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Old 12-06-2005, 01:56 PM   #51
Dan Rubin
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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George S. Ledyard wrote:
This has led to an immense gap in sophistication between different places one might train. Many people are putting in many hours of hard training, expending much time and effort, but the place where they are training will simply not produce anyone who gets to the top level of skill because of the way they train or the lack of sophistication of the person teaching. This no slight on the person teaching... if one is a sandan or yondan one can do an admirable job teaching folks the basics but how could one possibly take ones students up to a level which one hasn't yet reached oneself? This is just common sense.

The issue becomes lack of awareness of what the highest levels of Aikido even represent.with that.
My apologies to George Ledyard. He had already answered my questions in that previous post . In fact, it was probably his answer that popped the question into my mind (I often come up with my best questions that way ).

As someone who, for so many reasons, will never be a shihan, I guess that I'm kind of fascinated with the idea of someone, today, devoting himself or herself to becoming one. I wonder if O Sensei's uchideshi dreamed of becoming the next O Sensei. When O Sensei sent a student abroad to teach, did other students think, "I hope that he picks me next?" And when they did leave the nest, did their separation from O Sensei hold them back, or was the separation overcome by the opportunity to develop their own aikido?

Dan
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Old 12-21-2005, 12:12 PM   #52
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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George S. Ledyard wrote:
But on some level I am trying to spark the same discussion... What is a "quality" practice? What is "quality" Aikido? What is a "quality" teacher? Each person has to come up with his own answer, and unlike in Zen when your answer isn't on target, there is no whack with a stick or ringing of a bell to tell you that you're missing the mark. Only your own continuous work will give you the "right" answer and that answer will not be anyone else's answer, just your own.
Quote:
David Valadez wrote:
I think that this kind of self-reflection is exactly what the article is trying to address. ... Commitment is a kind of act of faith -- it is a holding true in the face of come what may. Commitment ... adapting to the unknown as it makes itself manifest, to things as they change, and most importantly to remain steadfast in light of our own impulses, emotions, desires, etc., that may often drive us to no longer remain steadfast.
Both George Ledyard and David Valadez make excellent observations about subjectivity, clarity and commitment to good practice. But admitted that commitment is inherently personal, it still begs a serious question. If the essence of good practice is so highly personal, what is it that makes Aikido so broadly interesting across so many cultures?

There is an objective aspect of present-day world culture that distinguishes it from earlier ages, and also distinguishes Aikido from earlier martial arts.
This "quality" has been described as "post-modern" (A phrase I despise, but for which no ready substitute exists.) The structural sense of this pattern has been summed up in an utterly different context in the phrase "personal is political," implying the loss or continually diminishing significance of fomerly observed boundary conditions. This cultural fact is fundamentally disturbing to anyone who has relied or attempts to rely too strongly upon those formerly agreed social boundaries for their comfort and security.

This suggests an approach to the issues raised here.

Koryu, (and Ledyard Sensei may feel free to unleash his shinai on my head to correct anything I should overstate), relied upon a two stage method of transmitting knowledge, 1) kata or forms, the specific set-piece techniques that contained the schematic of the arts fundamentals, and 2) the principles that describe how tactical movements, offensive and defensive, fit together dynamically, often innacurately described as "secret techniques."

Many martial arts have followed the implication of the first part, and made a limited set of techniques into sport for fitness and physical improvement, or as minimally practical self-protection in certain defined circumstances.

Aikidoka who have trained for any significant length of time have a good sense that aikido does not fit either of these descriptions. Aikido is about doing something else.

Aikido is an art that is primarily about the second part of the old koryu teaching program, which by its nature is undefined, and open-ended. Aikido is, as far as I can determine, nearly unique in its emphasis in this regard. It is this focus that distinguishes it from many earlier arts. This attention to the "process" elements of conflict makes aikido particularly suited to the post-modern mind, for any culture in today's world, which I believe explains its broad appeal and success.

There are a number of personal repsonses to this aspect of present day culture, not all of them good. The same thing underlies the very real concern of disconnection and distraction. The "browsing" attitude is one such common postmodern tendency. It is that sense of lacking commitment, or at least lacking a real understanding of one's own level of commitment that Sensei Ledyard addresses. The related but opposite pathology is also present in morbid overindulgences -- an image of a boy in front of a XBox, GameBoy, [insert electronic time-expending device here] for the sixth straight hour pops to mind. Both of these attitudes negatively affect aikido training

"Process" is the philosophical rubric of our age. It underlies our understanding of physical reality (quantum mechanics), economic reality (market principles) and of moral reality (process theology, or for those who criticize its excesses, situational ethics).

Aikido is process philosophy in a combat setting. Combat by its nature does not observe predefined boundary conditions. Thus the ancient budo prefigures an understanding that is now commonly held, although in equal parts both adored and severely disliked by many people. O-Sensei clearly understood the art in this sense, even without any obvious or direct participation in the intellectual currents around the world that underlie process philosophy.

What is this process in Aikido? Simple, really: when attacking, attack; when not attacking, seek to attack. It is what we do when our last effort is either successful or fails that defines Aikido.
Commitment in this sense underlies the sensibility of budo: techniques do not end in any set-piece pattern: they simply evolve into other techniques/counters.

Zanshin -- translated as the "unrelenting mind" -- is the attitude described.

With it, I am convinced there is nothing that will not become ever more clear with time and practice to any student, regardless of their quality of "instruction." Without it, even the most simple things will seem deeply mysterious and frustrating, no matter the quality of instructor.
Techniques limit, and intentionally so. Limitation cuts the lesson into small enough bites to digest. My considered opinion is that truly gifted teachers learn how to shift the limits between "techniques" to help students start to see the process dynamic.

Reaching the level to be able to see this and having instructors that are capable of imparting more of it is what I perceive this discussion to be about. That is invaluable.

