Dojo: Senshin Center
Location: Dojo Address: 193 Turnpike Rd. Santa Barbara, CA.
Join Date: Feb 2002
Re: Does Budo require a sense of shame?
(long - for my own reflections)
Well I wonder if those days too have not passed -- the days of being able to use praise to gain proficiency.
I remember, somewhere, hearing that one of the common traits for children that are prone to commit acts of extreme violence is an overblown sense of self. Some experts in the field attributed this to the common trend to offer praise at all times. In a way, praise became a kind of prize such children expected at all times and for all reasons -- including the wrong ones. Slowly the child developed an overblown sense of entitlement that, when not confirmed, acted as a catalyst for frustration, anger, rage, violence, etc.
To be sure, this is an extreme case, but what was most interesting was that in nearly every episode the child also demonstrated a huge lack of awareness (prior to the act) that what they were doing was wrong. When that fact hit them, they were nearly at a complete loss toward understanding it and/or grasping the reasons why. In a way, they are very much taken by surprise. We may want to lump this with a child's inability to understand mortality. However, mortality has been a difficult topic for children since the dawn of human history and it has not been until recently that children have become so prone to both committing these acts of violence and to experience this total surprise (at least not on this scale) in regards to such acts.
For me, this goes right back to awareness issues -- goes right back to how relative shame or a sense of shame is to awareness. Also, therefore, it is very related, for me, to how dependent our desires to stay positive are to a need to create delusion. Please allow me hear to draw a distinction between two kinds of acts that may lead to a sense of shame and/or that we may like to think are related to shame. What I am referring to throughout this thread is NOT the act of a teacher who may look at a student and just yell, "Jesus, you suck!" Any deshi that might feel shame at this remark is NOT a deshi that has understood how to invest in their training in the right way, with the right things, etc. Rather, this, in my opinion, is a deshi that is more interested in superficial things -- things material. They are interested more in cultural forms of power, institutional capital, and social influence, etc. We know this, I feel, because if such a deshi had no investment in cultural forms of power, institutional capital, and social influence, and therefore no desire to possess these things, such a statement would have absolutely little or no influence over them. It is true, this is an attempted act to shame someone, but it is not a given, in my opinion, that one can be shamed by such things. In a way then, shame, like honor, is only a thing we can do or give to ourselves. For me, any shame that can come from outside of ourselves is a somewhat false-shame. I say this because shame cannot exist outside of ourselves unless we allow it -- making it dependent upon us for its existence -- and because such external shame can only exist for, what by contrast can be called, material reasons.
The shame I wish to demarcate here is that which comes to us by seeing clearly our distance from our internally held ideals. Earlier I gave a few examples of what this might look like. I would like to work off of those examples below -- by providing a variation of them.
Imagine if you will, a teacher and student talking. The teacher is looking at the student and not seeing the kind of training investment necessary to attain the stated goals the deshi holds for him/herself. Nor, when looking at the deshi, does the instructor see those goals upheld by the dojo itself. There are many ways to handle this -- of course. Actions on the teacher's part can of course range from not caring about the students progress -- just getting that much needed "paycheck" from them each month; to saying, "Jesus, you suck!"; to saying, "Come on, you are doing great, just keep going and you'll improve."; to saying, "You cannot really improve in Aikido under your current rate of investment."
To be sure, many of us have known, have been, and even actually prefer the kind of teacher that says nothing -- we deshi exchanging our money for their (the teacher's) silence over certain topics. The obvious attempt to gain power over another, in the second sample response, is a game we may want to play -- as both teacher and as deshi. However, it remains precisely that -- a power game -- not a matter of spiritual cultivation. In truth, therefore, we should opt not to play such games since such games do not even deliver the great power they appear to promise. For what true or great power comes from manipulating those that are prone to manipulation, and/or what true or great power comes from gaining the respect of those that see such little power as a great thing? So let us only look at the last two examples.
Very quickly, the third example can have us as teachers adopting the first position. In fact, we are almost contradicting our own intuition regarding the student's level of investment and their distance from their own ideals and those of the dojo. The whole reason the instructor was prompted to say anything was that he/she saw a discrepancy between the two things (i.e. the students desires and the student's reality). Now we are here saying, just keep going, all will be fine. If that was true, why say anything at all? Why not just exchange the funds for the silence like the first instructor that could not even care less? We have this cultural sense that somehow saying something positive, "Just keep going, all will be fine," is better than saying nothing at all. The downside is that we today are capable of feeling this way even when wisdom is telling us that they are indeed the same -- that saying something of this nature may exactly amount to saying nothing. More than this is going on however.
There is this silent agreement on both the part of most teachers and most deshi. The agreement is over the fact that we should avoid shame like the plague. For this reason, a teacher may actually come to feel a pressure toward not saying things as they are (i.e. speaking the truth) because in doing so they would risk breaking the silent agreement -- they would risk causing shame in the student. We see this in many ways -- not just in our desires to say only positive things. We see it in the teacher that says nothing; in the teacher that has his/her close students that receive the truth (whereas others do not); we see it in teachers that speak the truth and then feel compelled to apologize for having done so; we see it in the existence of uchideshi and kenshusei programs -- which are spaces reserved for the truth; etc. Whereas the first teacher that just exchanges money for silence may not be so acceptable to us, today, these latter examples are all perfectly acceptable ways in which we seek to avoid the truth for sake of avoiding shame.
