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Old 02-11-2009, 12:32 PM   #1
Marie Noelle Fequiere
 
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The ego and the martial arts

I would like to have your opinions about a strange incident that happened recently at the dojo where I train.
We had this guy training with us, let's call him Steve. Steve was not the very best student in the school. He is obese, and he looks like he's ten months pregnant. On top of that, he is a doctor, and his attendance was very irregular. He often showed up to the early Saturday and Sunday morning classes with hi eyes red from spending the night at the hospital. For all these reasons, Sensei was very patient with him. In spite of that, he seemed to have regressed lately.
One day, we were practicing mae ukemi. Now, we have a few new students, and among them, a couple of young teenagers. Everybody's seen these kids take a martial art school by storm. They are young, fit, enthusiastic, and ukemi is as natural to them as breathing. So this one kid is particular was happily rolling around the mat after maybe two months of training, having a ball. Meanwhile, Steve seemed in danger of breaking his neck with every pathetic attempt. Desperate for a way to encourage the guy, Sensei told him to train next to the kid, and to try to imitate him. The kid is a very well behaved boy, he did not laugh at Steve and was eager to help.
Steve never came back to class after that day. We finally learned by other other students that he had felt humiliated to have been asked to learn from a student young enough to be his son and at least three years his kohai. Completely distraught, he made some research on the internet and found that in every dojo on the planet, a kohai is supposed to respect a sempai, and to learn from him, and not the other way around. I repeat that the kid was well behaved and did not make fun of his sempai. So Steve has announced that after this humiliating incident, he will not come back.
Steve's good friend, who encouraged him to enroll, told Sensei that he would try his best to make Steve come back to train. It turns out that Steve had also been a pain in class, mainly because of his lack of discipline, and Sensei told the friend not to bother, for he is confident that we can be perfectly happy without Steve.
I personally think that Steve simply needed a reason to quit an activity that he will never admit was too difficult for him. Two months ago, I told another student that he looked increasingly bored in class and that he was probably going to quit. But for the sake of equity and honesty, I would like to ask you guys: how inappropriate is it for a desperate Sensei to ask a student who has not learned much in more than three years to take example from a kohai?
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Old 02-11-2009, 12:52 PM   #2
Marc Abrams
Dojo: Aikido Arts of Shin Budo Kai/ Bedford Hills, New York
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Marie:

Respect works both ways. Just because I may be "senior" to somebody, does not mean that this person cannot teach me something. When my students bow to me and the end of class and I bow back to them, I am thanking them for teaching me.

If our egos prevent us from learning, then we don't. Rank and years of training are not the exclusive domains from which knowledge arises.

my two cents.

Marc Abrams
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Old 02-11-2009, 01:14 PM   #3
Janet Rosen
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

I have always been grateful for the feedback, pointers and examples of those who may be half my age or have half the time in the art I do, when the assist is offered sincerely.

OTOH, yes, to have a kohei formally asked to work with you, in many dojos I've been in would not be done - a sempai would be assigned.

In this case, it sounds less like ego and more like a convenient excuse to stop training.

Janet Rosen
http://www.zanshinart.com
"peace will enter when hate is gone"--percy mayfield
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Old 02-11-2009, 03:36 PM   #4
Russ Q
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Hi,

After a certain point I think you learn more from kohai than sempai, generally.

That being said, you sound particularly frustrated with "Steve" yourself....why do you post if you're happy he is gone?
Mary Heiny said once to us at a seminar..."Everyone has their own suffering. We need to be compassionate with people." This was said in the context of the idea people have different abilities, motivations and capacities for dealing with (in this case) aikido training and interpersonal relationships in the dojo. There is no doubt that "Steve" needs to work through his own ego issues, but, if he does come back it has likely taken some courage and introspection to be able to do so. You should give him the room to work through his own shit just as you are working through yours....

Just my opinion,

Russ
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Old 02-11-2009, 03:45 PM   #5
ramenboy
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

yeah... you know there's still those threads careening around here about 'Instructors of Low Rank' and 'Everyone's an Instructor'... seems the general consensus is everyone can learn something from anyone. maybe we can rename this thread 'Everyone's a Student'

one thing to remember about the relationship between sempai and kohai/kohai and sempai is that its like one hand washing the other. each one helps the other in some way.
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Old 02-11-2009, 04:40 PM   #6
Aikibu
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Thats a pretty stickey wicket that Ol Ego is...

