"Humility is the worst form of conceit."
François Duc de La Rochefoucauld, via Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Sincere humility is a virtue, and one of the best ways to approach training, life, and relationships. It's in that spirit that I'd like to convey a simple message to you, my beloved students, and many of my readers:
I'm better than you.
Ordinarily, you might say that as soon as someone feels the need to declare such a thing, an inherent falsity is manifest. Ordinarily, I might agree with you. Today I'm of a different mind.
Dojo cultures are often vulnerable to idol-worshipers, acolytes, and groupies. Instructors who foster such a culture are to be shunned. But the backlash against this has its own problems.
Consider the following propositions:
"I'm not really here to teach, at most I'm merely a guide."
"We're all equals on this mat together."
"Everyone finds their own path."
I've said similar thing myself, and we've probably all heard their many variants from many teachers, great and minor.
There is some wisdom to be conveyed in such sentiments, but I also see deception.
Self-discovery and self-directed learning is all well and good, but sometimes the process is really expedited by having a good old-fashioned teacher. Someone who knows more than you do. Someone who is more experienced than you are. Someone who is more skilled than you. In other words, someone who is better than you.
Yes, a true student can learn from anyone. So can they really learn from anyone, everyone, equally
Conversely, not everyone who has greater knowledge, experience, skill, or even wisdom can teach. It's a sad truth. Still, it's the Way of the Human Being for the greater to help the lessor. It's our Way for the lessor to become increasingly better, and to assist others along the Way. The strong protect the weak. The healthy heal the sick. The wealthy need not give away their treasures, but take joy in sharing it and enriching others. The glad should give comfort to the disconsolate. It's in our DNA.
So when someone with greater knowledge, experience, and skill has the ability to communicate yet refuses the responsibility/privilege, it strikes me as a terrible abdication. It's a gift that you have, whether you were born with it or if you worked and sacrificed for your achievements. It's not called a gift because it was given to you (not only), but because it's what you have to give to others.
Please, if you have something worthwhile to impart to me, and we are both willing and able for the transmission to happen, I humbly ask the favor. Just don't pretend you're not what you are. The sooner we each recognize that you're better than me, the more honest our relationship can be. Your superiority is my opportunity, and how could I not be grateful? If you can teach, then please teach. Be a teacher. Be truly better than me, and don't hide it.
Are we really all equal on the mat? Are we equal in the world? Yes, we are always and everywhere equal as human beings. At least if you subscribe to the idea of the democratization of justice and opportunity for all, which I happily do. However, transferring this to a notion of equality in all other regards is idiocy and a kind of willful delusion.
We do not possess equal capacities. We are not equally intelligent or creative or sociable or graceful or agile, and so on. If you wanted to make a case that our different capacities somehow all balance out to make us equally but differently capable, well, I think that's a hard burden of proof that's on you. In my view, there are beings who are simply better overall at most things than the rest of us.
Even so, I do get it very deeply that each of us has something to offer. In those moments where a giver is matched with a receiver, there is a beautifully balanced asymmetry. The relationship is not symmetrical -- one is superior to the other -- but it can be balanced if giving and receiving is by consent, and if there is some reward for the giver.
If you happen to come to me and bow before me as a student, I sincerely hope it is with a glad humility and a joyful gratitude. Moreover, I hope that you'll care about my experience in the process and that you'll look for ways within your means to help me feel rewarded. It's in your interest, after all, to be involved with my engagement and motivation.
For heaven's sake, just don't try to be my equal in this context
. If you or I harbor unrealistic notions about equality, we will surely foster a resentment later down the line. Instead, let's recognize the fundamental truth -- that I'm better than you -- and celebrate it.
What's more, if you'll do your part, I'll be doing everything I can to make you as good as me. Of course, during that time, I'll also be doing everything I can to make myself better than I am. If I work hard to stay ahead of you, then maybe I'll retain my value to you.
If, in another context, you have the clear superiority and I have the need or desire, I will happily bow to you and do my best to serve your interest in helping me. But it isn't necessary for us to have a happy, healthy, asymmetrical relationship in our original context.
As for everyone finding their own path, well again... of course we all do. Each of us are unique. We all see the universe from our one privileged perspective and place that no one else can occupy. Every way is personal and individual, and the human life is a series of discoveries at every step that is our very own.
And yet, every individual path is part of the universal Way. There is a commonality and a shared experience. We belong to one another, and our differences are the basis for our shared delights.
My path is my very own, and no one else's. At the same time, it belongs to you because I belong to you.
When you are fortunate enough to find a teacher, when your way brings you to a Learned One, you must still walk your own path. Understand though that your Teacher, albeit a sovereign, independent (and often inscrutable and irascible) being, is part of your path.
As a teacher, your students are part of your path. You and they may walk independently and wholly on our own feet, but we all walk together. We are many lives, many beings. Many roads.
One life. One way. One truth, with infinite expressions.
Please try to understand me in our training relationship: because I'm better than you, I'm here to serve. For this service, I have to take charge.
As a good learner, you can learn from me and still miss entirely what I have to teach you. If you're to learn from me those things that I have to teach, one of the lessons will be to discover the things that you have to learn that you couldn't have anticipated. If you only direct your own learning, you'll never get from me those things that I know, those things that I know you need to know, those things that I know you don't even know you need to know. You know?
So if you can find a justifiable basis in trust, then you will have to trust me that I know better, and will do all I can to make you better.
I've spent most of my life doing what I can to make myself better. I can tell you that I've made some real progress, and I know I have some worthwhile things to share. I know I can do better because I have done better. I know I can be better, because I have become better.
So can you, and I know this because I've lived it, and ultimately we're not all that different.
A gifted teacher may employ many devices and modalities. A teacher can be a guide. A teacher can be elenctical, Socratic, or stentorian. A teacher can lead from behind or from out in front. A teacher may impart knowledge in a direct and forthright manner, or might throw down a gauntlet or pose a difficult puzzle. A teacher might be a bit tricksy and even deceptive if it serves the truth. A teacher may be manipulative yet benign.
A teacher may be your friend, or not. A teacher is ever the student, and must necessarily learn alongside you -- must learn from
you -- must learn you
Your teacher will be your benefactor, if you let them. You must let them be who and what they are: a teacher. Preferably, someone who is better than you.
So it is that I find myself in a position with respect to many of you as your superior. This should come as no surprise to either of us. I've worked really hard at it for rather a long time, and I've devoted much thought and attention to how to become.
It is an awesome responsibility. It is a rare and precious opportunity. It is an overwhelming privilege.
I can't think of anything more humbling.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA