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The Death of Learning
The Death of Learning
by Ross Robertson
03-17-2008
The Death of Learning

Knowledge is the death of learning.

My students, I have taught you many things. Some of you have learned about walking through doors, and not walking through walls. And now your aikido is all about seeking doors, and avoiding walls.

Some of you understand a bit about solid and empty. You have learned the stillness of a shared center, of letting the attacker strive for the collision of solids, while you simply push empty. Emptiness is your orientation, emptiness is your goal.

A few of you have experienced the rare feeling of doing nothing, next to nothing, and accomplishing everything. So now nothing is your advantage.

I have taught the "maximum extraction of all extraneous effort." Some of you have tasted effortlessness, and have abandoned your efforts.

And though you scratched your heads and raised your eyebrows when I spoke of Izanami and Izanagi, when I talked plainly about male and female, you were patient and tried to understand. Now in a flash of insight, you see how the parts fit together perfectly, and how the child of aikido is born from this union. Like puzzle pieces we come together this way, but not that way. So your aikido is a union of divine principles made manifest.

I talk, I write, I demonstrate the concave and the convex, the ebb and flow, the attractive and the radiant, the inbreath and the outbreath, the sagittal, coronal, and transverse. You know about omote and ura, irimi and tenkan, soto and uchi. We explore compression, tension, torque, shear, and bending. The youngest child in our classes knows about pronation, supination, flexion, extension, abduction, and adduction.

We are growing our roots and our branches.

Thank you for listening. Thank you for reading. Thank you for practicing.

Thank you for learning, for studying, for thinking, and experimenting.

You have learned much, and I'm very proud of you. What I ask of you is very difficult. It is not intuitive. The words we use often refer to abstractions, and abstractions turn out to be concrete concepts. Concepts that, at long last, you know and grasp.

You know. You've gained knowledge. You've sweated, struggled, fought, given up, persisted, and finally prevailed. I am pleased.

Having come this far together though, I owe you this:

Your knowledge is wrong.

Knowledge that satisfies is always wrong. Understanding that makes sense is always deceptive. What you know, you cannot learn. Therefore pray that you never know aikido. Your surety, your confidence, your experience, and all your skills and concepts are now your enemy.

I know, because I see it.

You look for doors when it is time to break down walls.
You push empty when it's time to move mountains.
You do nothing when there is work to be done.
You work for efficiency not realizing that nothing is more efficient than death.
You put all the pieces of the puzzle together, but the picture that emerges is your own ink blot.

This is not aikido.

If all I taught of aikido was freedom, this too would be a very good teaching. But then, you would be trapped in an idea of freedom.

It's ok, because we need solid ground upon which to walk. But in walking, we must leave solid ground to take the next step. What you know gives you comfort and a sense of security. Leave it. Your leg swings forward, moves through the air, the heel comes down, then the whole foot, and lo! a new concept, a new idea, a new understanding. Already the other leg is lifting, leaving behind the firm earth, the firm footing, the firm knowledge. This is progress. This is becoming. This is the path.

You don't know aikido, and neither do I. The only aikido you can know is a dead aikido. But we can experience it. By all means, accumulate experience, but never let your ideas or your knowledge or your learning stand between you and the immediacy of the present.

If your experience isn't making you more alive, then you're not doing aikido, no matter what technique you use, what principle you espouse, what ideal you exemplify.

There can be no repetition.

Like the great man said, history never repeats itself... at best, it merely rhymes. So though you hold your treasure horde of memories dear, not forgetting the lessons you've learned, and though you look to the horizon with hopes and vision, and though there are times when the patterns match and certainty crystallizes with absolute clarity, what you are experiencing now has never happened before.

Now is the fulcrum of past and future. Now is the only balance point available to you. And now is something you've never seen, heard, learned, or experienced before. Now is the thing you must truly know, but now you see it, now you don't. The moment is gone and everything has changed, But now persists.

So my students, you may quote my lessons back to me, and I'll be glad when they are working for you, and sorry when they fail you. Do try to remember that I can't give you knowledge, and it's far better for everyone if I don't even try. Remember that as a sensei, I'm only a proxy. Practice with me by paying attention, by heightening awareness, by being on alert, and by having an authentic encounter.

But then look beyond. Never mind what you heard or what you've read or what you saw. My lessons were never for you to carry around like so much baggage. What knowledge I give will kill you.

The only value that I can bring to you is the realization of your right to exist (and you can get that elsewhere). You are sovereign in all that you experience, and you alone govern your affairs. We can enrich each other, yes -- but any thought that other beings rule your emotions or dictate your actions is nothing less than a draught of poison.