Some folks will use any excuse to quit...

Some folks will use any excuse to stay...

A Sensei always hopes for the latter...

William Hazen
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Old 02-12-2009, 08:13 AM   #7
lbb
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Sounds like Steve isn't the only one with issues. His partners and the dojo in general (based on what Marie says) sound pretty exasperated with him. If you've got a program and he's not getting with it and you want to tell him to shape up or ship out, okay, your dojo your rules. If you decide to let him train there, though, you need to have compassion for what he's struggling with, because it's significant and it's real. It's all very well and good to talk about how he should feel this and he shouldn't feel that, but the typical adult isn't used to being a beginner at things and doesn't respond well or graciously when his/her deficiencies are put on display. Also, the guy is in a negative cycle: he's out of shape, which makes everything he's trying to do harder, which makes it harder for him to get in shape, and he doesn't have a lot of time to train, which means that his techniques don't improve, which makes it harder for him to train, which means that his techniques still don't improve, which means that he doesn't get in shape...you get the idea.

Steve may be the only person who can do anything about the issues that are keeping him from training -- issues physical, practical and psychological -- but he's not going to break that cycle if he can't get a glimpse of daylight. Most likely that's going to have to come from another person. He needs acknowledgment that what he's trying to do is not easy, and he also needs help understanding that it's not easy for anyone. A lot of people can only see their own difficulties looming large in front of them, and never look around the mat and see the man with a congenital hip deformity, the woman with asthma, the parent with a child who needs a lot of extra care, the person who also has a very demanding job, the person whose father just died. Maybe the "Steves" never notice those people because those people carry their problems more lightly. Maybe if someone lets Steve know that he's not alone, and that seeing his predicament makes people feel sympathy and compassion rather than contempt, he'll find what he needs to continue training.
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Old 02-12-2009, 08:43 AM   #8
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Marie Noelle Fequiere wrote: View Post
-Steve was not the very best student in the school.
-He is obese
- he looks like he's ten months pregnant.
-...with every pathetic attempt.
-Steve had also been a pain in class, mainly because of his lack of discipline.
-Sensei told the friend not to bother, for he is confident that we can be perfectly happy without Steve.

Steve never came back to class after that day.

I personally think that Steve simply needed a reason to quit an activity that he will never admit was too difficult for him.
Did you call him obese, pathetic, 10 months pregnant and an undiciplined pain in the ass to his face or only behind his back?

Cause after that description by one of his classmates I for one can't imagine why he wouldn't love being there. Sounds like a positive environment.
Seriously,what a quitter!

If you're hungry, keep moving.
If you're tired, keep moving.
If you value you're life, keep moving.

You don't own what you can't defend
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Old 02-12-2009, 09:45 AM   #9
crbateman
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Mary and Grant both have made a valid point that "Steve" may be uncomfortable with how others view him. Many times, a person will become intolerably sensitive to others' view of them, because they are already embarrassed for themselves. After all, who is better able to know your limitations and faults than you are? For some, it is motivation enough to do something about it, but for others, it's just easier to wallow in self-pity and a poor self-image. "Steve" may be one of these.

On the other hand, it may be pure ego, and he, with all his education and professional success, just can't bring himself through the indignation of training with "a kid".

Aikido is supposed to foster a climate of self-improvement (masakatsu agatsu and all that) and compassion for others, but it isn't always presented that way. If people are encouraged to compare themselves with others in the class, even if for benevolent reasons, a competitive mindset can, and sometimes does, result. If "Steve" has this mindset, then he will of course be intimidated by others more capable than he, particularly if they are younger or subordinate in rank or tenure.

Moral of the story is that "Steve" will have to deal with it himself (or not) if it's an internal issue, but if others in the dojo have been insensitive or outwardly unkind, or have expectations of him that are way above his capabilities, he has every right and reason to bail. I will say that your public indictment of him in your original post does not leave me comfortable that this is entirely his problem.