We need not sit and weep in lament for our misfortune for their immediate lack, however. Given the arc of my own peripatetic aikido training, I have not always been able to rely on the external components of learning to move forward. Even bad teachers (and mine have not been, I hasten to add) have good things to teach if one is prepared to learn.

Learning aiki means following where uke/nage leads. The process leads directly where it must go if it is followed, even if the destination is not initially known. It is indispensable to have an honest, commited, observant uke -- an honest, committed, observant nage. With a solid grounding in body movement, they are their own best instructors. The key is following uke/nage to find the next attack/counter attack, noting what happened, and remembering it.

Uke/Nage should be there to whack me when he or she can. A good sharp atemi is the best tonic or corrective I have yet found. The best remedy against a tendency of distraction is an imminent impact.

For post-modern minds, the personal is also the political, or as someone once told me, "Every aikido technique is implied in tenchinage." Exploring the unnumbered expressions of what that implies is what I train to do.

Cordially,
Erick Mead
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Old 12-22-2005, 06:32 AM   #53
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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George S. Ledyard wrote:
This has led to an immense gap in sophistication between different places one might train. Many people are putting in many hours of hard training, expending much time and effort, but the place where they are training will simply not produce anyone who gets to the top level of skill because of the way they train or the lack of sophistication of the person teaching. This no slight on the person teaching... if one is a sandan or yondan one can do an admirable job teaching folks the basics but how could one possibly take ones students up to a level which one hasn't yet reached oneself? This is just common sense.
I just started reading this thread, so I apologize for the lateness of my comments. I do have one question about the above paragraph, especially the next to last sentence. And it isn't that I disagree or agree because I'm still trying to get a grasp on the whole concept myself.

Anyway, how do you explain coaches of sports? If a coach hasn't reached a level themselves, how do you explain how players can be exceptional, surpassing their coaches abilities? Take the Olympic athletes for example. I'm sure that some of them progressed far more than their coaches abilities. Or the saying to stand on the shoulders of one's teacher?


Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
The issue becomes lack of awareness of what the highest levels of Aikido even represent. I have been fantastically fortunate to have been able to train with many of the finest teachers out there. The Aiki Expos exposed me to even more, some who don't even do Aikido. When you experience what these people can do and when in your own training you start to get a glimpse of what it is yourself, there's no way you can be satisfied with Aikido-lite.
Oh, and in that I agree completely.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I travel a lot to teach and train and what I see out there is a group of folks who are hungry for better training. They get so excited and enthusiastic when you can show them ways to take their training up to another level. I think the current system of teaching is failing a large group of people out there. They need more and better direction.
I'm not sure it's a large group. I agree that there is a group out there. Take the average organization (ex. ASU). In it, there will be very few Yondan and above. A little more nidan and sandans. And probably quite a bit more shodans. However, there will be a good bit more mudansha. It doesn't take a shihan to bring the mudansha up to an appropriate level, or up to another level. And you'll typically find that most dojos out there have at least a shodan, but more likely a nidan or sandan running them. So, really, when we talk about the current system of teaching failing, I think we're talking about those of nidan or higher rank, which IMO isn't a large group of people. But your thoughts on this are most welcome.



Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
I am so passionate about this because I love this art so much. I am just hitting the point in my training in which I can now do things which I thought were pretty much "magic" thirty years ago when I started. I feel like I am just getting to the "goodies" and it is so exciting, so much fun I can't contain myself. When I see so many people settling for so much less I can't help but say "No, don't settle! There's so much more..."
Which goes back to your previous point. Once you've been exposed to some of this, you can never, ever be satisfied with "Aikido-lite". Love that word, by the way. Reminds me of software bundles where you get a "shareware" or "demo" or "not fully functional" version. It's just a glimpse of what the full package can do.

Quote:
George S. Ledyard wrote:
Aikido desperately needs people to focus on how to develop training which could potentially produce another O-Sensei, another Tohei, and Yamaguchi, etc In large measure this isn't happening today.
How do you know this? Granted, my world of Aikido is small. I haven't had access to any of the famous shihans. For me, the only thing I have is questions.

Thanks,
Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 06:42 AM   #54
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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David Valadez wrote:
What do you all think? Why can a softball player who has a couple practices a week and a game on the weekend have no problem saying, "Oh yeah, it's just fun for me, I'm no expert, not even close, etc., I don't pretend to be good at it, etc.," (or something akin to that), while the average aikidoka, whose activity seems so much more profoundly deep than the sport of baseball, can do as much or even less and not be able to say something similar?
I think it's an individual issue. I know people who train in aikido who say things like, Yeah, I like Aikido, but it isn't my whole world. I don't pretend to know everything and I know I'm not great at it.

They're comfortable in the level of training that they have chosen and aren't deluding themselves about it.

Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 07:13 AM   #55
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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The whole analogy is suspect to me actually. For example, the fact that you got two sensei using it, two sensei from totally different sides of the Aikido spectrum, etc. - my guess is that this analogy has some history to it. From the looks of it I would place my bet on it having some sort of Confucian origin with new spins given to it in Neo-Confucianism, the Nativistic movement, and then even inside of the WWII political propaganda. It smells of getting the masses to support the elite by telling them how important they are to the overall structure of something. For me, that goes contrary to a practice that is attempting to reconcile the world and to understand everyone and everything as One. That's why I start my own practice and the practice of my deshi from the position that we are all here to be roots. We do this in our own way, at our own pace, but we are all attempting to head in the same direction. It's all about orientation and movement for me.
dmv
Ah, but you have a school that is teaching only to be a root. So, for you, there are no leaves and no branches. I'm not saying this is bad, just that you won't get any students who *want* to be a leaf or a branch.

