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Recently, after some time in dojo-less places (like small pueblos in Bolivia and the desert near the Texas-Mexico border)... I've had the opportunity to train with Alejandro sensei in Boise, Idaho. Other dojos might win the prize for amount of aerobic exercise or number of black-belts, but this dojo has more heart and less ego than many places I've seen. How is this atmosphere cultivated? It's a subtle art, creating the atmosphere of a dojo, I think... I don't know all the tricks of it, but the most obvious thing is that there's a lot of talking on the mat (which is not something I'm opposed to, in general). One topic that comes up a lot is compassion -- how to be compassionate to your enemies, to dole out compassion or flick it from the end of your weapon, say... Alejandro says that he doesn't think of killing people, but of cutting negative energy.
At the same time I recall, too-vaguely, a class somewhere with Saotome Sensei. It was one of these moments where he is asking, "Who is your enemy?" and everybody is uncomfortably quiet because nobody knows how to answer. He said, That is a demon. You have to kill it. This is not a game.
It reminded me of the time in DC that Saotome Sensei said that the sword is not a cooking knife, unless it's a chopping knife for humans. This kind of shock. It is serious work, deadly work; how to bring that realization into a friendly, comfortable space? You want a dojo with heart, but not too comfortable...
Perhaps there are two strands of thinking, complimentary strands that seem paradoxical but are not. We need the strand of compassion because it is true, deep-truth. We also need this gravity, because there is also truth to the gravity; there are in fact demons to be killed, metaphorically or otherwise, and this too is part of the work. As usual, it's about balance... remembering that compassion is soft and totally hardcore at the same time.