Speaking hypothetically, of course, it might have been more sensible (not too mention more compassionate) for your Sensei to have discussed this, delicately and privately, with "Steve", rather than call him out unprepared in class. He could say "I notice you are having some flexibility problems, and maybe we can do some drills in class that can help with that, if you are interested. Let's see if we can push the envelope a little..." It is less likely that this approach could be taken the wrong way, and he would have learned if Steve had a fundamental problem with it, in plenty of time to prevent his departure. Wouldn't have felt better to have actually helped the guy, instead of watching his taillights disappear over the horizon?
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Old 02-12-2009, 10:09 AM   #10
Jane
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

This is sad news. I know 'Steve' personnaly and even if I agree with the fact that he lacked discipline, I can't help but feel sorry for him.
He'll probably lose what he learned and this is the worst part.
I'm now living in another country and I'm sometimes amazed to see the scaredy-cat I am walking home at 10pm alone after class, or talking to complete strangers; I'm very thankful to Aikido, my Sensei and his family because I was eager to learn and grow and they helped me with all they had.
It's the occasion for me to tell you about something I've experienced recently: my Sensei always tells us about the danger of letting your mind wander. I wanted to explore the underground parking of my residence. when I went there, it was so dark!!! I could only see 5% of the scene. Instantly, all the scenes from vampire movies, all the advertisements for novels about that girl with the ax in the parking with the psycho came rushing to my mind and I felt the FEAR. It grabbed me so hard!! I felt I had to go back to the safety of the laudry room (there are lights there ). But I told myself I can't let fear drive me crazy and I had myself walk down the parking and check it ou. There was nothing in there. Nothing at all. Not even a mouse.

PS: I must say that even if Marie sounds harsh, she has her reasons. It would be good to mellow a bit but still, she has her reasons. And as for our Sensei, he has already talked with Steve. Many times. But Steve ALWAYS has an excuse.
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Old 02-12-2009, 11:25 AM   #11
Marie Noelle Fequiere
 
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Yes, I agree that my post seems really harsh against a challenged person. But more than three years of patience is a lot. Everybody in the dojo is exasperated with Steve mainly because of his lack of discipline. There is a minimum that must be expected from an adults, obese or not. And my experience with challenged people is that they usually are aware of their handicap, and determined to work hard to overcome them. Steve is my first experience with a challenged person who does not understand that. Usually, someone with physical limitations will understand that others will learn something faster than them. We've all been patient with Steve for years, and we talked for years. It's time for him to understand that he will not improve without a minimum of efforts.
Now, what I wanted to know is: is it really a crime for an instructor to ask a kohai who is really good at something to help out a sempai who is struggling in spite of years of patient teaching?
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Old 02-12-2009, 11:28 AM   #12
Ron Tisdale
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
is it really a crime for an instructor to ask a kohai who is really good at something to help out a sempai who is struggling in spite of years of patient teaching?
A) His dojo, his rules
B) His dojo, his rules
C) His dojo...

you get the idea...
Best,
R

Ron Tisdale
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"The higher a monkey climbs, the more you see of his behind."
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Old 02-12-2009, 12:07 PM   #13
ramenboy
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Marie Noelle Fequiere wrote: View Post
...what I wanted to know is: is it really a crime for an instructor to ask a kohai who is really good at something to help out a sempai who is struggling in spite of years of patient teaching?
read my post (#5) above :P

and, if you take the terms 'sempai' and 'kohai' out of it, its perfectly fine to have someone who knows how to roll help someone who doesn't know how to roll.

and ron is right: Sensei's dojo, Sensei's rules.
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Old 02-12-2009, 12:20 PM   #14
Sy Labthavikul
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Our sensei doesn't like the sempai/kohai system because of how it can be distorted into an ego or power trip, or become a sort of modern day master/slave relationship.

He tells us to consider each of our training partners as a potential source of new knowledge, and to be receptive to perhaps learning something new from anyone at any time; conversely, he also tells us that at any time we could be unknowingly serving as an example or role-model for another student, and that we should act accordingly at all times.

It works pretty well for us, and when we interact with other aikidoka at seminars or when visiting other dojos, we're of course courteous and respectful of their methods, but so far they have rarely ever conflicted with ours and everyone gets along great.