As for the tree analogy, since I work in the computer field, I look at it this way. I can administer Windows servers. I am not a root level type of person for administration. There are thing in Windows administration that I can not do (example Microsoft Clustering) and I'm just perfectly happy with that realization. I'm probably a branch in the analogy. And happy with that. I have no desire to be a root. As was stated, my priorities are there and being a root-type administrator for Windows just isn't that high. I know it, I accept it, and I never lose sleep over it.

Now, I just overlap that analogy to aikido to help me understand other people's priorities and how they fit in the tree analogy. Me, I want to be a root in aikido and after seeing some of the amazing things, I don't know how others could not want to be a root. We should all strive to be a root. But then I remember Windows administration and it helps me to understand how other people can be perfectly happy with being a leaf or branch.

Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 07:38 AM   #56
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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A number of times in these postings the phrase " high level, wahtever that is..." has come up.I know that there is something of a range of opinion as to what constitues "high level"... This constitutes a kind of problem in my mind. Many folks in Aikido have an idea about what is great Aikido based on very limited exposure. This was why Stan Pranin invited all those fabulous non-Aikido teachers to the Expo in the hopes that the Aikido community would take notice. Angier Sensei, Vladimir Vasiliyev, Kenji Ushiro Sensei, Kuroda Sensei all set a standard far higher than what much of the Aikido world is setting for themselves. There was alot more "aiki" in their technique than in much of the Aikido that is being done these days.
Off-topic. The aiki Expo poses one significant problem. One gets to the Expo and gets to experience some amazing things. But when one gets back to the home dojo and there isn't anyone around to keep up with what one's seen/learned/experienced, then what does one do? How does one keep progressing to the next level?

Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 08:08 AM   #57
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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Dan Rubin wrote:
I have a question: If today someone in his or her twenties would like to become a master of aikido, what should that person do? It would seem to me that devoting himself to training and seminars would not be enough. He or she must uproot, if need be, and travel as far as necessary to join a dojo where he can practice constantly with a current master, and there devote himself to training and seminars. And this devotion should be with the understanding that even such students may not make it to the big leagues, because of insufficient talent or injuries or fate.
Let me put this in a personal context. When I was about 10 or 11, I knew that I wanted to study Aikido. I knew it deep down. At a time when I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew that I wanted to study Aikido. The closest Aikido dojo was 35 miles away. Half a world away for an 11 year old. No amount of pleading would get my parents to take me there. So, I consoled myself to finding anything on the subject: books, magazines, articles, etc. Remember, at this time, there was no Internet.

Even through High School, I had no chance to go. We were poor and the car (if you could call it that) was either used to take my mother to work or was being worked on because it was broken.

I went to college in a place called Bottineau, ND. I found a Hapkido person and learned a little from him. Still no aikido.

I went into the military at one point and was stationed in OKC, OK. I found an aikido dojo. The sensei was Steve Duncan. The wait was most definitely worth it. I was about 23 years old. The Air Force kept me away 6 months out of every year, but I still trained when I could. Eventually, Duncan sensei awarded me my Shodan and that was one of the best highlights of my Aikido career.

I'm nearing 40 now and my training has been sporadic at times, but my love of Aikido has never died. I keep seeing the "magic" of higher level Aikido and it continually drives me forward. I think about what it would be like if I had started when I was 11, but I realize that no matter what rank I'd be, I'd still have my love of Aikido and I'd still find the "magic" of higher levels and I'd still be progressing forward.

Does it matter that I started later in life? Not to me. I've kept the love and desire alive through times when there was no chance at training at a dojo, when there were times of training at a different martial art, and through times when there was multiple dojo training opportunities. Aikido is my life. I'm progressing at the pace I set and I'm content with that (don't confuse that for being content in my practice. I still look to be challenged and am challenged continually). And I'm finally at a point financially where I can attend seminars.

My advice would be to tell the student to love what they are doing in Aikido and keep that desire burning. And if you're looking to be a "Master", then you're missing the whole point of Aikido, IMO. However, if one finds that one loves a certain style of Aikido, then, yes, you can say, hey, why don't you move to this city and study under this Shihan of that style? Because the underlying principle would be to learn more of what one loves, not to become a Master at Aikido.

Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 10:51 AM   #58
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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Mark Murray wrote:
And if you're looking to be a "Master", then you're missing the whole point of Aikido, IMO.

Mark
The whole "Master" term is a loaded one these days with so many self-styled "Masters" all over the place. A better phrase would be to attain "mastery" of ones art.

If ones goal is to attain "mastery" of ones art I not only do not think that this misses the whole point, but rather, it is the whole point.

Aikido, as the Founder envisoned it, is a Michi, a Path. It is a form of Budo. It isn't a form of entertainment though it can be entertaining, it isn't about fighting, although it can be used for self defense, it isn't about improving your social life, although it may be the center of your social life.

The Aikido Path is about realization... concerning the nature of the universe and the nature of ourselves. These realizations arise out of reaching a certain level of "mastery" of the art. As one attains this "mastery" of the art, one should also attain "mastery" of ones self. Masakatsu Agatsu - True Victory is Self Victory. This is why the art was created.... not to give a bunch of folks all over the world a cool hobby. Certainly, there are many things one learns about oneself, simply from the doing of the art at any level. But the depth of that knowledge is directly proportional to the amount of effort one puts in to ones training.

Every student will not be a teacher, not every teacher will get to the highest levels of "mastery". But every student should be practicing "as if" some level of "mastery" were possible.

Aikido, as it has evolved today, is a very elitist affair. An extremely small group of practitioners has attained some level of "mastery" of the art. Tens of thousands of people are out there doing the art, teaching the art, spending their time and money on the art, yet they have little or no hope of attaining anything better than the most elemental understanding of the art into which they have poured so much of their time and effort.

