Some lessons take time before we understand them, sometimes it can take years - I know this from my own personal experiences. My Zen teacher used to say, "You can only understand it, when you understand it." I had a lot of trouble with this and although I kinda know what he means, I occasionally have to fight with these words in my own head. How can you understand it until someone explains it to you? He says, "No." One will understand it when it understands it. . . . . . . It is true in many ways. As clearly as I try to explain the technique in class and give my students the opportunity to practice it over and over and over. They do finally begin to understand when the light goes on in their own heads in their own time - not by whatever I say or do!
During my younger days at Hombu, Doshu was very strict about practice. I am sure that he must have been much stricter towards previous generations of students, but he was still very strict. Many times, when I was reprimanded or scolded, I had no idea what it was all about. I just had to stand there with my mouth shut. Sometimes I understood, many times, I did not. Many, many years later, it became much clearer to me. I realize now that in matters regarding protocol, etiquette and mental awareness and being in the moment - Doshu was very strict. I was always corrected if I used the wrong or inappropriate word in my Japanese or my manners were not absolutely correct. I remember just to go next door to Doshu's private residence, even to deliver a short message, I would always have to put on a suit and tie - even if the chore took only one minute. If I was not awake in class and not paying attention, I would always get a whack or strong word or two. At the time, it seemed like I was getting corrected for every tiny, little thing I did!
After the long days of practice, it was often very hard to sleep well, everything in my body seemed to be aching badly from head to foot. I slept in the corner of the mat on the 2nd floor at that time. Later, I moved into the Instructor's Room. During the summer, it is common to burn "katori senko," a kind of incense which keeps away the mosquitoes at night. It comes in a round coil and burns for an entire evening. I used to burn this incense in a "donburi" rice bowl by my head. One early morning, I woke up to the smell of something burning and I looked and to my great shock, this donburi rice bowl was flipped upside down and several trails of smoke were streaming out from underneath. My hand must have bumped it in the night when I was asleep. What a shock! I immediately turned over the bowl and saw an big round black, smokey hole in the mat. I knew that this was my end at Hombu! - such a terrible thing to do and I started to cry! Suddenly I got a great idea and took out the mat and rushed up several flights of stairs to a small room on the roof where they kept some uniforms - this floor was lined with the same tatami. I grabbed a good one and raced downstairs to replace the offending mat and conceal my crime. Gads! The mat didn't quite fit! All of this mats are slightly irregular in size - one inch too long, two inches too narrow, etc. I grabbed this mat and raced up the stairs again to get another mat. Raced down but this one didn't fit either. Back up again and down again in a frantic race over and over - I still had to sweep the front of the dojo before the 6:30am class. Suddenly, Doshu opened the door and said, "What's all this racket so early in the morning?" And I had to show him the big black hole in the mat and mentally preparing myself to do "seppuku.". He looked at it a second and said very calmly, "We will have it repaired when the tatami man comes again to fix all the other damaged mats, don't worry about it and don't be late for class." and he walked away. . . I was so shocked that it hardly bothered him at all. I now realize and think that real accidents and material things did not seem to bother him, not as much as being inattentive in class or not being in the moment. . . . Over the years, I never try to punish the crime, just a student's mental attitude if it is due to sloth or mental laziness, like Doshu - often this is not clear to the student. . . . . just as it was not clear to me really at the time.
Some lessons take a lifetime to finally understand. . . . . My Zen master also used to say, "Teaching a student is like shooting two arrows up into the sky and hoping that they will hit each other!" It takes time to understand some lessons, a lot of time!