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Old 10-26-2007, 07:27 PM   #1
Kane
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Dojo Interventionists

It has always been my understanding that during an Aikido class, the correct etiquette is to leave the task of instructing and critiquing student's technique solely to the designated instructor of that particular session. Adherence to this point of dojo etiquette is important because it reflects an appropriate display of respect for the instructor, and a level of discipline conducive to maintaining the integrity of the teaching and the overall class environment. It seems however, that this point is often overlooked in many a dojo. Some individuals seem to take it upon themselves to 'coach' their partners during the course of practice, especially if their partner is of a junior rank, or is presumed to have less experience.

While some of this behavior may arise from a genuine sense of compassion or camaraderie, I suspect that on deeper examination, more often than not, it has more to do with certain individuals need to demonstrate their 'superior' understanding to others - by constantly highlighting and/or correcting the (alleged) flaws in their partners technique. I must admit, there have been many occasions during my own training, when I have been really stuck on something, that a subtle and well timed gesture, single word, or guiding movement from my partner has provided just the right shift in my attention to elicit a breakthrough in my understanding. For this I am always grateful. However, this is quite different from the disapproving grimaces, constant interjections and running commentaries of those people whom this post is referring to. This behavior is frankly, just annoying, and I believe contributes little if anything to the learning environment. The reasons for this I shall get to later, but before that, there is a related behavior I would like to mention.

My other issue is with those of you who act as self appointed physiotherapists or chiropractors, passing judgement on the state of other peoples bodies and performing unsolicited adjustments or stretches on unsuspecting partners. I find this kind of behavior to be highly disrespectful. It can also be quite dangerous. For those of you who are in the habit of doing this kind of thing on the mat, it is likely that you have little, if any, knowledge of your partner's particular bio-mechanics, medical history, injuries (old or new), and the other physical demands placed on their body in everyday life. The imposition of your own values and preconceptions on the body of another person without such knowledge, and without their explicit consent, is highly inappropriate in any context. Of course the manipulation of other bodies is integral to the course of normal training, but what I am referring to here are manipulations which fall outside of those called for by any given technique. When we watch our instructor demonstrate a technique and then bow to our partner to begin practice, we are in effect giving implied consent to engage in that specific technique, in the specific manner in which it was demonstrated. Therefore, anything done outside of these parameters is in effect non-consensual (unless otherwise agreed to). This of course becomes tricky because the generation of spontaneous technique is also part of Aikido. This does however require a great deal of sensitivity - a level of sensitivity that I think many aikidoka lack. I believe the safety and well-being of your fellow students should always come before any need for self-gratification.

Now, back to my previous point about the 'interventionist' types in the dojo. The reason that I feel this behavior is more of a liability than an asset is because the constant interruptions it entails disrupt the natural learning processes of the effected individual. We are all familiar with the old adage that we must learn from our mistakes; personally I find that having the opportunity to discover and feel how I am doing something wrong is an important part of the process of learning how to do it right. This is quite a different experience from being constantly told and shown (typically with active resistance) how I am doing something wrong. The former is my own understanding, reached through a natural progression of error and correction. The later is someone else's understanding imposed upon me. Aikido is also a dynamic practice and constant interruptions can deny trainees the opportunity to experience this fully. Of course there is a place for being told and shown - that is the role of the instructor, and for the sake of consistency, this should be executed exclusively by the person designated for the role. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the self-appointed instructors on the mat are actually showing something quite different from the person who actually holds the responsibility for the class. This is not helpful, especially for novice students. If nothing else, constant criticism is just demoralizing.

Further to this, these 'interventionists' also tend to make quite poor Uke's (and unfortunately they are often senior students), not because they don't have the ability, but because their intention is corrupted. The techniques of Aikido require that Uke make a sincere and committed attack. This is not possible if Uke's mind is focused on anticipating what their partner is about to do 'wrong.' The resulting ukemi tends to come across as either lazy or excessively resistive and does little to support Tori's learning. Of course almost any technique can be thwarted if you know what is about to happen. The point is, that as Uke, we need to proceed as if we don't know what will happen. If you are sincere in your desire to help your fellow students improve, I suggest that the best thing you can do is focus on being the best Uke you can be, regardless of your rank and that of your partner.

