Even if you have only been reading our blog for a short time, you probably have noticed that some of us, Master Pearson in particular, are keenly interested in subjects such as etiquette, respect, attitude, and discipline and how deeply these things are intertwined with martial arts practice. On the surface it seems simple; a student possessing good knowledge of etiquette, who displays respect at every opportunity, who demonstrates a good attitude and is disciplined in his or her practice makes for a good martial artist and a person who does not possess or demonstrate these things makes for a bad martial artist. I would argue that in fact it is a bit more complex than that but for the sake of argument (as this is not the subject of my post) I think we can agree that, for the most part, these things are true. Over the years, one thing that I have heard Master Pearson criticize (and rightly so in my opinion) more than any other flaw in training halls around the country is the discrepancy between the behavior students demonstrate when they are on the mat and that which they demonstrate when they step outside the doors. In fact, one of the reasons he insists on certain formalities and rules within our school is to eliminate this discrepancy. Logically this makes sense…if the ultimate goal of martial arts is self-improvement and cultivation and as a result the improvement of our society and world then it should be a holistic experience; the lessons we learn inside the dojang should remain with us when leave for the night.
And yet, I have seen and contributed to this discrepancy myself. It is odd, that within many schools it appears to be all about “yes sir” and “no ma’am,” bowing constantly, standing in stick-straight lines and diligently focusing on the lesson at hand but outside, the same individuals refer to each other informally, engage in inappropriate behaviors, disregard common decency, gossip and slander one another, as if they are suddenly completely different people. Oddly enough, for myself, this “split personality disorder,” seems to work in the opposite direction. Perhaps because my work as a rabbi is taxing (though certainly meaningful and fulfilling) and requires a constant display of maturity, compassion, integrity, and formality (so much so that there is quite a double standard – I am expected to be 10 times as “good” as the next person), perhaps because martial arts and the people I practice with have been such a huge part of my life for such a long time and it is so deep within my comfort zone and symbolic of my childhood, it tends to be the only context in which I can let my hair down, be “myself” (which is not to say that I’m not a person of integrity or compassion – but you get the idea), and reminisce and relive wonderful memories of growing up. I therefore fall victim to this split personality in that my behavior “on the mat” is often drastically worse than when I am off. Whatever direction this discrepancy takes, however, I am beginning to warm up to the argument that Master Pearson has made for years; that it is not a good thing and ought to be examined and corrected.
In his book One Day, One Lifetime, Karate Sensei Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura writes, “The dojo is a mirror of life. When we train, we can see our attitudes towards life and other people emerge very clearly…we cannot be one person outside the dojo and another when we train…Our Karate training has its real meaning [only] when we can carry the same attitude from the dojo into our daily lives. Masters of meditation say. ‘After you go up to the mountains, you must come back down to the marketplace’.”
In myself, I wish to see a greater harmony – albeit one which honors the complex, multifarious “real me.” I would imagine that overall this would be an easier, less stressful way to live – as a unified, whole person both on and off the training floor.