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Home > Training > Honest practice
by Jim Zimmerdahl <Send E-mail to Author>


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A Thief

I'm practicing with another student. Someone is instructing the class, trying to provide the information and practice required to eventually "own" the technique of the moment.

To my left is a white belt, a new student practicing with a green belt who's been around for several months now. The white belt is having trouble with the technique. The green belt begins to help by telling the white belt how to correct the problem. Sound familiar? Before long, the white belt is having a little one-on-one training session -- lots of talk with little action. The self-appointed instructor is a thief! The green belt has the best of intentions, but has taken the student from the class, the teacher from the student, and time off from practice. Moreover, green belts seldom teach. They have much to learn and even with the best intentions, little to teach.

An Imposter

I'm practicing with another student. Someone is instructing the class, trying to provide the information and practice required to eventually "own" the technique of the moment.

The instructor explains a concept and a student to my left asks a question. The question was stated as, "So you mean that..." with a rephrasing of what the instructor already said. I can tell the question isn't an honest question because it carries an expression of doubt. The student didn't want to know the answer. The student wanted recognition for understanding, for participating. This student is pretending to be interested in what the instructor has to say but really wants to be perceived as knowledgeable. The ego is at work.

Another student asks a question. The instructor answers the question but you can tell that the student is not satisfied with the answer. The student reiterates what a previous instructor has stated. This student wants the instructor (and the other students) to know that there are other opinions on how this should be done. This student is pretending to contribute additional information, but really doubts the instructor. The ego is at work.

We begin practice. We have been given a specific series of moves and everyone does just what was asked. After a while a couple of students start to change what they are doing. Another pair is stopping to discuss each success and failure and everyone thinks they are very active and kinetically participating. Well, yes, they are. But they each have their own agenda. They are posing as interested students but are really only interested in personal, immediate gratification. They are not practicing; they are demonstrating and posturing. The ego is at work.

A Victim

I'm practicing with another student. Someone is instructing the class, trying to provide the information and practice required to eventually "own" the technique of the moment.

A student on my left complains of a problem with the technique. The instructor suggests a solution and asks the student to try again. The student tries, exaggerating the problem to show how difficult it is. The instructor suggests another solution. The student wants the perfect technique to magically appear, without effort. Uke weakens the attack to give tori a better chance. Tori is more able now, and succeeds against a less effective attack. Tori feels better while the technique suffers. Tori and Uke switch roles. The former tori attacks with a blast so the resulting technique requires a rugged fall. When the student complains to too much force, tori reduces the focus of the attack to spare Uke. Uke fakes the fall. The technique suffers, the risk is removed, and the reality is gone. The student can look good (to some) without feeling threatened and without any buttons being pushed. The student is a victim -- a victim of wanting something for nothing.

A Charlatan

I'm practicing with another student. Someone is instructing the class, trying to provide the information and practice required to eventually "own" the technique of the moment. When the practice grows more difficult, it becomes too much work for a student on my right. The student needs a drink of water. The student's partner has to wait until the student returns, and they begin to practice again. The student assumes the role of tori. The partner is a good Uke, providing many quality attacks, but tori doesn't volunteer to be Uke. The teacher then selects another technique and a change of partners. The student again assumes to role of tori. After a while the teacher yells, "Change partners" and the student needs another drink of water. I remember that this being the student that always arrives just after the dojo clean up is complete, on Saturday morning. This is also the student that had to leave just before the planned project last week. But this student is a top-notch politician -- a wonderful student to have around, unless you require someone who is willing to "walk the walk."

So who is this student?

Probably all of us. The thief, the imposter, the victim, and the charlatan are all the inner beast, the ego. That part of us that is always seeking gratification, stroking, ease, and recognition.

We're all thieves. We all want recognition, so we steal a little of everyone's time to get it, even if it's from someone who doesn't know what's going on yet. And we all play mind and word games when we are being the imposter. Our mind is a wonderfully clever, deceiving thing. It even deceives us to make us think we are being honest. But it is seldom open. Our cup is seldom empty. Our egos protect us from submitting to the will of others. This has helped the survival of the species, but it plays hell with the learning process. We often play the victim. The mind is always looking for the easy way. If we believe what we feel, the mind will make us feel that the way of least discomfort and greatest gratification is the only choice. We lie to ourselves to justify the lie we share with others. The charlatan is a very skilled thief, who is an imposter, who justifies it by blaming it on the world or others.

Is it terminal? No more than life. But we must be on guard because those students are all of us. None of us is immune to our own minds. We must always check our motives -- verify our agenda when we act (or react), because these are just some of the forms the "justifying" beast within will take. In fact, as you read this, you will remember seeing these students on the tatami. But do you remember seeing them in the mirror? Not if your inner beast is in charge.

But isn't this what aikido is about? Our practice gives us an opportunity to bring the beast into the open where we can identify it, lay it naked, and stomp it to death. Then we can just shut up and practice. Of course it will be back in another form, but so what. This is a life-long pursuit.

Reprinted with permission from Jiyushinkai's "Budo News" Newsletter.


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