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mriehle
09-24-2007, 01:21 PM
This may be misplaced, but it's all Karen Wolek's fault: :D (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showpost.php?p=190298&postcount=49)

I tried to use this comparison to illustrate a point about teachers and physical limitations, but I couldn't articulate it in a way that really did that. Still, the contrast between these two shihans (whose names will not be used) has a couple of lessons in it for those of use who teach. Maybe for some who are just training.

So:

Shihan #1 is highly respected and broadly known in the Aikido world. I personally know several Aikidoka for whom I have the highest respect who train with him. I can honestly say I've learned something worthwhile every time I've been on the mat with him even though he and I have, um, personal issues.

But in recent years he has increasingly become a bully on the mat. He's always (AFAIK) been harsh and demanding with his students, but he's crossed the line into downright mean the last couple of times I've trained with him. The last time I trained with him will likely be the last time I train with him. He injured me due to his viciousness and no matter how much I can learn from him, I can't risk further injury of that kind.

So, when I was younger this would be a decision based in anger. And I would be saying some fairly nasty things about this guy. But the truth - which I can see much better now - is that he has been in chronic, excruciating pain the last couple of times I've been on the mat with him and I get the sense that this has become a part of his normal, everyday life. It doesn't change my need to protect myself, but it makes me a lot less inclined to blame him. Especially since I've been in pain like that on the mat when I've been teaching and I tried painkillers to help with the situation.

I have a considerable list of medications that doctors are likely to prescribe for me that I will not take when teaching ever again. Ever. Really. If he feels the same way, his only option is to deal with the pain. That combined with the personal issues (partly my fault, partly his, mostly circumstantial in ways neither of us could or should control) makes him a danger to me in a way that he might not be to another student.

Shihan #2 - At least as harsh and demanding. Never a bully. That being said, one of the surest signs he likes you is that he'll berate you mercilessly over the tiniest of mistakes. I've personally been publicly embarrassed in a pretty unforgiving way for stupid - if not always major - screwups ten minutes after being praised for showing an impressive grasp of something else entirely. If you are expecting a nice guy, better move down the freeway to another dojo I've been in once or twice before deciding I wasn't learning anything.

(One of the best nights on the mat with him was when he actually smiled because of something I was doing with a technique. Of course, I screwed up big time the next time because I was top-heavy from the inflated ego...)

One thing about this shihan is that he is very traditional in his training regimen, although he's quick to incorporate things he's learned from Kendo and other arts. But more importantly, he's not in constant pain.

Clearly, I can learn from this guy. Training with him is very physical, very demanding, very rewarding.

Okay, so you'd probably guess from all this that Shihan #2 is either a lot younger or takes better care of himself that Shihan #1. I'd say that Shihan #2 is younger, but I'm not convinced he takes better care of himself. The last I knew, both of them smoked, drank too much coffee and were reputed to drink alcohol at least moderately when it suited them (although, I have reason to believe that they've both given up alcohol entirely in recent years and I've never actually seen either of them with a drink in their hands). I think the deciding factor is genetics, really.

Some might be inclined to believe I have nothing to learn from Shihan #1 while I have lots to learn from Shihan #2. They'd be wrong. There's lots I could learn from both of them. I'd be best off if I could train with them both as well as my regular teacher and a couple of other people who I respect highly as teachers. But Shihan #1 is just too much of a personal risk to me. I suspect he's going to get worse.

I hope he realizes how he's getting before he hurts someone. But I think that will require one of his students whose judgment he trusts confronting him on the subject. I know if I were in that position I'd be reluctant to be the one to do it. This is especially true since I believe that his motivation is fundamentally to be a good teacher, to demand the best from his students. He does not intend - IMO - to be a bully any more than Shihan #2 does.

And, FWIW: One of the reasons I find this contrast instructive is that I've realized I probably have more in common - in terms of personality - with Shihan #1 than Shihan #2. I'd like to think otherwise, but it's just not true.

Ron Tisdale
09-24-2007, 02:27 PM
If nothing else, that seems to be a very honest post, and it deals with important issues in what is basically a compliant art. Kudo's for posting it.