---------------------------------
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Old 02-12-2009, 12:38 PM   #15
Ketsan
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Seems like an odd way of handling things. In our dojo having someone junior assigned to help a senior would not go down well, it would be bad for the harmony of the dojo.

Although Steve might not have been able to do it as well as his junior I'd put money on him knowing better than his junior. By assigning a junior the statment is made that Steve not only cannot perform well but that he never learned it either and has less experience than his junior.

That, in my opinion, is one big slap in the face. I think you'd have to have a serious lack of self-esteem not to be bothered about that, think it would be quite natural to ask why you were bothering with Aikido.
Also, someone that can do a night shift in a hospital and then go training doesn't seem to be looking for an excuse to leave.

I wonder how many people here could work a night shift in a hospital and then go training? And what kind of statements would we make about their dedication? Add weight issues on top of that.

On the other hand he sounds like a bit of a problem student. However, he wasn't enough of a problem to be asked to leave.

Seems to me that he was set an impossible challenge combined with a good slap in the face.
I'm told that in japan if they don't like you they don't tell you, they just make things so hard for you that you can't stay.
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:33 PM   #16
Trish Greene
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Sy Labthavikul wrote: View Post

He tells us to consider each of our training partners as a potential source of new knowledge, and to be receptive to perhaps learning something new from anyone at any time; conversely, he also tells us that at any time we could be unknowingly serving as an example or role-model for another student, and that we should act accordingly at all times.
Wow, this was so good I just thought it needed to be said again! It is something to think about in all aspects of our life.

"Aikido is nothing but an expression of the spirit of Love for all living things."

Morihei Ueshiba
www.aikido-kajukenbo.com
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:46 PM   #17
jonreading
 
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

I remember a particular instance when as a student, I was asked to help a new guy that was visiting class. He was awful; he could not roll, he was strong and he had difficulty with basic movements like tenkan. After class I consoled the poor fellow and told him he'd get better with practice and that martial arts were hard to learn. Then I noticed a small tatoo on his inner arm when he changed after class... Talk about eating a piece of humble pie. Kohai/sempai relationships give structure to students trying to fit into dojo culture. However, we learn from all students because we train together.

I am going to step onto a soapbox and touch on two tangents to this thread:
1. I am reminded of the phrase, "put your money where your mouth is..." Knowing how to be a good martial artist and being a good martial artist are two different things. There is a component of skill and a component of knowledge that make a good fighter. Excusing deficiency in one area for performance in another is still an excuse.
2. Sensei has discretion to use teaching aids how he best sees fit to help others learn aikido. If you don't like the teaching methods, leave. As I have witnessed from my personal experience, the best instructors usually make class harder for the students they like. In fact, my experience has been that instructors who don't llike you simply ignore you, making things neither harder nor easier than you make them.

While the poster described the student in greater detail than necessary , the question concerns the role of sensei using different methodologies to faciliate training. Yes, sensei can use a variety of different teaching methods, even unorthodox ones.

If the poster said the kohai was a child and sensei asked the sempai to observe the youthful attitude of the kohai, or the youthful energy of the kohai, how may replies would applaud the sensei for thinking outside of the box? "Mushin! Mushin!" we'd all cry and file that teaching gem away. Instead, sensei says, "this kid rolls better than you, check out what he does and learn how to roll better..." Sometimes the truth hurts.
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:47 PM   #18
Marie Noelle Fequiere
 
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

After more than fifteen years of martial arts training, I've been slapped in the face time and again, and I know what it takes to get back on your feet: a strong personality. I've done it time and again, and I am still doing it. I did say that Steve's weight and the fact that he was often exhausted was the reason why Sensei was so patient with him for so long. But does being exhausted give you an excuse to lack discipline? I do not think so. I think that his atitude shows that he only thinks that the class is a way to have fun and meet people. I coul rant on and on on his lack of respect for the classe's discipline, and I would not be alone. What can you expect to learn with such a behavior?
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Old 02-12-2009, 01:51 PM   #19
Marie Noelle Fequiere
 
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Jon Reading wrote: View Post
Instead, sensei says, "this kid rolls better than you, check out what he does and learn how to roll better..." Sometimes the truth hurts.
Sensei said: "Try to imitate the kid".
And the kid showed respect for his sempai.
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Old 02-12-2009, 02:34 PM   #20
Young-In Park
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In Defense of My Ego

I went to a seminar where the instructor taught how to counter a particular technique. When I got back to my home dojo, I successfully executed the reversal on several unsuspecting nages.

