I remember an interesting conversation with a senior at the Shiseikan in Tokyo several years ago. This was an elderly gentleman (well preserved late 60s) with a certain style, a "Sherlock Holmes" deerstalker hat, and good command of English (important give my minimal Japanese) and who I subsequently discovered had been a senior official with MITI (and was referred to as "sensei" outside the dojo).
He referred to the gap that he felt exists between sandan and yondan in Japan. As he described it - between amateur and professional. He referred to himself as a "serious amateur" - a sandan, with skills and experience greater than many yondans, but who had no particular desire to progress in the "hierarchy".
I recognise that my commitment level is well below what many others achieve, and yet I continue to aspire to "serious amateur" - while I don't necessarily restrict it to sandan
However, looking back on 20 years experience, I can see periods of several years at a time where I didn't really learn much or progress. This was partly due to other activities in my life, but also the aikido learning path I got myself into. In the last few years, I haven't upped my "time in dojo" hugely, and yet I feel I have rekindled my desire and made large strides - partly through researches outside traditional aikido circles.
I spend considerably more time on solo practice these days (what with young kids and all) than previously, and inspite of the lack of mat time, feel I am making much better progress than I was some years ago - life/practice is increasingly interesting.
My current (few) students have the "benefit" of my researches - not all avenues of research are fruitful, but I feel the future is bright (hopefully). I know full well that people can learn what I have learnt in much less time than I have spent, and hopefully I can pass that on.
I have had various experiences where I have learnt more from senior students than from the "big sensei" directly. This I think is due to factors such as:
- sensei may have forgotten how he learnt said skill
- student has learnt it more recently and remembers better the transition process from un-skilled to skilled
- student may be able to explain it in a way that I understand better
So, while I seek out skilled teachers, I pay more attention to those with good students.
Just some thoughts