It does bring up an interesting side note for me personally. How do we deal with chronic pain especially as we get older and yet continue to slug it out in keiko on the mat?

What do we do with young'uns who get uppity in the midst of that pain? Get snarky right back? Step back, breathe, and let it go? Smile, and know they will get to the same place if they survive? :D

I'm trying to think of a good story to tell without embarrasing myself or anyone else...but I'm coming up short.

An interesting problem. Appreciate your honesty.

Best,
Ron

Marc Abrams
09-24-2007, 02:35 PM
Frankly speaking, I would not train with either one of those individuals. Training can be severe, yet it should be a positive learning atmosphere. If Aikido is about relaxing and connecting better with the uke, then I fail to see how berating a person helps towards that end. A teacher can just as easily be all over you like white on rice in a totally positive manner so that each time you move correctly, you are positively reinforced. As far as hurting students, I have commented on that before. That is typically abuse from an insecure person with an over-sized ego. You might want to ask yourself why it is that shihans in hard arts do not injure their students with the same frequency that is observed in the Aikido world? If I felt that a teacher intentionally inflicted an injury on me, I would simply leave and never come back.

Just because a person has a rank, does not make him/her a good teacher, nice person, role-model, etc.. Ushiro Sensei phrased it best when he said it is better to spend three years looking for a good teacher, rather than spend three years training with a bad teacher.

Good luck!

Marc Abrams

James Davis
09-24-2007, 03:53 PM
So, when I was younger this would be a decision based in anger. And I would be saying some fairly nasty things about this guy. But the truth - which I can see much better now - is that he has been in chronic, excruciating pain the last couple of times I've been on the mat with him and I get the sense that this has become a part of his normal, everyday life. It doesn't change my need to protect myself, but it makes me a lot less inclined to blame him. Especially since I've been in pain like that on the mat when I've been teaching and I tried painkillers to help with the situation.

I have a considerable list of medications that doctors are likely to prescribe for me that I will not take when teaching ever again. Ever. Really. If he feels the same way, his only option is to deal with the pain.

It's good that you're aware of the potential problems that the meds can cause, and that you're making moves to protect your students. When I injured my knee, I was prescribed a mild anti-inflammatory pain med. Not only did my knee hurt, but every time I picked up that stick to get around I was reminded of the possibility of not being able to train any more. It bothered me a great deal, as I believe aikido to be one of the best things going on in my life, and I'm finally able to teach and pass it on. I was sad, frustrated, and pretty angry; In fact I was too sad, frustrated and angry. I hadn't been bothered by anything that much since I was a teenager! I was scaring my co-workers with the dark attitude that I had. I re-read the label on my bottle of medicine, and found that depression was listed among the side-effects. After getting the hell off that stuff, I calmed down about my predicament and was much, much happier. Luckily, I wasn't teaching at the time.

aikidoc
09-24-2007, 04:54 PM
Interesting post. Abuse or injuring someone to me shows a person out of control or who lacks focus or zanshin about their technique. It is irresponsible behavior and only teaches the injured person to fear the instructor. I for one find it difficult to learn anything when my mind is constantly focused on self protection and preservation. I echo Marc's comment. I would not train with either of them.

#1 sounds dangerous and may end up seriously hurting someone. Having issues with him should definitely concern you since he may be subconsciously punishing you IMHO

MM
09-25-2007, 06:54 AM
If nothing else, that seems to be a very honest post, and it deals with important issues in what is basically a compliant art. Kudo's for posting it.

It does bring up an interesting side note for me personally. How do we deal with chronic pain especially as we get older and yet continue to slug it out in keiko on the mat?

What do we do with young'uns who get uppity in the midst of that pain? Get snarky right back? Step back, breathe, and let it go? Smile, and know they will get to the same place if they survive? :D

I'm trying to think of a good story to tell without embarrasing myself or anyone else...but I'm coming up short.

An interesting problem. Appreciate your honesty.

Best,
Ron

Hmmm ... well, for all those young people full of vim and vinegar, there's judo and UFC and Pride, etc, etc, etc. Why should we expect young people who are full of energy to fall in line with how we, older students, train? It isn't the same world. :)

I think that having them expend that energy in another venue while also training aikido is fine. You're only young once. Enjoy it to its fullest. If they're still uppity in aikido, find another uppity youngster to pair with them. Safety first, but let them go at it.