Now let us go to the final example: Here a teacher tells a student they cannot progress at their current rate of training, etc. Such a conversation might look like this one…
Sensei: You have gained some proficiency in the core basics. However, in order for you to develop them you are going to have to put in more time into your training. This is a fact none of us can escape.
Deshi: Are you saying I have to train more or I will suck?
Sensei: I am saying that training obeys its own natural laws. "Suck" is a relative term. The requirements of progress are not so open to interpretation. If you want to progress beyond this point, you will have to commit more time to your training. If you want to remain where you are now, you can continue to train as you do now -- sort of. The real questions here are "What do you want?" and "What can you have?" Right now, it seems you want what you cannot have -- you want to progress without increasing your investment.
Deshi: Well I think such a thing is possible.
Sensei: It is, but only up to a point. There are after all contrary forces that one must deal with. These things too are part of the natural laws of training. Doing the same, or doing nothing, may actually result in a negative movement since one is not acting to counter these contrary forces.
Deshi: What are these contrary forces?
Sensei: On the physical side there is age and there is injury. One's rate of moving efficiently is not only challenged by age and injury, but, more importantly, such things also challenge acquiring the skill of moving efficiently. With the luxury of youth, you can more forgivingly suffer the trials and tribulations that come with learning to move efficiently. Without youth, age makes such things more strenuous at the same time that it requires more greatly that you move efficiently. In the same way, injury too can act as a contrary force. The more skilled you are, the less injuries you suffer, the less injuries you suffer, the more skilled you can become. Thus, training two days a week while you are in your early thirties will not be like training two days a week when you are in your late thirties. Things like age and injury act like a current, if you will, and you will need to be moving forward just to stay still. If you seek only to tread in place, you will actually be moving backwards. On the emotional side, there are even greater things to suffer. There is frustration, jealousy or envy, anger, impatience, depression, etc. These things come to you as you come to unfairly compare yourself to others that have not opted to "tread in place." They will also come to you as time passes and as you come to gain a sense of entitlement that should not be yours since you spent that time only allowing it to pass and not making the best use of it that you can. They will also come to you when such a training model prevents you from moving beyond what you are doing -- such as when classes will have to be restricted from you for the simple reasons that they are not safe for you.
Deshi: Well, perhaps that is all true. However, I am not here to "master" Aikido.
Sensei: That is fine. However, are you here to practice things contrary to your desires? Are you here to set yourself up to fail in the commitments you do hold between you and your Aikido? Are you here to train so that in five or eight more years you are only going backwards in your Aikido -- so that you prime yourself to feeling frustration, envy, anger, impatience, and depression every time you think about the mat?
Deshi: You sound like you are trying to make me do something I do not want to do.
Sensei: I can concede that that may be true. Only I imagine you believe I want you to train more, when in fact the thing I want you to do that you do not want to do is to acknowledge the natural laws of training more accurately. I gain nothing by you training more. I gain nothing by you training less, or by you not training at all -- I gain nothing. The inverse of these things also do not bring me gain. It is like this for the dojo as well. Like a great system of nature, the dojo benefits from all that come to it -- both great and small, both good and bad. What I am asking is that you accept what is before you -- either way. To accept one of these things, one of which will be your course of action, you need to see things more clearly. Our conversation here is about this clarity. It will be fine to realize that to progress you will need to invest more time. It will be fine to realize that should you not invest more time, contrary forces that are present in the training will come to move you "backwards" -- as in a current that is moving while you are treading water to stay still. What will not be fine, for your person alone, is to deny these truths -- these natural laws - for the sake of some immediate satisfaction that can exists only on the surface of this first denial.
Deshi: I am just not ready to deal with this right now.
Sensei: Acknowledging this fact is part of dealing with this. So you must be kind and patient with yourself as you are indeed already penetrating your training more with this admission. Along the way, should you find a need, you must feel free and encouraged to lean upon your fellow deshi, your senpai, and my person. If you feel we can help, or if you are not sure what you are feeling, you must take advantage of the community that surrounds you -- we support each other.
For me, such a conversation is no different from offering forces that are more realistic during a modified kihon-waza training and/or during a spontaneous training environment -- having come from forces that are more cooperative in strict kihon-waza training. It is about staying in tune with the Truth, with what is real, with what wisdom is pointing out, and then acting accordingly as our heart/minds are directing us through our own human nature (i.e. the emotions that make us human).
The reason I feel shame is central to our training is because how prone we are to self-delusion when shame is thought to be outside of our training. To obtain clarity, we must risk shame. And to risk shame we must find a way to capitalize upon the repulsing energy it brings to our person, to our heart/mind. To resist against that energy, to suggest we can do without it because it is often too great a beast to deal with, somehow, does not appear very Aiki -- right?