Many people, having read my articles, think I am an "elitist". In fact, it's quite the opposite. I want everyone to do better Aikido. It is quite possible to have students do much better Aikido.... it simply requires that teachers teach much better Aikido. To do this, the teachers must be pushing themselves to be better. This is a responsibility that goes with taking on the role of teacher.

The spread of Aikido around the world has lead to thousands of dojos opening run by people who took on the role of teacher simply because no one around had trained longer than they had. The almost complete demise of the dan system actually having anything to do with some depth of skill in the art (rather than survival time) has led to a situation in which most Aikido practitioners haven't even seen someone who understands the art at a high level.

There must be a concerted effort to raise the technical level of the teachers of the art who are the means of the "transmission" from one generation to the next. We don't need more dojos and dojo heads. The focus which has been on growth for the art should be shifted to raising the level of the skill of those already in the art. If those who are teaching the art have depth of knowledge, then the growth of the art takes care of itself.

If the technical focus of the art is improved, the practitioners can actually start to experience those elements of Aikido which provide the kinds of spiritual insights which O-Sensei envisioned. I don't think this should be reserved for a small group at the top while everyone else does something else. Every practitioner of Aikido can attain at least some real depth if the art is taught better, practiced better, and the teachers of the art demand of themselves that they get better. There is way too much complacency in Aikido. If one is content with where he's at, he's not growing as he should and growth is the whole point of doing something like Aikido.

George S. Ledyard
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Old 12-22-2005, 11:38 AM   #59
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

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George S. Ledyard wrote:
The whole "Master" term is a loaded one these days with so many self-styled "Masters" all over the place. A better phrase would be to attain "mastery" of ones art.

If ones goal is to attain "mastery" of ones art I not only do not think that this misses the whole point, but rather, it is the whole point.
This was my point, yes. That to learn because you love it in the end translates to gaining mastery of the art. But, to train because you want to be a "master", well ... I doubt you'll ever attain mastery of Aikido.

Thanks,
Mark
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Old 12-22-2005, 11:41 AM   #60
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

An excellent post George, on one point, I think I differ a bit, and that is the sense of contentment. Contentment with one's practice is not wrong. Practicing is polishing, and there is always the next surprise insight. It is almost a ritual in my dojo, that whenever a surprise appears, the entire class stops and bows to the shomen. It was not a ritual I taught, or that anyone taught: it was a natural ritual that appeared one day when a bokken hit the overhead light, but it didn't shatter.
In gassho
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Old 12-22-2005, 11:57 AM   #61
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

A small thing really...

Are we just playing with words here - "master" and "mastery." I bring this up because I wonder if the wordplay is part of what folks use to not be roots (i.e. use against themselves, use against their teacher's requirements, etc.). e.g. "Being a master is impossible, why shoot for it?"

The funny part is this: Who is ready to say "mastery" is any more possible than being a master?

There's so much false humility (i.e. self-serving submission) in these ways of understanding that Aikido practice is a living process. One has to wonder what all is being protected in our will to see both being a master and attaining mastery as impossible.

I'm reminded of something I read, where a writer-friend of Merton's asked him what he wanted from all his faith, etc. Merton went on with all the usual stuff - it's about living the practice, etc. etc. And his friend finally stops him and asks him, "Aren't you trying to be a saint? If so, why the difficulty in saying it?" Merton, being an honest man, saw that his resistance to saying out loud what most opt to never say was more connected to his fears of pursuing his practice more deeply than it was to any kind of insight pertaining what the holy or sainthood might be. I would suggest we are often seeing the same thing here in regards to Aikido and being a master. Let us remember, most of the masters we know today, never said that being a master was impossible - most of them clearly say (in one version or another), "I wanted to be the best." In other words, when one is the best, and one says, "There is always more to learn - complete mastery is not possible," that is not the same thing as saying "There is always more to learn - complete master is not possible," when one is using that to keep going with their aikido-lite.

thinking out loud,
dmv

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Old 12-22-2005, 02:45 PM   #62
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

This is way long - so please skip it if you aren't into it. Normally, this would be posted on our web site, but we are pressed by holiday travels, etc., so I'm going to opt to paste it here in full rather than just providing a hyperlink to it. Hope no one is insulted too badly - if so, please forgive.

The following came up on our dojo email list - which we use to promote discussion and/or further self-refection, etc. The piece is pretty self explanatory. For me, there is some overlap with what we ended up talking about and what one can see in this thread and in George's article. Thought some folks might find it interesting. Since it was mentioned - anyone is welcome to join our email list - just send me an email with your email addess. thanks,
dmv

"Wisdom, Humility, and Self-doubt"

A while back, I sent out the following quote by Thomas Merton:

"The fruitfulness of our life depends in large measure on our ability to doubt our own words and to question the value of our own work. The man who completely trusts his own estimate of himself is doomed to (spiritual) sterility. All he asks of any act he performs is that it is his act. If it is performed by him, it must be good (so he thinks). All words spoken by him must be infallible (so he believes). The car he has just bought is the best for its price, for no other reason than that he is the one who has bought it. He seeks no other fruit than this, and therefore he generally gets no other. If we believe ourselves in part, we may be right about ourselves. If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong."