Abandon your addiction to the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Consume and be consumed by life. All that you know of life is just your own life.

Just your own...

Your own life.

Own life.
3/2/08
Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin, TX, USA

Ross Robertson lives and teaches aikido in Austin, Texas.
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Old 03-17-2008, 03:48 PM   #2
SeiserL
 
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Re: The Death of Learning

Knowledge is a destination.
Learning is a journey.
Stay open.
Keep moving.

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 03-26-2008, 08:01 AM   #3
Tharis
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Re: The Death of Learning

That's brilliant, absolutely true, and totally what I need to remind myself on a daily basis.

Thank you.

Tangentially, it's always good to read new spins on ancient theologies.
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Old 04-09-2008, 08:01 AM   #4
Susan Dalton
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Re: The Death of Learning

Beautiful. You got me, Ross.
"Having come this far together though, I owe you this:
Your knowledge is wrong."
This line made me laugh out loud. Thank you.
Susan
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Old 04-11-2008, 07:20 PM   #5
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Re: The Death of Learning

Ross,I am at that stage in my life,that reading this from you was
just like God has just send it for me!

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Old 04-16-2008, 09:54 AM   #6
jennifer paige smith
 
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Re: The Death of Learning

Reads like Paul Ferrini...'open the door'.

Jennifer Paige Smith
Confluence Aikido Systems
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Old 05-02-2008, 12:11 PM   #7
R.A. Robertson
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Re: The Death of Learning

Thanks everyone for the very kind comments. I appreciate that you've taken the time to read my work, and I hope very much to meet you in discussion on future columns.

Best,

Ross
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Old 05-02-2008, 03:16 PM   #8
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

With all due respect Sensei...I enjoyed reading your essay but for me (and remember this just me I speak for no one else) there is little if any truth to most of what you wrote...It sounds great borrowing what it does from the TAO and the Eight Fold Path but it's no where near the kind of revealation about "knowledge" I have experianced in all my years of Zazen or Aikido...

As my wonderful Roshi once put it Make Love Drive Freeway...

Knowledge is a sword. I must learn to wield it with both love and compassion... All these "things" must be known to me in order to share them with the other.

Respectfully,

William Hazen

Last edited by Aikibu : 05-02-2008 at 03:26 PM.
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Old 05-03-2008, 12:31 PM   #9
George S. Ledyard
 
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
William Hazen wrote: View Post

Knowledge is a sword. I must learn to wield it with both love and compassion... All these "things" must be known to me in order to share them with the other.
William,
That is what "upaya" or "expedient means" is all about in Buddhism. I think that Ross is correct in that ones "knowledge" is a trap that keeps one from seeing what else is there to learn. All knowledge is conditional and therefore not true in any final sense.

On the other hand, teaching that way results in students who are hazy, shallow, and attached to the ineffability of the whole thing, and that just results in crappy Aikido.

"Upaya" allows us to present knowledge, to transmit it to our students, to make it useful all the while knowing that it is without any final substance. What we present today will be different from what we present tomorrow, if we ourselves are growing. What you know today, right now, is what you know. No more and no less. As long as you understand that this will all change, that there is no "arrival" at some sort of "Knowledge" that is final and unchanging, then knowledge is useful and in fact essential to the transmission.

The instant people find some knowledge which they believe to be final, unchanging, irrefutable, you see growth stop. You also have everything required to start slaughtering those who have some other ideas about what is true.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 05-03-2008, 12:58 PM   #10
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
William,
That is what "upaya" or "expedient means" is all about in Buddhism. I think that Ross is correct in that ones "knowledge" is a trap that keeps one from seeing what else is there to learn. All knowledge is conditional and therefore not true in any final sense.
I respectfully disagree George...Knowledge is nothing more that a sword.... The ego of the Aikidoka who wields it determines it's real value. And if by increasing my knowledge I am all the better at wielding it....COOL! LOL That beautiful paradox my friend is the upaya of Aikido...

Grasp and Roll....Grasp and Roll...Grasp....and roll....

Quote:
On the other hand, teaching that way results in students who are hazy, shallow, and attached to the ineffability of the whole thing, and that just results in crappy Aikido.
See above.

Quote:
"Upaya" allows us to present knowledge, to transmit it to our students, to make it useful all the while knowing that it is without any final substance. What we present today will be different from what we present tomorrow, if we ourselves are growing. What you know today, right now, is what you know. No more and no less. As long as you understand that this will all change, that there is no "arrival" at some sort of "Knowledge" that is final and unchanging, then knowledge is useful and in fact essential to the transmission.