My next victim was a shy and meek teenage girl. When she first came to the dojo, I could count the number of words she spoke on one hand. When I started to reverse her technique, she countered with a different technique! I tried to reverse her technique a couple of more times, only to have her counter whatever I was trying to do.

After dumping me on my rear several times, she made a sarcastic comment that made me really angry. A junior student should never show up a senior student. So I punched her as fast and as hard as I could.

Instead of taking a shot to the gut, this punk teenage girl got off the line and proceeded to execute kotegaeshi. Now enraged, I got up and tried to punch her several more times, only to have her throw me onto the ground. When I looked up at her in disbelief, she made another sarcastic comment.

After class, I had to give her a stern lecture. In addition to looking after the physical welfare of her training partner, I told her the male ego requires careful handling, especially mine. She told me that she was pretty sure my ego could handle whatever she had to dish out.

Another time, I was sparring with her. To throw her off, I'd ask her questions about this and that. When I asked if she liked to listen the Britney Spears, she exasperatedly answered, "No!" Then I'd hit her when her guard was down. Whenever I did it repeatedly, I'd apologize by saying, "Oops! I did it again."

Afterwards we were sparring. I asked her a question about Britney Spears. She smirked but didn't let her guard down. Then she asked me about if I heard about Christina Aguilar's cosmetic surgery on her breasts.

When I was momentarily distracted with lust in my eyes, my sparring partner took advantage of me and hit me in the head.

nursing a badly damaged ego after all these years,
YoungIn Park
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Old 02-12-2009, 03:22 PM   #21
Ron Tisdale
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

That was refreshing!
B,
R

Ron Tisdale
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Old 02-13-2009, 02:13 AM   #22
crbateman
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Sy Labthavikul wrote: View Post
He tells us to consider each of our training partners as a potential source of new knowledge, and to be receptive to perhaps learning something new from anyone at any time; conversely, he also tells us that at any time we could be unknowingly serving as an example or role-model for another student, and that we should act accordingly at all times.
This is very sensible. I like to think that whenever any two people meet, regardless of their differences, there is something that each can learn from the other. Opportunities to learn or to teach are limitless.
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Old 02-13-2009, 11:17 AM   #23
C. David Henderson
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

My son, 15, has been practicing since he was around 6. He's currently 4th kyu, but moves with a certain naturalness on the mat that I've seen before in people who grew up doing this.

My son frequently encounters adults who are his kohai who don't know -- though it is obvious from the way he moves and take ukemi from Sensei -- that he has a lot more experience, knowledge, and skill than they currently do. They assume he's the kid, and treat him like a Junior.

Natural reaction in a way, since outside the Dojo adults treat kids as juniors. And so, I guess, that kind of role reversal may be easier for him to shrug and not let it bother him too much than for most adults in the reverse situation, like "Steve."

But when I'm having an ego attack, I think I should "try to imitate the kid."
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Old 02-13-2009, 02:59 PM   #24
Lyle Laizure
 
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

[quote=Marie Noelle Fequiere;224893 how inappropriate is it for a desperate Sensei to ask a student who has not learned much in more than three years to take example from a kohai?[/QUOTE]

What some seem to forget is that the dojo is not a democracy. The sempai/kohai system is a means of structure. But no matter what the situation the sensei has a responsibility to help students progress and if he/she felt working with kohai was the way to go then that is what should be done.

Lyle Laizure
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Old 02-13-2009, 06:10 PM   #25
Young-In Park
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Re: The ego and the martial arts

Quote:
Lyle Laizure wrote: View Post
What some seem to forget is that the dojo is not a democracy. The sempai/kohai system is a means of structure.
I beg to differ; students can always vote... with their feet.

YoungIn Park
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