When confronted with a partner who is repeatedly obstructing ones movements, there is a strong temptation to reciprocate by bringing their attention to the gaps in their own technique. I have always tried to resist this urge because I know that this has the potential to degenerate into a form of competition, and I am aware that the founder was clear in expressing his desire to exclude such competitive attitudes from the art. So, in writing this and bringing my observations to your attention, it is my hope that those of you to whom this article refers may rein in your self-aggrandizing tendencies, trust in your partners own innate learning processes, and engage in a little more self-analysis, thus improving the overall training experience for everyone. Masakatsu agatsu!

Happy training

Kane
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Old 10-26-2007, 07:55 PM   #2
SeiserL
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Sounds like you had a bad experience.
Agreed, sometimes helping isn't helpful.
We all need to be aware.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 10-26-2007, 10:30 PM   #3
Rupert Atkinson
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I think I know exactly where you are coming from. In my first ten years I did various styles so was often wearing a white belt and it would be impossible to count the number of times people tried to correct me in some way or another (sometimes with good reason, of course). The black belt stops it, but not always. I was usually pretty confident though and would just say "Do you wanna talk or do you wanna train?" Or, more politely, "I like to figure things out for myself - please don't tell me." More often than not, my new found partner-teacher would have missed Sensi's point completely ...

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Old 10-27-2007, 03:29 AM   #4
Mark Uttech
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Our experiences teach us. Every journey is an individual journey.

In gassho,

Mark

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Old 10-27-2007, 03:33 AM   #5
nekobaka
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I agree that over teaching can be a problem. Being a teacher in my day job, I read a lot about how people learn, and how to teach. One basic concept is that people need to learn from their mistakes, as was said, also that they can only take in so much at one time. My dojo has some people that just started maybe 6 months ago. Being 2 dan, I think that instructing them in the basics is a kind of my responsibility. some people who are really good, try to teach beginners really advanced things, and end up confusing the person even more. When I do instruct, I try to keep it to what sensei has said over and over. Your arm isn't moving with your center, you need to turn 180 degrees, 90 isn't enough, that kind of thing. keep it short say it once, don't give instruction more than twice in a technique. Waiting until people ask questions is also important. If people want advice they usually ask for it. Sensei even tends to wait until we ask. I guess in japan the show off factor probably isn't so bad, but you get the occasional person like that. As far as chiropractics, that is surprising. I can't even imagine that.

On the other side of the coin, I used to practice at a dojo that didn't give an honest attack, and there was no instruction by anyone, not even sensei most of the time. I don't think I improved at all.
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Old 10-27-2007, 04:11 AM   #6
Mark Uttech
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
Ani Forbes wrote: View Post
I agree that over teaching can be a problem. Being a teacher in my day job, I read a lot about how people learn, and how to teach. One basic concept is that people need to learn from their mistakes, as was said, also that they can only take in so much at one time. My dojo has some people that just started maybe 6 months ago. Being 2 dan, I think that instructing them in the basics is a kind of my responsibility. some people who are really good, try to teach beginners really advanced things, and end up confusing the person even more. When I do instruct, I try to keep it to what sensei has said over and over. Your arm isn't moving with your center, you need to turn 180 degrees, 90 isn't enough, that kind of thing. keep it short say it once, don't give instruction more than twice in a technique. Waiting until people ask questions is also important. If people want advice they usually ask for it. Sensei even tends to wait until we ask. I guess in japan the show off factor probably isn't so bad, but you get the occasional person like that. As far as chiropractics, that is surprising. I can't even imagine that.

On the other side of the coin, I used to practice at a dojo that didn't give an honest attack, and there was no instruction by anyone, not even sensei most of the time. I don't think I improved at all.
There's some kind of wonderful contradiction in this post. What makes teachers (any teachers) think that if they speak of degrees, (45,90,180,360) they will sound knowledgeable and students will actually know what they are talking about? I've been interested in this phenomenon for years. I still am. I've learned that the best way to teach is to practice, being uke, being nage. The real body of knowledge is in the body.

In gassho,

Mark

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Old 10-27-2007, 04:18 AM   #7
Christopher Gee
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

'Shin-ken' practice with the upmost earnest...