I also included my own personal take on the quote when I sent it out. I wrote:

"For me the quote speaks about something that seems to come up quite often in the cultivation of the spirit. Often, in seeking spiritual maturity, we are told to practice various acts of self-reflection, of contemplation. However, at such times, many of us see this only as a request to ask ourselves what we are thinking and/or what we are feeling, etc. We wrongly see our own thoughts and our own feelings as answers and not as the questions that they truly are. There is no real depth to our self-investigations and so change or transformation of the self is hardly ever possible or achieved. We do not dig deeper to see why and how we are thinking or feeling, or why or how we are thinking "x" and not "y," etc. Moreover, we do not ever reflect at deep enough level to be able to determine if we should even be thinking or feeling what we are thinking or feeling. In my opinion, all of this comes from an attachment to self, which is also a lack of faith in the greater aspect of which we are only a part of (be that God, or Nature, or the Universe, or the Truth - etc. - you pick the word). It is a type of egocentrism that pushes God, etc., out of the center of our existence and pushes our small self - with all of our ego failings - to the center of all things, all times, and all people, etc. The source of this egocentrism is a misplaced faith in one's sense of self - it is a kind of self-worshipping, which is a kind of idolatry. Spiritual maturity, or the practice of wisdom and compassion, is not found in positing the self as a golden statue to be worshipped - there is no insight in an idolatry of the small self. Spiritual maturity is first, last, and always, found in a kind of self-doubt. This is because spiritual maturity can only be born in humility. If we have faith in that which is greater than ourselves, we will solve this paradox, since the paradox of becoming wise by doubting the self is only one that exists for the self-idolater."

Since that time, I have received two replies that were quite alike in nature. Both raised some very good issues and made some very important requests for further clarity. I will provide one of them below. It read:

"The connection between self-doubt/self-reflection and spiritual maturity (i.e. practicing wisdom and compassion) is clear. However, does such practice necessarily require a self-doubt that abnegates one's own significance?

In Judaism, one is supposed to be self-reflective at times, but one is never supposed to check one's own thoughts at the door; one is always expected to remain conscious, questioning, and to never abandon a sense of oneself (even when trembling before God). This process necessarily involves one's ego, but is expected to bring one in conformity with God's law and is not generally thought to be a process that displaces God.

Merton's quote describes a movement towards self-reflection. It clearly indicates one must not idolize oneself. However, it does not seem to describe a particularly rigorous standard for self-reflection. How deep must the humility that you describe actually go? What, concretely does an avoidance of self-idolatry mean?"


First, I would like to say that what Merton describes is not something particular to the Catholic faith -- which he was a part of. He is speaking of a problem of our humanity (i.e. conscious and subconscious ego attachment) and of the only way of addressing that problem (i.e. the cultivation of humility and selflessness). He has targeted in on something that is central to all spiritual paths. To understand this, we must be sure to motivate ourselves beyond doctrinal issues -- this is a universal of humankind. This is why we see the same thing being said in many other spiritual traditions. In specific relation to Budo and/or to Aikido, this is why we see the same thing being said in the Buddhist tradition, particular in Zen, Confucian thought, Taoist philosophy, Judaic and Christian mystic traditions, Omoto-kyo, and why we see it in the thinking and writing of Osensei (the founder of Aikido). For example, we can see this idea clearly when Osensei writes:

"Before God we must give up our ego, freeing our mind of all thoughts and endeavor to be able to execute divine deeds by calming our spirit and returning to God."

Before proceeding onward, I would like to offer up a common example, as a non-doctrinal reference point -- an example of how we often (especially early on in our training) doom ourselves to spiritual sterility by completely trusting our own estimate of ourselves. In this example, I would like to tie this response to one of the more practical matters of spiritual maturity as it pertains to our training. Namely, I would like to talk about the way we come to training confident that we are doing all we can in regards to our day-to-day practice. Perhaps this is not clear or not clearly experienced as an ego attachment, nor may it be clear that it is solved solely through tools like self-doubt and thus ultimately through humility. Nevertheless, it is an ego-attachment, and it is the most commonly experienced. This type of ego attachment is often more visible through the type of resistance that often is adjoined to it. Therefore, let us begin speaking on it via the more common types of resistance that are usually present and much more noticeable.

Again, so that the reader is clear on what we are talking about here, with the lack of self-doubt you often have a resistance toward training in general and in specific toward training more. This often comes with a feeling that one has no time, that one could not possibly re-prioritize life differently, that one's current schedule is not being appreciated, that the things that you value are not being universally valued by all, etc. If we have ever felt any of these types of resistances, and we all do when we first begin (and for a great many years), then we are lacking the self-doubt that Merton, and so many others, are speaking of. We are stuck generating a spiritual sterility that is the product of our incapacity to doubt ourselves -- to doubt that we are doing all we can; to doubt that we have no time; to doubt that we cannot re-prioritize our lives; to doubt that our schedule is not being appreciated and valued, etc. Rather, we are stuck presenting ourselves in a way that makes us resistant to the very reason for practicing the living Way -- we are making ourselves resistant to transformation. All of our energy goes into not seeing ourselves critically -- truthfully. All of our energy goes into feeling that to doubt ourselves is to destroy our Self. This is how a delusion of the spirit works. Delusions of the spirit must always be justifiable, and they can be thus only with or through the most ultimate of things. Hence, we are forced to see the world in "black and white," and we are sure to always place ourselves on the positive side of that dichotomy. We are left then only with questions like, "If I doubt myself, will I not negate myself into oblivion?" "If I forfeit X, will I not die or disappear altogether?" "If I sacrifice Y, will I not in the end have sacrificed everything?" Our ego makes us experience the world in this way. It makes us feel, especially when it comes to its own identity; that we must choose only between the status quo and total despair.

As a teacher, I come to assist students with reconciling these delusions in students, or I lose students to the great mass of mediocrity and of quitters. I call them delusions because the plain and simple fact is that all of us can always do more than we are doing. This is true because there are no limits to the depths of the self, and thus there are no limits to how we may practice self-reflection, contemplation, and/or how we may cultivate spiritual maturity. This is a fact we cannot deny. In truth, we can measure the depth of our practice by how well we have reconciled the whole of our lives with this fact - that we can always do more. The only boundaries that come to us in regards to spiritual development are the ones we set by ourselves, the ones we set out of fear, pride, or ignorance (all three being products of ego-attachment). Some students come to reconcile these matters quickly and fully; some come to make such reconciliation a life-long process that is in constant need of attention; or they quit. There are really no other options than this when it comes to Budo. In our practice, we must find a way to bravely face the infinity of spiritual practice and our distance from it.

