Sitting at a Sage’s Feet (or facetime)

“Yossi Ben Yoezer said, “Let your home be a gathering place for scholars, get yourself dusty in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words with thirst.”  Without going into too much detail, this is a quote from the Mishnah (Avot 4:1), a collection of rabbinic commentary and a sacred text in my religious tradition.  I absolutely love this quote and I’ve often related it in my own mind to my martial arts practice.  The quote basically instructs the reader to be an active learner.  Take responsibility for your learning, ask questions, soak up the knowledge of those who know more than you.  This is something I used to be much better at in my own practice than I am now.  There was a time when I couldn’t be in the room with Master Pearson for more than 5  seconds without bombarding him with questions.  I still do this to a certain extent, probably more than some of my peers, but now with Hagsaeng Neaebu and more formal opportunities (i.e. at retreats) to ask questions, I haven’t made this is as much a priority in my own learning…choosing to save up questions for these occasions.

However, in the last week, I have been able to live this quote from the Mishnah in much the same way as I used to, and it felt awesome.  This past week, I had the pleasure of hosting Master Pearson at my home as well as spending time in Rochester at his home for the 12 hour class.  I got pretty dusty indeed and definitely soaked in a ton of knowledge at his feet.  It was great!  On behalf of the congregation where I work, I contracted Master Pearson to come in and certify all of our staff in CPR and First Aid (another one of his areas of expertise).  We had a great time learning from him and most importantly, he instilled us with the confidence to actually do something (even if imperfectly) in the case of an emergency.  After all, partial care given is better than perfect care withheld (See sir…how much I learned!!).

Master Pearson works with our staff and some community members as we learn how to do chest compressions on a victim

Throughout the 4 days that Master Pearson was here, I also learned from him in less conventional ways.  People think that they need to be in the dojang to learn martial arts.  They are so very very wrong!  I think Ms. Doll spoke about this a little bit in her post on living far away from an instructor.  You do not need to be in the classroom or in a formal setting in order to learn martial arts.  I learn from Master Pearson simply by being around him and being open to his teaching.  True, I give him a hard time when he tells a story or relates a lesson that I’ve heard a thousand times before, but the truth is, I still listen that 1,001st time because it may contain a truth that wasn’t there before or I may interpret his words differently this time around.  A good example of this was the 12 hour class.  Before we left, I made a somewhat disrespectful comment groaning about the class to Master Pearson’s wife (sorry sir…please don’t be mad!), something about how I was dreading it because I wasn’t sure if I’d learn anything new – like new, new!  In the end, I learned tons of new stuff and numerous ways to refine techniques that I already knew how to do.  This is a mindset thing…as Master Pearson has explained (yes, countless times!) a student’s openness will almost always determine how much he learns and how much he progresses.  Remember – the text says “make your home a gathering place for scholars.”  That puts the responsibility on the learner not the teacher.  You have to open yourself up to knowledge even, and especially, when it’s something you already think you know.

Returning to my point from earlier, a person does not need to be in a dojang to learn martial arts.  You can learn a lot from your instructor just by observing their behavior in various situations.  I’ll give you a few examples from Master Pearson’s visit.  First of all he worked with my students and taught a class on Monday night.  Observing your instructor while he is teaching is one of the best ways to learn.  It had been along time since I had assisted him in class and it was great to watch the way he interacted with my students, what drills he picked and how he constructed a class, and how he uses space in a creative way.  When I watch him as a teacher, and compare his teaching today to the way I was taught by him years ago, I also have the opportunity to see how he has personally evolved as martial artist and reminds me how hard he works not get stagnant but to continue growing.  This should be the goal of any martial artist.

Sit at your teacher’s feet, always, even if you’re standing!

Thank you Master Pearson for visiting, and thank you for allowing me to stay with you during the 12 hour class.  I am always grateful (as we all should be) for these opportunities, however informal they may be.  So for those of you who are as lucky as I am to be in close contact with your teacher (even if you live far away), don’t squander that good fortune.  You don’t have to wait around for a formal class to learn something.  Any time spent with your teacher can and should be turned into a learning opportunity.  Every meal, every car ride, every Starbucks run, every altercation with a neighbor over parking, every television show he introduces you to, (those last two were things that actually happened last week!), is a chance to grow in your own practice and knowledge.  If you are spending time with your instructor and not getting dusty in the dust of their feet, then you are just simply waiting time (theirs and yours).

As Master Pearson always says…something to think about!

Requirement fulfilled,


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