reminder to Pay Attention! to all the teachings at the retreat. It jumped out at me when I first read it, because over the years as I have been thinking about animal tracking and the skills I learn at the Tracker school, I have recently concluded that if I were to sum up the main teaching there it is; Pay Attention!
To ridiculously tiny details in a track, bruises on leaves and pine needles, the lay of the land, what is going on around you, including to people; when Tom Brown, Jr. (the Tracker school teacher) sees people, he notices everyone he sees, what they are wearing, if they have watches, glasses, how they are walking, etc. etc. They talk about Grandfather’s Sacred Question; What happened here? What is it teaching me? And see how many questions you can ask about any given object (try it- where did it come from? Who made it, are they left or right handed, etc…). So here it is in this book from a martial art perspective. Also from “Kodo”: “When a student watches his teacher demonstrate the art, he is usually thinking, “oh, I’ve seen this before,” or “I know this already.” These students never understand anything but their own ideas, although they think they understand what is going on.” What I have noticed is when I watch Master Pearson demonstrate techniques, he does them so well that they look easy, in fact like the only logical thing to do, until I try to do them myself and realize that it is not as easy as it looks! So I have been thinking in martial arts to pay attention to details of techniques, because they are just not as easy as they look, and if they aren’t done exactly or at least almost exactly right they just don’t work.
The article I am reading in this book now has also proved to be applicable to my life right now; “Make Mistakes Correctly.” So many times I think “how can I be a good martial artist when I constantly make mistakes in life?” Well this article addresses that issue. “Everyone makes mistakes. We make them all the time. Our job is to correct and learn from our mistakes.” Which maybe you have heard before- but there is more. “The common person turns his mistake into a bigger mistake. The wise man turns his mistake into an advantage.” “Nature never makes a mistake because it does everything according to Nature. Man can learn something from this.” “Respond to your mistakes correctly. A mistake is only another form of learning.” This is heartening to me as I set out on another, related path of mistake making and learning; teaching Taekwondo. I wish I were as good a teacher as Master Pearson, and Master Shaffer, and Mr. Walsh, and all the other teachers of Shin Ho Kwan. But I haven’t had their experiences. Since I returned from the Black Belt Retreat I feel like I am on a mission to have my own teaching experiences; I feel like, I am tired of not teaching. When I talk to people about the martial arts I am learning, they often express interest in learning martial arts, past martial art experiences, and general curiosity. I know that for many reasons (other responsibilities, interests, etc.) most people will not pursue martial art training- but now my thinking is, well, I might as well try. I’m working on starting a weekly class at the City Health Club in Ithaca. I would also like to try a class through the Ithaca FreeSkool, maybe a longer class every month or so- not sure yet, but the possibilities are endless-
On my way home from the Retreat, I realized I had been readjusted not only physically (having my lower back cracked was a revelation in itself) but also mentally, emotionally, energetically, spiritually. I attribute my lack of hesitation in teaching to energetic readjustment (this is about as much as I understand it thus far). I have also had my first try at teaching my daughter’s second grade class (with her help) for 20 minutes. That sure is a challenge- good experience, I figure- I will have to figure out how not to go over the time allotted, as well as holding the attention of all the students (how do you entice a group of 2nd graders to Pay Attention at the end of the school day? Anyone?). I am looking forward to further experience- I know I came away feeling good about sharing martial arts.