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Receiving Corrections
by The Mirror
02-12-2008
Receiving Corrections

This month's "The Mirror" column is written by Pauliina Lievonen.
I'm still chewing on this whole etiquette thing, and why it's sometimes so hard to receive corrections. Someone asked in a discussion lately if there really were people who didn't mind getting corrected harshly, and I first was going to answer that I didn't, but I got to thinking. How did that happen? Is it really true that I don't mind?

Thinking back to around the time that I started aikido, I did mind terribly. I hated being corrected on anything. Maybe I didn't show it very often, since after all, I'm a nice girl and brought up to be polite. But I did resent it. Not just in aikido, but in my music studies too, for example rehearsing with other music students. A lot of the time if someone had a criticism about my playing I felt I had to come up with a criticism of their playing somewhere later in the rehearsal. All very indirect and passive aggressive… and if my teacher had a lot to criticize in a lesson, I'd be depressed afterwards and feel that he was unfair and mean. The one person this really came up with was rehearsing with my husband, who is also a musician. Poor guy, with him I felt safe enough to really throw tantrums any time I felt insecure.

So how did it change? Did I find nicer people to play with, another teacher, another aikido sensei who was more gentle about his criticisms? Somewhere along the way I did change dojo, but to one where etiquette is more strict if anything.

Some of it is probably just getting older and getting to know myself better, knowing where I am and what I can and can't do. The big thing though was that a couple of years ago I came across this idea of humility, and for some reason, I decided to make the practice of it a theme for the year.

The funny thing is humility turned out to be something you don't need to be born with; it's a skill you can practice. The way I practiced was by asking myself "Why not?"

If I get a correction, why not? Did I think I was infallible?
If the correction was harsh, why not? Was I someone special that should be treated extra carefully?
If my husband asked me to play this or that phrase differently, why not? Had I really thought out my way of doing things so perfectly that it couldn't be changed?
If someone cut me in line at the grocery store, why not? What did that really cost me?

Now the hard part.

Any time I would ask myself "Why not?" I had to remind myself that I wasn't quite as big and important and good and wonderful as I would have liked to be in my daydreams. I had to remind myself that in the big picture of things I really was rather insignificant. And I had to look my imperfections in the eye. I still don't like to do it. Who would? But once I had done it, I could start to get to terms with who I really was. And that is a much better place to start with if you want to improve, it gives a solid ground to take your first step from.

And then the nice part:

Once I had practiced asking "Why not?" for a while, I noticed it really made life much easier. It still amazes me how much it helps. It means I'm much less stressed by any rude people I meet in the course of a day. It makes rehearsals go smoother because instead of starting to argue about a change someone proposes, I say "Let's try it". In some strange contradictory way it makes me more confident instead of less, because whenever I feel insecure about, say, writing a column, I can ask myself "Why not? If people think it isn't worth much, why shouldn't they?" And so I submit my columns, and sometimes people like them, sometimes not, and life goes on and it turns out not to be such a big deal. In other words, nowadays I have the courage to try things I didn't dare try before for the fear of failing. And to come back to where we started -- when sensei tells me to do this or that, I say, yes, sensei, and get on with it. Why not?

Of course I'm not perfect and sometimes I get all prickly and bothered by a rude comment, or a correction I feel is unfair. Sometimes I forget and start to live in my daydreams again. And I know that before I started doing this practice of asking myself who I really thought I was, that it would have seemed preposterous to me, so it wouldn't surprise me if it sounds preposterous and just plain wrong to you, too. We're supposed to be proud of who we are, right? But why is that really?

What I know to be true in my case, and suspect is true in many other peoples lives is this: Admitting that I wasn't quite as good as I would like to be was and is painful. Avoiding that pain makes me cling to a notion of "You need to be proud of who you are." Really it's just a way of not looking at who you really are. A teacher who makes a correction bluntly is threatening because they aren't acknowledging my imagined right to protect my illusion. Besides, while I'm protecting my pride, even a nicely worded matter-of-fact observation might sound rude to me. But as I found out -- pride isn't actually necessary for existence. It doesn't even make existence more pleasant.

In the end, letting go of all that effort to protect myself from seeing how imperfect I really am was a huge weight off my shoulders. I know if someone had tried to convince me of this a few years back I probably wouldn't have believed them. As I said, it still amazes me how well it works. But there you have it.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:

We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.
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Old 02-13-2008, 04:54 AM   #2
SeiserL
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Nicely said. Compliments.

Corrections are hard to get our heads around. We tend to want to be too good, too fast (like right from the beginning).

In 13 years, my Sensei has never told me I did anything right. His corrections means he believes I can do better and he is investing his time and energy. At first, any correction within a few feet, was a compliments. Now its inches. And when he just walks away, wow. (Either its okay or he had finally given up on me ;-)

Staying open, we learn more, we improve.

Yes, nicely said.

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 02-13-2008, 05:57 AM   #3
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Thank you Lynn!

kvaak
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Old 02-13-2008, 02:17 PM   #4
Karen Wolek
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Thanks, Pauliina! That was great. While I have gotten much better at receiving correction, this was a very good and instructive piece for me to read.

Karen
"Try not. Do...or do not. There is no try." - Master Yoda
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Old 02-14-2008, 01:17 AM   #5
Aristeia
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post

In 13 years, my Sensei has never told me I did anything right. .
Lynn I'm curious your thoughts on that in light of your day job?

