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Old 06-27-2008, 05:07 PM   #5
Joe McParland
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Dojo: Sword Mountain Aikido & Zen
Location: Baltimore, MD
Join Date: Jul 2007
Posts: 309
Re: The Potter and the Magic Clay

Hi, Ross-

It's part of the magic of parables that the reader is tempted to pin his own experiences to the various symbols and to see how the story applies in his own life. Since there's no guarantee that my interpretation matches your presentation, I'll start with the disclaimer that what you meant to say is not necessarily what I heard.

While it may have been preferable for me to approach the article with a clear mind, it's an odd coincidence that I had just read your previous article, "The 2nd Scout Law" ( This discourse presented much honest insight into a teacher's point of view surrounding the departure of a senior student, an incident which fragments a dojo.

I was preparing a complex response to the earlier article when I spotted the later and wrote the simpler and more concise response to that one instead. The earlier response would have come with my own baggage as a reluctant ronin instructor who has dealt with the other perspective personally. [I kept a blog,, whose earliest entries were written to help me reason through those feelings and events. Maybe they'll benefit someone else someday.]

The hot issues for me that put a response in motion included the notions of the teacher's investment in the student and the disappointment in a teacher's expectations being dashed. Additionally, I felt a strong sense of irony: Notions of honor, tradition, responsibility, and so forth, were raised, yet, if your dojo's website is accurate, you find yourself in a lineage of what some might call ronin if not rogues. [That is not meant negatively, by the way. My first contact with Aikido was in a West Virginia outpost of Toyoda Sensei's Aikido Association of America, a break-away from Tohei's organization if I understand the history correctly.]

When I read this article, though, I saw what is potentially a different---possibly enlightened---perspective.

On my reading, that formless clay is the essence of all things, though it is rarely experienced directly and consciously. Though certainly this clay may have meant anything in your parable, to include the practice of Aikido itself, consider what it might mean if that clay was the essence of everything and every student as well, including the recalcitrant one.

Every action, interaction, and non-action, shapes who we are. Just as my reading your articles are shaping me, my response likely shape you---if in no other way than you spent this time reading and considering it rather than doing something else.

Organizations, dojos, lineage, rules and regulations, rituals, the student-teacher relationships in various forms, the business aspects including dojo competition and cash flow, and so forth, are the traces of this primordial clay---but they are ultimately not it, nor are they separate from it. Placing expectations upon these things, including the ultimate behavior of a student, is akin to the potter going to sleep happy with his creation in working with the primordial clay... What are the feelings the next morning?

It's the working of the clay, not the creation, that is ultimately important, that is ultimately transformative.

And if teaching is your role this moment, then your teaching is what is important, the universe's expression through you. That is your working the clay. Do that well and do not worry about the rest.

Working the clay is your investment in the universe; it transcends your investment in a student, your lineage, or anything else.

Thank you again, Ross.
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