I think it is possible to say to someone, politely that you do not care for their particular opinion on this technique. One of my previous teachers used to call it the blind leading the blind.

As far as pedagogy is concerned, learning is a social process. With agreement from Sensei and both partners I think talking through a technique or exercise is benefitical.

Either way, practice must be intense. As far as belts are concerned I have taken a koryu approach and only wear a traditional blue obi with a blue jacket and hakama (with my sensei's permission). Although I do have a first dan, I've become really disaffected about what that really means. Especially as the bushi never used them at all (sorry random rant there). I find I am constantly re-evaulating my opinions all the time. Whether a mudansha or yudansha we must continue to learn.

Heiho wa heiho nari - Otake Risuke
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Old 10-27-2007, 07:03 AM   #8
nekobaka
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
There's some kind of wonderful contradiction in this post. What makes teachers (any teachers) think that if they speak of degrees, (45,90,180,360) they will sound knowledgeable and students will actually know what they are talking about?
To clarify, if you are doing yokomen strikes, it is pretty basic that you should turn (the movement is) 180 degrees, it is not? If you only turn 90, you are interupting the movement. Besides, I would usually demonstrate it with my body, not in words.
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Old 10-27-2007, 11:45 AM   #9
Amir Krause
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
It has always been my understanding that during an Aikido class, the correct etiquette is to leave the task of instructing and critiquing student's technique solely to the designated instructor of that particular session.
Sorry, but this is not always true. For example, in our dojo, Sensei requires the yundasha to act as Sempai: correct mistakes and at times even teach parts of the group.

I would agree this type of behavior sometimes tends to spread to everyone trying to each everyone else 9including beginers teaching more advanced students). But the fact that anything good can be taken too much, does not negate the good basis.

Amir
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Old 10-27-2007, 12:06 PM   #10
mathewjgano
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
Amir Krause wrote: View Post
Sorry, but this is not always true. For example, in our dojo, Sensei requires the yundasha to act as Sempai: correct mistakes and at times even teach parts of the group.

I would agree this type of behavior sometimes tends to spread to everyone trying to each everyone else 9including beginers teaching more advanced students). But the fact that anything good can be taken too much, does not negate the good basis.

Amir
I think the important thing to note is balance. It is kind of funny how in emulating our sempai we often then try to teach. I know I've done this when it was inapropriate...and was told to stop by my sensei. My thoughts were that I would teach what I knew and hope it helped, but there's something to be said for a little bit of information being dangerous. On the other hand, just recently I was training with a partner who was pretty new and was letting him move me around pretty easily...too easily. Sensei told me I had to help him out. This meant I needed to be a bit more imoveable and direct him a bit.
In this regard, I think it is up to the sensei to observe what's going on in his or her dojo and to address these issues. Helping people to learn is a slippery thing indeed and people who wish to teach a person much learn how they learn. I think the problem arises usually when people think of knowledge as a thing to be passed on when really teachers are more like that proverbial leader guiding the horse to water...you gotta understand how it drinks.

Gambarimashyo!
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Old 10-27-2007, 01:16 PM   #11
Shannon Frye
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Interesting dichotomy -

As uke, we are to assist our partner. Both work in cooperation to reach a better understanding of the technique. There is no "me vs enemy", but rather a blending / partnership - where uke can guide nage.

But then we're supposed to just shut up, and watch our partner flounder 4 times in a row, until it's our turn to practice the technique.

Surely, you don't want a novice "playing" teacher (with every technique or partner), BUT I strongly disagree with the original post that most help comes from a desire to demonstrate a superior ability. I saw this alot in other arts - lots of competitiveness - but I see a very different dynamic in aikido.

I don''t want to be smothered but an over helpful uke, but I also don't want someone to sit back and watch me mess up and not offer some advice.

IMHO

Shannon

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Old 10-27-2007, 09:07 PM   #12
crbateman
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Remember that even the best teachers had to earn their chops. The ability to pass on ones experience and express oneself is a large part of the training that one undergoes on the way to becoming a proficient instructor. I would not condemn the practice based on a single distasteful experience. I suspect that, if that other student had opened your eyes to something new without showing condescension, you would not have taken it poorly. It's all part of the process. And your ability to take it without offense is helping you learn to blend, which must be done on all levels, not just the physical.
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Old 10-27-2007, 09:22 PM   #13
DonMagee
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

You know, I never see these problems come up anywhere by aikido. Odd.