The instant people find some knowledge which they believe to be final, unchanging, irrefutable, you see growth stop. You also have everything required to start slaughtering those who have some other ideas about what is true.
I "think" your mixing "Mayas" with "Upayas" with results in all this new age Budo-Buddha speak. Knowledge is not static and you can only share what you know when you know it though your own limited perception.

"Grasping" knowledge is my ego's fault just as much as pointing at the moon is not the moon's fault.

I prefer speaking and writing plainly so substitute the word Ego/Emotion Thought for knowledge and Ross's post makes more "sensei" to me.

Time to go surf and experiance another beautiful "body of knowledge" Nature has blessed me with in this life...

Nothing like a little Dharma Combat my friend. thanks for your insight.

William Hazen
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Old 05-03-2008, 01:45 PM   #11
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
William Hazen wrote: View Post
Knowledge is not static and you can only share what you know when you know it though your own limited perception.
I had thought that this is precisely what I was saying... I think we are speaking at cross purposes.

I did not think that I was disagreeing with you in any aspect other than pointing out that the concept of Upaya as it is used in Buddhism allows you and Ross to both be right, always acknowledging that the entire concept of right is conditional as well. (I do not see this as "New Age" in any sense... these concepts have existed for over 2000 years.)

George S. Ledyard
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Old 05-03-2008, 11:37 PM   #12
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
I had thought that this is precisely what I was saying... I think we are speaking at cross purposes.

I did not think that I was disagreeing with you in any aspect other than pointing out that the concept of Upaya as it is used in Buddhism allows you and Ross to both be right, always acknowledging that the entire concept of right is conditional as well. (I do not see this as "New Age" in any sense... these concepts have existed for over 2000 years.)
No worries George We're simply having a a little Sutra Randori

I don't know if you're ever experianced Dharma Combat between two Roshis but it is quite a fantastic experiance and I am afraid my "knowledge" is like a candle light in a hurricane....

Call me Irish but I will not give up on keeping that pesky flame alight! LOL

William Hazen
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Old 05-05-2008, 11:59 AM   #13
Jonathan
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Knowledge is the death of learning.
No, it is not. Knowledge and its application are the goals of learning. Growing content with ones present body of knowledge and thus apathetic toward new knowledge is what is "deadly" to learning. Eventually, you make this clear in your essay - sort of:

Quote:
Knowledge that satisfies is always wrong.
I don't agree. This statement makes it sound as though a certain kind of knowledge (the kind that is satisfying) is morally unacceptable (which is what the word "wrong," rather than "false," implies) Knowledge itself, however, is amoral. Knowledge can be true or false, but, alone, it has no moral quality. It is what people do (or do not do) with knowledge that has moral implications. This statement fails to make this clear.

Quote:
Understanding that makes sense is always deceptive.
This statement is redundant. If a thing doesn't make sense to me, can I say that I have understood it? What you should have written is: "Understanding is always deceptive." In this form, however, this statement becomes very plainly self-refuting.

Quote:
What you know, you cannot learn. Therefore pray that you never know aikido.
Alternatively, you cannot learn what you refuse to know -- or believe you cannot know.

Quote:
Your surety, your confidence, your experience, and all your skills and concepts are now your enemy.
This unqualified, declarative statement itself is rife with "surety" and "confidence" and, I assume, is born, in part from your experience. How then should I regard it?

Quote:
Do try to remember that I can't give you knowledge, and it's far better for everyone if I don't even try.
But this statement itself attempts to impart knowledge. So, if you can't give knowledge, and its better if you don't even try, why are you attempting to do so in this statement and essay?

Quote:
We can enrich each other, yes -- but any thought that other beings rule your emotions or dictate your actions is nothing less than a draught of poison.
No one can rule your emotions (unless you let them), but ask any prison convict if his actions are dictated by other beings. I doubt he'd say what you are saying. Ask any survivor of a Nazi concentration camp if his/her actions were ever dictated by another being. Ask anyone who drives a car if their actions on the road are not dictated by other beings in cars on the road. I could go on. There is nothing particularly poisonous about accepting this, however. It is just the nature of human existence. Control is largely an illusion.

"Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
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Old 05-05-2008, 12:16 PM   #14
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Jonathan Hay wrote: View Post
No, it is not. Knowledge and its application are the goals of learning. Growing content with ones present body of knowledge and thus apathetic toward new knowledge is what is "deadly" to learning. Eventually, you make this clear in your essay - sort of:

I don't agree. This statement makes it sound as though a certain kind of knowledge (the kind that is satisfying) is morally unacceptable (which is what the word "wrong," rather than "false," implies) Knowledge itself, however, is amoral. Knowledge can be true or false, but, alone, it has no moral quality. It is what people do (or do not do) with knowledge that has moral implications. This statement fails to make this clear.