"When your only tool is a hammer every problem starts to look like a nail"
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Old 02-14-2008, 08:36 AM   #6
phitruong
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Quote:
Michael Fooks wrote: View Post
Lynn I'm curious your thoughts on that in light of your day job?
Easterner mind works differently. strong steel makes in fire, not with spits and polish. There is a Vietnamese saying that translated into "care enough to use the whip, love enough to speak to" (something just doesn't translate well, hard to explain).
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Old 02-14-2008, 08:44 AM   #7
SeiserL
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Quote:
Phi Truong wrote: View Post
Easterner mind works differently. strong steel makes in fire, not with spits and polish. There is a Vietnamese saying that translated into "care enough to use the whip, love enough to speak to" (something just doesn't translate well, hard to explain).
Culturally correct.
It is his way.
I know what he means.
I train hard to reciprocate.
No words are necessary.

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 02-14-2008, 03:32 PM   #8
Randy Sexton
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and daring to accept our criticism and judgement. I applaud you.
Humility is a virtue desired by many but obtained by so few!
We are too proud to be humble. It is difficult to accept correction but so necessary. So I will always try to remember your sage advice. Why not? Maybe you know something that I need to learn.
Doc

"Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will"
Gandhi
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Old 02-14-2008, 05:20 PM   #9
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Glad if it was useful. Thanks for reading!

kvaak
Pauliina
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Old 02-15-2008, 04:39 PM   #10
crbateman
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Re: Receiving Corrections

I'd much rather be corrected, harshly or otherwise, than not at all. I think it's natural for many to look at criticism as confrontation, but if one keeps the perspective that it's a means of improvement, then acceptance is a much easier thing. Good article, Pauliina. Thanks for thinking out loud.
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Old 02-15-2008, 05:49 PM   #11
Mary Turner
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Paulina,

I enjoyed reading your essay, and identify with those feeling that come up when the corrections seem harsh. I wonder, when you work with less experienced people, does this experience change the kind of correction you give?

I ask because it is very hard for me to be a tough critic.
Thanks!
Mary
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Old 02-15-2008, 06:10 PM   #12
Pauliina Lievonen
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

I'm actually not a tough critic myself, I'm more the kind of teacher that says "Ok your timing was good, now if you would add <insert detail> it would work even better". Or if I correct someone on a point of etiquette I try to give a reason for the correction.

Hmmm...I take that back to some extent. One thing I think it's important to do is to check if people understood a correction and actually are able to perform it. So I usually stick around a watch for a while and if things don't improve I might remind people a couple of times. That does feel difficult sometimes and make me wonder how annoying it is.

But however carefully you word things, you just can't always know how people will interpret them. I remember once a guy sighed after a class that I'd lead that he really sucked more than usual today. Thing is, he'd been doing really well so I'd given him loads of corrections during the class...

kvaak
Pauliina

Last edited by Pauliina Lievonen : 02-15-2008 at 06:18 PM.
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Old 02-20-2008, 07:34 AM   #13
Takuan
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Re: Receiving Corrections

I don't mind being corrected. I'm also a musician and I've had some very demanding teachers. However, I have a hard time when someone blocks me in aikido practice. It makes me frustrated during class, makes me lose my concentration and I feel terribly insecure after the lesson. My sensei tells me that it's no big deal to have someone block you, that he had it happen to him in Japan at Hombu all the time (even though he admits it used to drive him crazy then too!), that I should just try and focus and gently find my way out of being blocked. But I always seem to fall back into the same negative thoughts on how my aikido doesn't work, what an impossible art this is, how I'll never get the hang on this, etc...
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Old 02-20-2008, 10:28 AM   #14
phitruong
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Quote:
Christiaan Oyens wrote: View Post
I don't mind being corrected. I'm also a musician and I've had some very demanding teachers. However, I have a hard time when someone blocks me in aikido practice. It makes me frustrated during class, makes me lose my concentration and I feel terribly insecure after the lesson. My sensei tells me that it's no big deal to have someone block you, that he had it happen to him in Japan at Hombu all the time (even though he admits it used to drive him crazy then too!), that I should just try and focus and gently find my way out of being blocked. But I always seem to fall back into the same negative thoughts on how my aikido doesn't work, what an impossible art this is, how I'll never get the hang on this, etc...
If you hang around aikido long enough, there will be the day when you yearn for people to block you. look forward to it and love it.

A trick I learned from my sempai: laugh out loud
work every time!
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Old 03-16-2008, 08:30 PM   #15
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Re: Receiving Corrections

A beautiful article - full of insight. Thank you so much for sharing.
d

David M. Valadez
Visit our web site for articles and videos. Senshin Center - A Place for Traditional Martial Arts in Santa Barbara.
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Old 03-17-2008, 02:37 AM   #16
Shany
 
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Re: Receiving Corrections

someone blocks you at your training? kick him! duh!
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Old 04-30-2008, 03:55 PM   #17
Christopher Creutzig
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Re: Receiving Corrections

Thanks for this article. I keep wondering and wondering why my wife is the most difficult training partner for me and vice versa. The issue of both giving and receiving corrections is certainly a big part of it. (Somehow, it feels much easier to hint at atemi with other training partners, though I wouldn't actually hit any of them either, for example.)

Oh, and about people blocking your technique - that's an opportunity to learn at the next level. As long as they do it so that you are just slightly pushed out of your comfort zone, embrace it!
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Old 04-30-2008, 09:29 PM   #18
dps
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Re: Receiving Corrections

A football coach once told me that if he ever stopped hollering at me to correct what I was doing wrong it meant one of two things: either I was doing it perfectly or he gave up on me.

David
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