And if there isn't another partner, I always slow things waaaaay down. It's hard to get uppity and snarky when you're moving like a snail. ;) Plus, if you change partners, they typically won't come back to you. You're going too slow. LOL.

Sorry for the off topic-ness to an otherwise excellent post,
Mark

Will Prusner
09-25-2007, 09:32 AM
Barring the genetic defect possibility...

The fact that somebody is in constant pain might be an indication as to the possible end result of their training methods. I would have to consider this before deciding to take their path. I don't see the point in destroying oneself physically, under the guise of training. What is the ultimate goal, what is the training and preparedness for, if you will be so damaged from the training that you won't be able to effectively implement it when it counts?

I also feel that training (or, for teachers, teaching) while in constant pain is irresponsible. I am currently benched while I recover from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus (recovering nicely, BTW). This was a condition pre-existing to my beginning training in Aikido, so, the entire time I have been training, I have experienced varying degrees of constant pain. I never acted like a jerk, or took my frustration out on any of my training partners. The only time I didn't suck it up and show up to train, was when I realized that the pain was so great, that I would be more focused on MY pain, than I would on the techniques or the safety of other's on the mat. Putting other's at risk because I don't like the fact that i'm injured is irresponsible and selfish. It's also egotistical, and from everything I have been taught, read, and experienced first hand, the more concerned we are with ourselves, the more we will be aware of the separation between us and our partners. The more we acknowledge the separation between ourselves and our partner's energies, the more difficult it will be to blend with those energies, leading to our ability with Aikido suffering grievously.

I believe that my capacity for blending with someone else is inversely proportional to the size of my ego on any given day. The more humility I can possess, the better my Aikido becomes.

Thanks,

W.

:triangle: :square: :circle:

Marie Noelle Fequiere
09-25-2007, 11:52 AM
While one can sympathize with Shihan #1, you need to think of your physical safety. One of these days, he will have to face the fact that something is seriously wrong with his teaching, but you do not need to contribute with a broken arm for it to happen.
Now, Shihan #2 seems to be a very good teacher, but his attitude is a just as serious problem. Some people are "thick skin" enough to take this kind of psychological abuse, other are not. Nobody can decide for you what you can take, and what you cannot.
Come one, there has to be some other talented, and more balanced instructors out there.
Why don't you go take a look?;)

mriehle
09-25-2007, 01:36 PM
Right, so several responses here have convinced me that I've misrepresented Shihan #2 considerably. Maybe I just didn't emphasize the lack of meanness in his approach.

Here's the thing: when he upbraids a student, that student knows full well he deserves it. By the same token, when he praises a student, the student knows full well he deserves it. This Shihan is pretty sparse with both.

Honestly, most of his criticisms are the simple, "try it this way" kind of thing. What he does do is that he has high expectations of certain students. I couldn't even begin to guess what he bases that on.

What I know is that for a short while I was on "the list". Being on that list means you get a little extra attention (a Good Thing) but it also means you get called out for things someone else might not be (a Bad Thing?).

Every time he yelled at me, I deserved it and I knew it. That didn't make me any happier about it, but I couldn't complain with any real justification. :o

He's not the first or the last teacher to do this to me. I suppose it's a point of pride on some level. At the same time, sometimes it'd be nice to be able to keep a low profile. :D

To some extent, as well, I think I need the kind of teacher that Shihan #2 is. It's far too easy for me to get lazy, especially when I have a talent for something. He's a very demanding teacher, he expects the best from all his students and the ones he "picks on" (for lack of a better term) tend to get good very fast. Faster than they would without him being this demanding.

I guess, to some extent, I just like the guy.

I should also point out that neither of these guys is my regular teacher at this point. I mostly train, these days, with John Smartt in Stockton New School Aikido (http://www.newschoolaikido.com). Come to that, I don't train nearly enough, mostly I teach in Rio Vista (http://www.fivespeed.org/aikido-rio-vista).