Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ego is alive and well...

Last week Sensei was away for a seminar in Canada, so the "2nd-in-charge" and "3rd-in-charge" were leading practice. Normally, when Sensei is there, they don't offer too many pointers, as this is considering stepping on Sensei's toes a bit, I guess. But last week they had their chance to give me lots of criticism!
I should be glad for this kind of thing. It's a fresh perspective; they'll point out problems and mistakes I'm making - ones that Sensei has either stopped noticing, or has given up on me ever fixing.
But I must confess that it was a blow to my ego, and I felt kind of annoyed. When I make a mistake, and someone calls me on it, my ego springs to life and I have one of a few varieties of inner reactions:
"What? You want to quibble about such a minor point? Okay, it doesn't really matter to me, so I'll do it your way."
"Really? I've been told to do it a different way, but for the sake of placating you, I'll do it your way."
"Huh? I've been making that mistake all this time and nobody's ever told me? Well, now it's ingrained and I probably won't be able to change it..."

I always manage to turn it around so it's not important, or it's the other party who's wrong, or it's somebody else's fault. At least (and I really mean that; this is about the only good thing I can say at this point) ... at least I'm aware of that tendency in myself.
At last week's practice, we were working on koryu. I originally learned a different style of koryu; then didn't touch it for a couple years; then learned a different style; then didn't touch that for years ... all this is just a bunch of excuses to "explain" why I don't know what the hell I'm doing when it comes to koryu.
The whole experience was pretty embarrassing - everything I did was wrong; I'd put my left foot forward, get corrected, and my first reaction was "I could swear I was told to put the other foot forward... so somebody is definitely wrong here..." because I was trying to blame somebody else.
What can I learn from this whole thing? I honestly don't know. That my practice is being hindered by my ego? I already knew that! It's a constant struggle... if I ever succeed in erasing my ego, I'll deserve to be very proud of myself.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sei Do Kai visits Japan

Wow, been a while, hasn't it? The only interesting thing that happened in the last few months was a good one, though: a visit to Japan by Kim Taylor, (who once swore, I do believe, that he'd never come to Japan!) and the other members of the Sei Do Kai.
The Sei Do Kai is in Guelph, but various members have graduated and gone on to other cities where they teach and operate dojo. Dave Green, Ed Chart, and Miki Takashima are up in Ottawa, and Eric Tribe is in Thunder Bay. Doug Martin also came down from Thunder Bay, and Chris Jarvie joined from the Ottawa dojo. Rounding out the gang was Pamela Morgan, from the Guelph Sei Do Kai.
I haven't seen a lot of these folks in quite a while, so I was wondering what the first meeting would be like after such a long absence. I should have guessed: they were exhausted from their flight, a bit overwhelmed by Tokyo (I'm guessing), but overall, happy to have arrived and (again, I'm guessing) happy to see me.
A jodo practice had already been scheduled at the Shimbun Dojo, and the week before, one of the Japanese members had asked me, "So, Jeff-san, are all the other visitors as big as you?" (I'm about 6'4" or 193 cm). I thought about it and said, "Yeah, pretty much!" They're not a small group, that's for sure. When I showed up at the station, sure enough, the first thought that crossed my mind was "What's with all the absurdly large foreigners?" and a split second later I thought, "Oh, those are my friends!"
After a quick trip to the hotel followed by an absurdly-long check-in process that had everyone asking "Is everything in Japan this difficult and slow?" we were off to grab a bite to eat. My memory is already foggy, but I think we went to a conveyor-belt sushi place - very Japanese, very cheap, and everyone can find something they like. Most importantly, they have cheap beer!
I had to work while everyone was visiting (including, unbelievably, the Sunday and Monday smack dab in the middle of Golden Week) but I did manage to attend some practices together with everyone. I was embarrassed by my lack of progress in both jodo and iaido, but particularly in iai. I have resolved to work harder!
Meanwhile, it was great to have Dave Green and Kim Taylor giving me plenty of instruction (in English, for once) about how to fix my cut. I find that Japanese teachers give you a point, or maybe two, and then leave you to work on it. That's fair enough, and it's certainly not a criticism, but I was so grateful to have Kim and Dave look at my cut, and offer suggestion after suggestion. "Try it like this; okay, what you're doing is this. Keep this in mind..." If one thing wasn't working (because I wasn't getting it) they gave me another perspective. My Japanese teachers would have already given up by that point.
[Lengthy aside:]
Which brings me to an observation: in the West, we tend to be more analytical about iaido. I don't know if this is a product of the iaido culture in Japan (how our Japanese teachers were themselves taught, e.g., "Don't ask too many questions, just do it like I do it") versus the iaido culture abroad, or whether this is the by-product of some deeper cultural differences, such as a tendency towards holistic thinking in Japan, versus a tendency towards analytical thinking in the West. I dunno. I've read snippets out of books comparing the "Asian mind" and the "Western mind" and while they were quite interesting, I'm really not convinced, on a gut level, that there is a difference. Perhaps more importantly, I sometimes wonder, if there is in fact a difference, whether we should be building it up, or breaking it down. I guess I get tired of Japanese people telling me, "Oh, you just think that because you're a foreigner!"
[Aside finished. Thanks for indulging me.]
Anyway, it was a great visit and I'm happy to say that, although I didn't get too many pictures, it was because I was actually practicing for a change. Here are a few good ones that I did get.

Hell freezes over: Kim doing iaido in Japan

Eric, showing nice zanshin

Back row (l-r): Pam, Chris, Ed, Jeff, Eric, Dave, Doug, Kim, Miki, and Adrian (a regular member of Hatakenaka Sensei's dojo);
the young folks are members of the Waseda University iaido club

It was great to see everyone again, especially in Japan. I regret not being able to go with them on the rest of their tour (a couple days at the Kyoto Taikai, followed by Jodo training in Fukuoka) but alas, I had to work. I hope they will all make it back again at some point! Hopefully see you all in Canada, in August ...