As a teacher, trying to fulfill my role, two things -- two interrelated things - always strike me. I am struck by how off the mark such a delusion truly is (i.e. how much the fact that we can always do more is denied), and I am struck by how powerful such a delusion truly is -- by how much it governs not only what a student can and cannot do but also what he/she will and/or will not attempt to do. (Of course, this is no different for teachers either -- remember we are talking about a human condition here.) Underneath, when adopting the view of the teacher, there lies the great punch line: I am here as teacher, but also as a student of the art myself, most times doing more than others, yet I am always aware that I could be doing more (much more), aware that I am not doing enough.

However, when we are in the midst of these kinds of delusions, when we are blinded by our own ego attachment or by our own incapacity to doubt ourselves, when we are stuck placing ourselves at the center of all judgment, we cannot see what is around us. Alternately, if we can see what is around us, it is viewed only in a way that it offers no clarity toward ourselves -- we do not gain the benefits of observing the contrast of another. Hence, for example, often, deshi that feel that they are doing all they can in regards to their training, do not see what I am doing in truth, nor do they see how I feel about that as well. In other words, being unable to practice self-doubt is not only connected to a blindness of ourselves, it is also connected to a blindness of others.

I remember when I was a young man -- between 16 years old and 18 years old -- I got my first "wake up" call regarding these kinds of issues. At that time, I was training in both Speed Skating (inline) and Cycling. I was about to enter into the more senior divisions -- which traditionally had the more prominent athletes (ages 18 to 27). At 16, I did not yet have to compete against these athletes. However, my times were looked at next to theirs because in many cases my times were equal or better. Regardless of those times, when I became 18 and actually had to start racing against these men, my actual performance did not equal my expected potential. Quickly I learned that a whole lot goes into winning in the senior division -- much more than just having a fast time. For example, one needs race strategy and one needs an overall greater endurance, one that allows an athlete to remain efficient throughout the three to five days of some of the larger events. One also requires the kind of endurance that allows one to deal with the ins and outs of races that do not go quite as planned.

During my first year competing in the senior division, all I did was complain. I was still in my last year of high school. Most of the stars of the sport had graduated from high school and had postponed college for the sake of better dedicating themselves to training and to winning. For me, I was doing all I could do, and that was what I was supposed to do -- so I believed. However, it was not good enough -- obviously. Somehow, through my ego, I made it "their" entire fault. I said, "Well, if I wasn't doing anything all day either, I could train all day too - and then I'd really blow them all away." In that self-serving delusion, I took so much for granted. I took for granted all that they were doing and all that they had to suffer in order to do it. My ego had made it seem that it was just so easy to train all day long. That it was only a matter of time scheduling -- requiring nothing of commitment, discipline, faith, etc. For me, my training suffered not because I lacked what they had (e.g. commitment, discipline, faith, etc.), but because they were afforded what I was not (i.e. time to train).

Well, I graduated high school. My mom allowed me to postpone college for two years to pursue my sports. With the day free, I set out a schedule that had me training the 8 hours a day that the other more prominent athletes were doing. What happened? I could not do it -- not even close. Why? Because what they were doing was not a matter of afforded time. It was a matter of character -- of having cultivated things like discipline, commitment, dedication, sacrifice, psychological and emotional endurance, etc. Fortunately, because I was not a totally lost soul, I was eventually able to realize this -- able to admit this to myself. I was also able to realize that the little I was doing before was not a matter of having no time afforded -- it too was a character issue (i.e. a lack of certain virtues). I was not training more than I was when I was in high school because I did not have more time. I was not training more than I was in high school because I did not have the character to make use of all the time I did have -- period. The same ego that would not allow me to see what all the others were doing, of how and why, was the same ego that had me thinking that I could do no more than I was -- that I should not have to do more than I was. This same ego would not allow me to self-doubt. This incapacity at self-doubt would not allow me to self-reflect accurately. Without self-reflection, I could not transform myself from the high-school kid with a bunch of excuses to a man with a capacity for following the Way, for following a living practice.

Today, when I look at my teachers, the ones I can respect, I see men that have done and/or are doing more than I. Yet, I do not blame them for that, nor do I see my practice as doing the best I can. I see my practice as a thing that I can always improve upon -- a thing I can always dedicate more of myself to. Thus, I am not doing what I should be doing. Rather, I am continually striving to be doing more of what I should be doing. This is how I come to my training today. On the other hand, when we are trapped by our ego, and when we hear of all we can be doing, or of others that are doing more than us but that are saying that they are not doing enough, etc., we bounce back and forth between despair and being over-zealous. This works as follows: A teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough and that we will never be able to do enough -- and then we quit. Alternately, a teacher tells us we can always do more, and then we feel like we are not doing enough, and then we go on to sacrifice the whole of our lives, abandoning the more mature states of harmony and integration, for the supposed sake of doing more. Then we quit when the effects of lacking harmony and integration come and hit us in the face.

Equally, a teacher explains we should be doing all we can, that we should accept what we are doing, as we strive to do more, and then our ego has us using the first part of that phrase to ignore the second part of that phrase. This we do even though it is obvious at nearly every level that the phrase is nothing more than an attempt to reject the status quo without rejecting the true self that underlies it. A man or woman that understands this phrase fully will always be more capable of the practicing the living Way than the man or woman that only hears, "You must accept where you are at (so there is no need to do more than you are doing or to be more than you are being)." For the man or woman that is plagued by ego-attachment the phrase presents an unsolvable paradox. They are plagued into paralysis by trying to ask and answer, "How do I change without rejecting myself?" It is like this with what Merton is telling us as well. Hence, why I wrote: "If we have faith in that which is greater than ourselves, we will solve this paradox, since the paradox of becoming wise by doubting the self is only one that exists for the self-idolater."

