I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend with two friends, Mario McKenna sensei and Russ Smith sensei. We did some walking in the mountains near Vancouver, had some very nice meals, had a couple of classes with Mario’s students (an excellent group), and not surprisingly spent a lot of time in the dojo, the park, and the living room trading technique and perspective, playing, and generally sharing our varied experiences in the Okinawan and Chinese martial arts. It was an excellent weekend!
I always enjoy feeling like the junior in the room and with these two gentlemen it is an easy role to fall into. They each have a different background, but for both of them it is one both deep and broad. This is unusual, to say the least, and it makes for great conversation (physical or verbal). When tools you are not familiar with are being brought to the table there is always something to learn. I feel like I have a lot to think about in my arts and my practice from what we did. With some kind assistance with personal research and some more exposure to things I know little about, as well as the periodic laughter that comes from touching hands and finding the other person’s answers to the problems you present both effective and surprising, the weekend was full of great take-aways.
It was also really fun. I have a great deal of respect for the training and experience of both these men. There are few people I have met, here or in Asia, of their caliber. But skills aside they are both good people, and we simply had a good time. People can take themselves very seriously, and in my opinion that gets in the way of learning, and of teaching. These gentlemen take their practice very seriously indeed. But not themselves. We had no exchanging of titles in or outside of the dojo. No constant bowing, no pressure on the students to make sure they were properly deferential, and while we were sharing there was no talking down to or instruction in the right way to… going on. More importantly, there was no sense of competition- no one was trying to prove they had more answers or a better perspective. Instead each of us seemed to be struggling to understand each other’s starting points and see where what we might offer could help create a different solution and then to see where our own starting points might benefit from a different perspective. To me, that ability to lose, to let your solutions be wrong sometimes and to try to see what the other person is offering as a different option, is the best way to actually learn.
It is easy as a martial arts instructor to fall into the trap of needing to be right, or be the best, or to keep control. Not having any of those things come up was, to me, a good indication of the character of these guys, and of their dedication to learning over already knowing. I have also met both their students, and that closes the circle- it is clear that in both groups respect for each other is a core value, one that supersedes winning or even physical skill. Which is not to say skill is not important- these guys both have excellent skills, as do their students. In my opinion that respect is what allows those skills to develop. I read occasional bits about how the Okinawan martial arts are dying, that commercialism and lack of understanding are undermining the core of them. Well, my experience is that while there are plenty of McDojo, and plenty of unskilled or unscrupulous instructors out there there are also plenty of small dojo run by dedicated and honest people who are maintaining our traditions in the best possible way. With people like these passing on our arts I have no fear of them dying, they are in excellent hands.
Anyway, I won’t go into details of what we did and what we exchanged. Some of that is private, some is boring, and some is impossible to convey without contact. But spending the weekend laughing and sharing with a couple of friends was great. My heartfelt thanks to both of them for a fun weekend. Looking forward to seeing you both soon!