This statement is redundant. If a thing doesn't make sense to me, can I say that I have understood it? What you should have written is: "Understanding is always deceptive." In this form, however, this statement becomes very plainly self-refuting.

Alternatively, you cannot learn what you refuse to know -- or believe you cannot know.

This unqualified, declarative statement itself is rife with "surety" and "confidence" and, I assume, is born, in part from your experience. How then should I regard it?

But this statement itself attempts to impart knowledge. So, if you can't give knowledge, and its better if you don't even try, why are you attempting to do so in this statement and essay?

No one can rule your emotions (unless you let them), but ask any prison convict if his actions are dictated by other beings. I doubt he'd say what you are saying. Ask any survivor of a Nazi concentration camp if his/her actions were ever dictated by another being. Ask anyone who drives a car if their actions on the road are not dictated by other beings in cars on the road. I could go on. There is nothing particularly poisonous about accepting this, however. It is just the nature of human existence. Control is largely an illusion.
HAAAAAHAAAAA Thank you!!! I bow down to you Dharma Combat Master!!!

I guess I am not the only one who's see that the "sage" is naked and perhaps a bit blinded by groovy new age Budo-Buddha speak. After reading John's comments I went back and carefully read Ross's blog again....I agree with John 100% It all sounds great but thats about it...Style over Substance...

William Hazen
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Old 05-05-2008, 01:19 PM   #15
Mark Gibbons
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Jonathan Hay wrote: View Post
No, it is not. Knowledge and its application are the goals of learning. Growing content with ones present body of knowledge and thus apathetic toward new knowledge is what is "deadly" to learning. Eventually, you make this clear in your essay - sort of:

I.
Essay? I thought it was poetry, different rules.

Mark
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Old 05-05-2008, 01:35 PM   #16
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Lynn Seiser wrote: View Post
Knowledge is a destination.
Learning is a journey.
Stay open.
Keep moving.
If it was a poem, I personally prefer the clarity of Lynn's shorter version.

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Old 05-05-2008, 03:46 PM   #17
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Re: The Death of Learning

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Craig Hocker wrote: View Post
If it was a poem, I personally prefer the clarity of Lynn's shorter version.
Me too...

William Hazen
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Old 05-05-2008, 09:35 PM   #18
Jonathan
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
HAAAAAHAAAAA Thank you!!! I bow down to you Dharma Combat Master!!!

I guess I am not the only one who's see that the "sage" is naked and perhaps a bit blinded by groovy new age Budo-Buddha speak. After reading John's comments I went back and carefully read Ross's blog again....I agree with John 100% It all sounds great but thats about it...Style over Substance...

William Hazen
Hey, William, thanks for the support and for your own words of challenge to "Budo-Bhudda speak." I hate ambiguity and bad logic masquerading as deep thought. I hate it even more when people accept the masquerade.

Take 'er easy!

"Iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend."
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Old 05-06-2008, 09:44 AM   #19
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Jonathan Hay wrote: View Post
Hey, William, thanks for the support and for your own words of challenge to "Budo-Bhudda speak." I hate ambiguity and bad logic masquerading as deep thought. I hate it even more when people accept the masquerade.

Take 'er easy!
You're welcome Jonathan. Lets hope Ross continues to blog armed with the knowledge that we are only conducting a simple "peer review" aka Dharma Combat of his work, and that our critiques in written with both the spirit of love... and compassion.

William

Last edited by Aikibu : 05-06-2008 at 09:49 AM.
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Old 05-09-2008, 10:13 AM   #20
R.A. Robertson
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Re: The Death of Learning

[quote=George S. Ledyard;205349]William,
That is what "upaya" or "expedient means" is all about in Buddhism. I think that Ross is correct in that ones "knowledge" is a trap that keeps one from seeing what else is there to learn. All knowledge is conditional and therefore not true in any final sense.

On the other hand, teaching that way results in students who are hazy, shallow, and attached to the ineffability of the whole thing, and that just results in crappy Aikido.

Hi George,

Glad to see you jumping in on this thread. For the record, I've never been a student of Buddhism, so I really wouldn't know an upaya from a papaya.

In my own philosophy, I see a continuum from data to information to knowledge to experience to wisdom. Each is useful and necessary, and some may be a foundation for others. But to mistake one for the other is... well, a mistake.

I do think that the belief that we know a thing is what stops us from really experiencing. Much like the way lovers stop actually seeing each others' faces after long years. Much like the way someone who is technically proficient at ikkyo may stop experiencing it. In some cases this is "mushin," but in most cases it is just not paying attention to the reality at hand.