For the man or woman that is truly practicing the living Way, there is no unsolvable mystery to understanding how one practices self-doubt without abandoning the Self. For Merton, and for others, what one is doubting is not the Self that one thinks he/she is saving by not self-doubting. For Merton, and for others, what one saves by not self-doubting is only the ego -- which is not the Self but only that which refuses to be questioned. The ego that is protected by not self-doubting is nothing more than our fear, our pride, and our ignorance as these things are aggregated into our sense of material identity -- which cannot ever be anything but false. This is why Merton writes:

"If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong."

Within any viable spiritual tradition, there will always be a relationship between awareness or wisdom and one's capacity to practice humility, selflessness, and/or to gain distance from one's own ego/material identity. This is why, especially initially, self-doubt is so important to one's ongoing practice. Self-doubt is not a rejection of Self. It is a suspension of our ego's habitual reactions, a devaluing of our material desires, a calming of our emotional fears. Moreover, in these things, it is actually a verification of Self, of our True Self.

This is very much in line with Judaic thought -- particularly within the Kabbalic tradition. For those that are not familiar with this tradition, Kabbalah is a religious mystical system of Judaism. Kabbalah is a doctrine of esoteric knowledge concerning God, God's creation of the universe and the laws of nature, and the path by which adult religious Jews can learn these secrets. It is considered part of the Jewish Oral Law. In this tradition, there is an equivalency taught to exist between wisdom and humility. The two virtues are understood to exist in complete co-dependency. Talmudic commentators explain this to mean that a person cannot attain one without the other. Alternately, things like self-gratification and self-praise -- things that take our habits, our desires, and our fears as ending points - are considered the subtle roots of sin (i.e. a turning from wisdom). These commentators go on to teach that wisdom requires humility as humility requires self-criticism. According to this tradition, we are to regularly reflect upon our behavior with a critical eye. It is through that critical eye -- through the means that we manage to distance ourselves from the trappings of our own ego -- that we guard against lapsing into complacency and self-justifications -- what Merton would call "spiritual sterility."

Of course, when we hear the call for self-doubt, for self-criticism, we are able to understand it intellectually. However, because we are more attached to our ego than we are to our practice, we are plagued by images of despair, of depression, of no self-worth, etc., and we thus will not put our faith into practice. Instead, we want some sort of guarantee that these age-old techniques will again work for us in exactly the way they are being described. We want to know that we will be okay before we proceed. Thus, we want things before they happen -- we do not want to be dependent upon our faith. We want the wisdom, then we will risk the humility; we want the humility, then we will risk the self-doubt. We are stuck in this material reality even at the level of our identity and hence we remain dominated by our small self -- by our fear, our pride, and by our ignorance. We want to fly, but we do not want to let go of the ground. Rather, we want flying to become a matter of remaining on the ground; we want to progress, to mature, and to transform ourselves by remaining exactly how we are. This is how the ego maintains its dominance over us, and this is why self-doubt is such a powerful tool of the spirit. Self-doubt allows us to look deeply enough to see the oxymoronic nature of our spiritual immaturity.

When you look to ancient teachings, are ego trappings are challenged even more. Merton's caveat seems mellow by comparison. For example, in Judaic-Christian thought, with an almost mathematical co-dependency existing between wisdom and humility, the only way to total wisdom then is through total humility. This would mean that one could only be fully of the Way by fully abandoning the ego. Self-doubt, self-criticism, etc., must therefore have no limitations set upon them. They must remain the tools of the trade that they are and we must not be afraid to use them. The justification for this use is that only the small self is in danger from such tools. Alternately, the true Self, that which is of God, of Nature, of the Universe (again, you pick the word), experiences self-doubt and self-criticism only in positive terms. This occurs because humility is cultivated through such actions -- humility is what allows us to realize wisdom (e.g. That all is One; That all is God; etc.) This is indeed echoed in the following verse from the Pirkei Avos -- a section of the Mishna. One can also note how closely the following quote is echoed in the one by Osensei provided above. In the Pirkei Avos it reads:

"Give to him what is His, because you and what is yours are His!"

The Pirkei Avos does not read, "Give part of yourself, the rest of you is for you and not of Him." In the same way, Osensei did not write, "Before God we must give up part of our ego, freeing our mind of some thoughts and endeavor to be able to execute divine deeds by calming part of our spirit and returning to God in part." In other words, what do the sages say when you ask them, "How much self-doubt?" They answer, "All that you can." In summary, self-doubt/self-criticism, as prescribed above, is not an end in itself. It is a spiritual means toward wisdom and compassion. The purpose of self-doubt/self-criticism is to dissolve the ego rather than strengthen it. Self-doubt/self-criticism thus remains a vital part of self-reflection -- a tool we all recognize as a valid element in cultivating the spirit. However, self-reflection is only productive in proportion to our ability to dissolve our ego (through things like self-doubt/self-criticism). Here is the clincher: Those who seek to practice self-reflection without an equal amount of self-doubt will only end up increasing the spiritually neurotic tendencies of their small self. As wisdom is co-dependent with humility, self-reflection is co-dependent with self-doubt. Hence, quoting again, why Merton writes: "If we are completely taken in by our own disguise, we cannot help being wrong."

dmv

David M. Valadez
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Old 12-22-2005, 03:34 PM   #63
Erick Mead
 
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

I do not wish to be master of anything. But I keep practicing and somebody keeps bugging me to teach stuff.

Doubtless, I teach far less well than almost anyone. If this is falsely modest, fine -- I teach better than the most accomplished person anywhere at any time. Both statements are a lie, or are true, or whatever. Choose what you prefer.

