Sometimes we think we understand someone. We know their strengths, and
respect them for it, We know their weaknesses, and love them anyway. We
think we have discovered it all. And then one small event can turn your
whole perception inside out and upside down.
We used to train with a real 'kickass' 4th dan. Not a regular. An
occasional visitor from a friendly dojo. We were all scared of him - his
techniques always took you to the edge, and frequently beyond. Pain was
usual. Damage was frequent. As a job, he ran a security firm - what we call
'bouncers' in the UK - doormen who are hired to keep trouble away. He was
an experienced doorman himself; had seen the courtrooms, done the fights,
won most, lost a few. Taught others how to win.
This guy had a reputation not only in our club, but also in the UK martial
arts world where he moved. Occasionally I'd see articles where his name
was used to prove Aikido can work. An aiki fighter. The iron man.
One weekend we were all attending a large MA demonstration, with karate,
judo, iaido, jujutsu and aikido. A couple of us were to uke for him, as
1st and 2nd kyu. Following his demonstration, our Sensei would do a brief
demo to wrap up the event.
As you might imagine, we were more than a little nervous. While the early
demonstrations were happening, one of the ukes was chatting with him,
trying to stay calm and centred. Mentally preparing. After a few minutes,
the uke came over to our table. What had he been discussing? Was it going
to be ok? Maybe he was going to do solo weapons work instead and didn't
The answer was much more shocking. The 4th dan was worried. Visibly
worried. Beyond anything we had ever seen in him. It was not the
demonstration. Not the 100+ martial artists from across the UK critically
watching him do his stuff. He was nervous because Sensei had asked him to
be uke in the final demo.
Our gentle, kind, caring teacher had asked the 4th dan if he wouldn't mind
helping him with a brief demonstration. Only one technique - only a few
seconds. And the iron man was scared that he would not be able to take it.
In those few seconds everything seemed to flip-flop. We realised that
Sensei had not taken a different route to the 4th dan, but had been there,
passed through, and moved beyond it. He no longer needed to be the
strongest. He no longer needed to prove himself every day. It made me
realise how many more mountains he had climbed while we were in the
foothills of our first. I thought I understood what Sensei was about. I
thought I had some understanding of his ability. I thought the 4th dan was
the predator - the hawk, the leopard. I realised I had been learning from
the Lion, and never even knew it.