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-   -   Sempai knows best? (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=204)

Magma 08-22-2000 04:08 PM

I cross train in TKD as well as aikido, but in both arts I find one of the most frustrating things for me to deal with is what I call the Empty Shell. The Empty Shell is a person (very often of higher rank than I, but most broadly just of "high" rank - maybe the one or two ranks before Dan and above), who has not internalized what they are doing on the floor. Instead, they have unconsciously directed their efforts toward convincing others that they know what they are doing.

This normally manifests itself in a propensity towards talking rather than doing. Imagine being a new student checking out the dojo and having to endure an extended one-on-one impromptu lecture on esoteric philosophical concepts that take lifetimes to understand. Now don't get me wrong, these are good ideas to discuss and by doing so we gain further insight. What I am saying is that what we do in our training is both mental and physical together; but for the Empty Shell, simply being able to talk the good talk seems to be all too often enough.

I also see in the Empty Shell the closed mind of someone who has allowed themselves to stop learning. Rather, the Empty Shell is a creature of habit. If they see a particular technique, they watch closely enough to categorize it (ie, "he's doing iriminage"), but then shut down and miss what the instructor is emphasizing or changing, choosing instead to follow the same blueprint that they always refer to out of habit.

(I suppose that begs the question "Is there any such thing as a good habit?" Can habits be the sign of a well-trained mind, or are they simply the sign of a lazy spirit? While I favor the latter interpretation, in terms of this discussion know that I specifically refer to habits that lead the student to do things contrary to the way the instructor wishes them done at that time, and that we can think of these habits broadly as "bad habits")

One specific example: the class before a promotional testing in one of my arts, a student more senior than I had me step through a particular move that I was to be tested on. He then "corrected" what he mistakenly saw as errors... and proceeded to show the technique so badly that he very nearly tripped himself because of the footwork he wanted me to do - footwork I knew to be wrong from discussions I'd already had with the instructor and other black belts. When I showed the move again and again, he pronounced dismissively that it was "Close enough." Close enough for what? Close enough that I'm going to trick the instructor into giving me rank? I didn't argue with him, or say a word. Then, on the test, doing the technique the way that I had been shown by the instructor rather than by my senior student, I was asked to demonstrate it for another student who was also testing but having trouble performing.

OK, like I said, this frustrates me, and I get long-winded when I get frustrated. But what it comes down to is this: I see these Empty Shells working with new students and know that the new students are going to be taught incorrectly. I can see these sorts of people in both of my arts, but a new student won't know any better. And let's face it, as we progress through our training, we begin to see people who just seem to really have great technique, and people who may be of the same rank but don't have such great technique. A new student coming into the dojo has no idea of any of that except for the color of the belt.

Has anyone else experienced this, and what have you done in response? Gone to your sensei? Approached the senior student in question? I appreciate your feedback.

guest1234 08-22-2000 08:58 PM

i can only speak for the new students those you call Empty Shells might influence...don't worry, we're not as gullible and easily misled by sempai as you would think :). it doesn't take long to figure out who can help us best learn---and it may even be the one you are concerned will show us the 'wrong' thing, though probably not. not sure when you have the chance to witness other students teaching, unless you are instructing that class...but i'd bet your sensei is as observant as you are, and can spot problems if they are there. i do think that if a sempai is too irritating to you for you to learn what they are showing, or if you are convinced they are wrong, or don't like their approach, you should discuss it with them (outside of class).

Dan Hover 08-27-2000 10:34 AM

I agree with Colleen, that newer ranks are far more observant than most people think, they still have beginner's mind which in some cases keys them into which sempai are empty cup and which are empty shell, the sad thing is even in a lot of TKD and AKD(get your axes ready to grind) there is a lack of consistency of minimum standards, in regards to testing. Although the color of your belt really doesn't matter in the big picture, their should be some common sense when you are having some one teach by the mere criteria that they have achieved Shodan, this does not make them any more qualified to teach than anyone else in the room. The beginner can sense who is full of knowledge and who is full of themselves. Usually empty shells end up quitting either at Shodan or shortly thereafter, thinking that the belt was the goal, not the beginning.

Dan Hover

Nick 08-27-2000 11:38 AM

usually those who train for the belt will have two alternatives when they find that a belt is unimportant:

1. Quit and find somewhere that will promote them quickly.

2. Train more diligently than before, with a new, 'better' reason to enter the dojo.

Hopefully more people will start choosing the latter.

-Nick

Magma 08-27-2000 09:18 PM

Quote:

Nick wrote:
2. Train more diligently than before, with a new, 'better' reason to enter the dojo.

Hopefully more people will start choosing the latter.

We can all hope for such transformations, but I don't know how often we might see it. I find that Empty Shells tend to be the way they are for one of two reasons: either the prestige that comes with the rank, as has been mentioned, or simply the responibility that comes with the rank. It's easy to recognize and dismiss those that follow into the former category, but those that fall into the latter, who are in it only for the power and the spotlight they get by being in charge of a class or even one or two students, are harder to deal with - if solely because they are in charge.

Don't know if there's even a point there, because I agree with what has been said here, but there it is...
M

Dan Hover 08-28-2000 08:30 AM

have you brought this to the attention of the head instructor? Hopefully they are not just an empty shell in charge.

Magma 08-28-2000 12:54 PM

No, the dojo-cho is very good, but he is only there for one class (he relies on the other yudansha & near-yudansha to teach the other classes).

Of course, there is the catch-22 that when he is there, the Empty Shell isn't in charge anymore. And when he isn't there, he can't see.

I have not brought it up to the dojo-cho for three reasons. (1), that my first thought is, "how am I doing? Do I still have room for growth? Why do I think that I could do it any better?" which turns into more fuel for self-improvement. It's the "I don't want to fall into that trap" kind of motivation. (2) I wonder if it is a self-confidence issue for the ESh, which will be fundamentally impossible to change. (3) I am the kohai in the relationship (by one rank). Who am I to go to the sensei, especially when the sensei seems to love this person's attitude when he is there? (Reread the catch-22 para above to understand my frustrations with that).

Has anyone else been here? What have you done?

M

Dan Hover 08-28-2000 01:05 PM

Quote:

Magma wrote:
No, the dojo-cho is very good, but he is only there for one class (he relies on the other yudansha & near-yudansha to teach the other classes).

Of course, there is the catch-22 that when he is there, the Empty Shell isn't in charge anymore. And when he isn't there, he can't see.

I have not brought it up to the dojo-cho for three reasons. (1), that my first thought is, "how am I doing? Do I still have room for growth? Why do I think that I could do it any better?" which turns into more fuel for self-improvement. It's the "I don't want to fall into that trap" kind of motivation. (2) I wonder if it is a self-confidence issue for the ESh, which will be fundamentally impossible to change. (3) I am the kohai in the relationship (by one rank). Who am I to go to the sensei, especially when the sensei seems to love this person's attitude when he is there? (Reread the catch-22 para above to understand my frustrations with that).

Has anyone else been here? What have you done?

M

Yikes, that's sticky, what is that, cactus? Yes you could always look at ESh as an opportunity for your own growth, on having to deal with people like them, remember part of aiki theory is to be flexible oursleves to deal with people like that. Instead of trying to change them which you admit would be quite difficult if not impossible. Deal with how YOU deal with people like that, this of course is the hard right, but in the big picture it is for the better. Or take the easy left and not go to classes that they teach.


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