- Don
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" - Albert Einstein
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Old 10-27-2007, 09:26 PM   #14
Derek
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I agree that when it comes to teaching, it is generally best left up to the instructor, however, as an instructor, when I am on the mat during a class as a student, I also teach. It is a fine line, and must be walked with respect for the instructor on the mat. But giving a simple nudge in the right direction can make all the difference to a student. The key is small corrections and few of them. A beginner cannot be burdened with too many corrections or they can become overloaded and confused.

Derek Duval
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Old 10-28-2007, 11:41 AM   #15
Qatana
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

The original post in this thread felt to me exactly as it would feel if a total stranger had walked into my sensei's dojo and loudly announced that he was teaching Wrong by allowing us to helo each other on the mat.
Lovely first impression.

Q
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Old 10-28-2007, 07:25 PM   #16
Angela Dunn
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I can see the Origional posters fault but heres a diffrent POV. I like been given hints and advice on how to improve a technique especially if its one I am having real difficulty with. I like people correcting me if I am making a complete muck up of a technique and I do not mind who is providing the advice no matter which grade they are be it a higher or lower grade than me, or a member of the junior class. I am equally likely if I can help someone with their technique or if people ask me a question about their technique to offer my opinion.But thats just me.

I can see how people may find it demoralizing but if it is constructive and the Sensei in charge of the class does not mind then whats the harm?
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Old 10-28-2007, 11:24 PM   #17
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I think I understand where you're coming from Kane. In our dojo ukemi is very, very important and most of the time when we pair up to train the sempai will usually assume the role of uke first. The sempai also pay very close attention to the relative skill level of their partners and attack appropriately for that level and unless tori is doing something really wrong (like a different technique) there will be no interruptions in the practice of the principle the instructor has demonstrated. The same is true when yudansha pair together, however, the intensity level will be greater and they expect not to get away with much. But usually when tori doesn't execute the technique properly there is still not alot of talk. It is just a word or 2 only after several failed attempts of the principle.

I have come across those who, when it becomes their turn to be uke decide to make it their business to correct problems they create by changing the attack a little to give themselves and opportunity to tell you what you are doing wrong. You bow in and uke 3 or 4 times and then switch roles. You then successfully complete 1 or 2 exchanges and then suddenly your technique doesn't work and then your are getting advice from your partner about what they think you are doing wrong. Most of the time it is something they are working on at the time and are sensitive to that specific movement or part of a movement or posture or whatever. The point is they are cheating you out of your practice, right? This used to really burn me up too. At some point, I could actually see the instant my partner's intent would change and I could tell before he/she moved that there was not going to be a real honest attack and I would resolve to change when he changed and do something else so I could "get him" anyway.

Later still, I began to realize that not only were these guys stealing my practice, I was helping them do it by getting emotional and judgemental about what I thought they were trying to get away with. And for all I really know, they may not even be aware that of their own actions or motivations for those actions and there is absolutely no sense in being that attached to something as trivial as that. You cannot change anyone, but you can get a hold of yourself! So now when this sort of thing happens during training I just shrug it off. I am still aware of it but not attached to it. I have actually come to enjoy the chance to practice with people who tempt me to "brain em'' because it is a chance to grow in other ways besides just physically. Depending on your point of view situations like these can separate you from this person or bring you that much closer to him/her (and everyone else) by realizing that we're only human with only a few basic motives that each and every one of us, black, white yellow and red, share. And that, my friend, binds us all together.

Incidentally, I actually spoke at length with my teachers about these things, asking them if maybe I was being to easy to throw or I was cheating people by not stopping them when things felt a little off and I was told that I shouldn't be too specific and that as long as the principles demonstrated were being followed I should continue. So, I did. I guess my point is every second you spend on the mat is and opportunity to learn something. Its up to you to discover just how rich this practice truly is. I cannot tell you, you have to just keep getting dressed and bowing in, man.