In my opinion, that's what makes crappy aikido.

Very much appreciate your contributions.

Best,

Ross
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Old 05-09-2008, 10:23 AM   #21
R.A. Robertson
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Jonathan Hay wrote: View Post
But this statement itself attempts to impart knowledge.
Does it?

Quote:
So, if you can't give knowledge, and its better if you don't even try, why are you attempting to do so in this statement and essay?
I'm sure I don't know...

Ross
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Old 05-09-2008, 10:36 AM   #22
Aikibu
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Ross Robertson wrote: View Post
Does it?

I'm sure I don't know...

Ross
With all due respect you don't. No worries Ross... in the spirit of compassion if your "feelings" are hurt it may be a sign of attachment and by understanding why you"feel" the way you do... You just may come to "know" a little bit more about yourself.

Tetsen Rinpoche was in Malibu and gave a Dharma talk the day before yesterday...Of the many things he said two resonate for me in this discussion...

"The only thing you take with you from this world is your spritual practice" and "Ignorance is the root cause of all suffering One must strive for clarity in thier daily life."

Namaste' Ross

William Hazen
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Old 05-09-2008, 11:06 AM   #23
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Re: The Death of Learning

Quote:
Craig Hocker wrote: View Post
If it was a poem, I personally prefer the clarity of Lynn's shorter version.
No poetry.
Simplistically, I think this way.

IMHO, we think we know what we think we know.
With some study, it will change.
So don't get to attached to it.
It is the attachment that kills learning.

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 05-10-2008, 06:28 PM   #24
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Re: The Death of Learning

[quote=Ross Robertson;205843]
Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote: View Post
William,
That is what "upaya" or "expedient means" is all about in Buddhism. I think that Ross is correct in that ones "knowledge" is a trap that keeps one from seeing what else is there to learn. All knowledge is conditional and therefore not true in any final sense.

On the other hand, teaching that way results in students who are hazy, shallow, and attached to the ineffability of the whole thing, and that just results in crappy Aikido.

Hi George,

Glad to see you jumping in on this thread. For the record, I've never been a student of Buddhism, so I really wouldn't know an upaya from a papaya.

In my own philosophy, I see a continuum from data to information to knowledge to experience to wisdom. Each is useful and necessary, and some may be a foundation for others. But to mistake one for the other is... well, a mistake.

I do think that the belief that we know a thing is what stops us from really experiencing. Much like the way lovers stop actually seeing each others' faces after long years. Much like the way someone who is technically proficient at ikkyo may stop experiencing it. In some cases this is "mushin," but in most cases it is just not paying attention to the reality at hand.

In my opinion, that's what makes crappy aikido.

Very much appreciate your contributions.

Best,

Ross
Hi Ross,
I know any number of people who have trained for a very long time and who have acquired a certain level of knowledge.They are successful as teachers because they have more of this knowledge than the average person training.

But the fact is that some of these folks haven't changed what they do one iota in decades. The don't go out of their way to find new perspectives, they congratulate themselves as having trained under some top teacher. They've frozen the understanding they gained from that teacher so that it is unchanging.

When you train with folks like this you will often hear, "This is what my Sensei taught me, so this is the way I do it." Of course, the fact that when they trained with this teacher every day they were Shodans might have had something to do with what they were taught at the time never enters into their minds.

These folks can be presented with the golden keys to aiki and it wouldn't matter. Some of these folks went to the Aiki Expos (although most didn't bother); they saw the incredible array of teachers there. O yes, they will say, I saw Kuroda, I saw Ushiro, I saw Angier, Vasiliev, Threadgill, Ikeda, and so on...

So then what? That's my question... You saw them and then? But there is no next step for these people. They know what they know. They are no longer interested in trying out something new, something where they might have to be a beginner again, where they might not be able to look cool, where they might spend some time feeling incompetent... So nothing changes. They've seen some of the most amazing teachers in the world and they will do nothing about it. The process of learning has stopped because these people are attached to what they know and can't let go of it long enough to not know once again.

If one is attached to what one knows, one is looking back in time rather than forward. Once that happens, one is stuck. New knowledge is growth and it makes change possible. It can only come in if room is made amongst all of the knowledge that one has already acquired. The great practitioners keep developing. The rest talk about what they learned twenty years ago.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside
AikidoDvds.Com
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Old 05-10-2008, 07:15 PM   #25
gdandscompserv
 
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Re: The Death of Learning

And if one is afraid of looking a fool, one will not continue to learn.
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