A sage -- now that is something to aspire to ...

Master = Magister = Teacher. The word really means nothing more. The question is whether there is anything being taught that is worth learning.

Being the best, though -- that does not necessarily mean anything, especially depending upon one's company. A truly accomplished swordsman was once asked if he had ever been beaten. He replied "Bested, yes; beaten, never."

I am often the most accomplished martial artist in classes I teach. This means exceedingly little, I assure you.

(Oops! False modesty indicator flashing again. Meant to say "god-king of the universe." Sorry. Won't happen again. Really -- terribly sorry.)

Luck is better than talent. Ask all the dead soldiers. Success doesn't teach very well. Ask all the one-shot wonders. Why? Because the irreducible component of success is luck, and it is a part of every success.

Only a survived failure teaches reliably; repetitive, ever more refined failure teaches best. For this reason alone there has always been, and always will be, a fundamental disconnect between material measures of success and real learning. That is another reason why overly commercializing what we do is a mistake.

Aikido is a rigorous exploration of those opportunities for failure in a a mode that ecourages survival. We should pay attention to those who fail most of all, because they are doing real learning although they find it too frustrating to realize it.

On the image of the leaves, branches and roots.
The mightiest oak was once a seedling, every seedling, an acorn.

The problem with the "be a root" metaphor as a model of aspiration, is that it tends to devalue the barely sprung seedlings. All too easily, new shoots get mowed down in today's eagerly leveling world. Acorns rarely sprout twice. Too much concern about their roots, and a whole forest may be lost just to get at the weeds.

Why make it worse? Wild growth is first and foremost growth -- prune later. We don't want "gelded trees" (My favorite phrase from the film "Rob Roy," and who thought I'd ever get to use it? Yippee!)
Good trees will overtop weeds in due course.

Being committed to the art for the art's sake misses the point. Aikido does not exist for the art's sake but for the sake of real, live, breathing people, most of whom do not initially know much about what they are getting into. It is meant as much for them as for the most talented and devoted among us.

Aikido would be a boon to the world if, before the age of sixty, everyone could be taught proper ukemi, and nothing else.

Back to gardening now ...

Cordially,
Erick Mead
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Old 12-22-2005, 07:15 PM   #64
billybob
 
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

Sensi Ledyard Sir,

I would like to ask a question:

When the next OSensei appears, how will you recognize him or her?

David
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Old 12-24-2005, 06:45 AM   #65
DH
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

Dave that was great
I think the hardest thing a man comes to grips with is the recognition of the greatness of mankind and his place within it. It speaks to the potentials within us all, next comes the responsibiltiy of it.
Most walk away from it. Our reasons are myriad; fear, disinterest in the challenge, preoccupation with the mundane things of life, lack of vision and an organized life, and the killer...the real deal, no foolin killer.....
lack of belief in their own potential.

Merry Christmas
Dan
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Old 12-24-2005, 07:34 AM   #66
DH
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Re: Article: Clarity and Self-Delusion in One's Training by George S. Ledyard

George
I've read the article, Great stuff. Very clear and definable, yet look at what it has brought out in the reader here. Honestly I cannot think of a single thing I disagree with. I would add a few things specifically great toward your summation though.
When you admonish the reader/student to do this or that I think you're missing a dynamic. Most students(people for that matter these days) don't have the wherewithal in their own lives (accurately reflected in your article early on) to...
a. Organize themselves in such a way to progress
b. perceive Aikido as a definable set of goals of improvements
c. participate in definable system with challenges that do not reflect cooperation (recognized again with the fellow who has a black belt in attendance and readership)
d. Stay when frustrated, work through issues and eal with repeated failure.

I think the goals of an organization are the responsibility of the leaders of same. No one should advance until a definable set of standards have been laid out and met. FWIW these standards could include training elsewhere and a return. I have routinely insisted my guys go train in other places. I have even, on occasion, forced them to and brought them myself! I have brought men to Aikido classes who had nothing but disdain for it and wound up having a blast.
Standards could also include a student mandate; that after say- 6 months- the delivery of an essay of personal goals. Overall, it is clear that many do these arts for social interaction, imagined personal empowerment without challenge, real personal empowerment with challenge and physical health. After an essay about their personal goals the teacher can decide how to help them achieve it or ask them to leave if they are in fact not copasetic to the goals of the teacher or organization. I have done this. I have seen it done in front of me.
A set of standardized challenges of actual skills should be mandatory so that no one progresses due to attendance. I would toss that guy out, I have done this to people at least half a dozen times. My standard reply is "please don't bother wasting ….MY..time. It is apparently clear you don't mind wasting yours." I think their type is such a common mindset I have a name for it --Excellence by affiliation.

I think on the whole teachers accept things they do not really want to be involved in, and students with personal issues. All in hopes of building an organization. The real question is ..why? In the end they are usually as disappointed as the student with the results. Last, add to this miasma that we are talking about a supposed span of some 8 years or so of their lives…people change in those years.

So, we can set lofty goals
Being willing to kick people out, being willing to be small, being willing to demand excellence toward your own goals. All a start toward that path.

And now comes the flip side-
Reality
We all know and see that relationships form, student bonds happen, with students being an advocate for others students
Teacher/student bonds happen with the teacher just liking the guy and dealing with his shortcomings. Teacher/student issues happen-Sometimes the most talented are also the most difficult to teach.
The teacher -hoping for better holds on to a student- the student falters and then gets better in stages
Great students leave or just simply move for various reasons
Few stay the course
And so on.

So what do we get?
Pretty much what we --have- in these arts. Everybody all over the place with all manner of issues and varying skill sets with frustrated teachers AND students.
I call it life.

Merry Christmas
Dan

Last edited by DH : 12-24-2005 at 07:38 AM.
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