Best of luck,
Jason
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Old 10-29-2007, 06:44 AM   #18
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Nice Jason.
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Old 10-29-2007, 08:42 AM   #19
Ron Tisdale
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
You know, I never see these problems come up anywhere by aikido. Odd.
You think so? I see these kinds of issues come up where ever there is cooperative practice, in the absense of true randori. Including karate dojo, tai chi, etc.

Best,
Ron

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Old 10-29-2007, 08:57 AM   #20
roadster
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

I have never had the opportunity to be Sempai during a class without Sensei.

I understand what you're saying. In fact, while reading your article, I can see myself instructing in some ways (small ways) which I now plan to back off of.

Having said that, I can also say that I do always listen to the instructor. However in my experience I sometimes (not always) find instruction from a Sempai very helpful. Some have different approaches to a technique than others that end up with the same result. I find it refreshing to learn from one person what I couldn't from another (Sensei included) because it was explained differently from that particular person.

With respect to the Sensei, I always listen to her instruction and prioritize it as number one in my head. But if just don't get it (and yup, that does happen) I welcome instruction from a Sempai as long as the result doesn't obstruct the form as you stated in your article.
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Old 10-29-2007, 10:07 AM   #21
Timothy WK
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

IME, I think this issue is going to vary dojo-by-dojo, and sometimes individual-by-individual.

Hmm... actually, now that I think of it, 3 out of the 4 classes I've regularly attended were set up where the instructor briefly demonstrated the technique, and then the subtleties were passed on student-to-student (usually senior-to-junior) during practice. Two of those were big mixed classes, were sensei was constantly running between various groups. It would have been really difficult for sensei to pass on all the subtleties by himself. My current club is interesting because it's small and laid back, so we talk ALOT about technique as we practice as pairs. Seniors in my current club are also expected to act as sempai towards more junior members.

In all of those classes, sometimes I would get "corrected" by fellow students who don't know what they're talking about, or who don't understand what I'm trying to work on. Sometimes people were just full of themselves, but more often than not I thought they honestly were trying to help. You just take the bad with the good, I guess, and talk about it if it becomes a problem.

On the issue of this being an "Aikido-thing", I'm not sure. But when I studied karate and iaido, practice was largely individual. There wasn't the same dynamic where you were always working with someone else. What's it like in other traditional jujutsu kenjutsu styles, etc?

--Timothy Kleinert
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Old 10-29-2007, 10:33 AM   #22
DonMagee
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
Ron Tisdale wrote: View Post
You think so? I see these kinds of issues come up where ever there is cooperative practice, in the absense of true randori. Including karate dojo, tai chi, etc.

Best,
Ron
I actually wrote incorrectly what I was trying to convey. What I ment was that at the clubs I train at (my aikido club), I never see any of this. Sure, sometimes guys shut you down, but its never in a "hah, I'm better then you" type moment. I think the difference is that our club encourages everyone to tell each other what they feel and to help each other build skill. Even input from white belts is appreciated.

That 'hippy' culture if you will seems to cut out all that crap. Or it could be that I don't train there enough to see these problems. Or maybe I just don't notice them because I focus on my training and when something doesn't work, or if someone keeps trying to correct me when I feel I'm right I just shrug it off and do whatever I'm told to do to train. Then again, maybe it is because the non-competitive clubs I visit are very small in attendance with less then 10 people at any given class.

Perhaps if I was a more serious practitioner I would find this more annoying.

But you are correct, in competitive environments this is a non-issue. There is a simple means to decide who is right and who is wrong.

- Don
"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough" - Albert Einstein
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Old 10-29-2007, 11:23 AM   #23
Will Prusner
 
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Re: Dojo Interventionists

Quote:
Kane Spooner wrote:
... (typically with active resistance)
Narf. Oh please....no more...

Anyways,

I guess it depends on how valuable or worthwhile you believe the information being passed on to be. If you believed it was really great stuff being passed on, we probably wouldn't hear any complaint. When someone decides to try to teach me something, I generally try to learn it and understand it before I pass judgement on whether it is helpful or not. I try not to reject anything until I understand it. IME, it takes a fairly high level of skill to instruct someone (and have them understand) non-verbally. Just because someone doesn't yet possess that level of skill doesn't mean that they don't have something valuable to express to me.

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Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration...

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