As an educator and Instructor of Karate Do I feel it is important to consider the teacher / student relationship in order to better understand Karate Do on an even deeper level. At the heart of every style of Karate Do lays the common philosophy of 文武両道 Bun Bu Ryou Do, the importance of excelling in both literary and military art (This is a concept that deserves its own post. Therefore, I will not discuss it in great detail in this post). I just want to point out that the majority of the martial arts in Japan place a unique emphasis on the development of the mind and the body, this is true of Karate Do as well.
Every experience in our lives is an extension of a relationship. Even when we experience something alone it is still an extension of our relationship with nature or with the event itself. Therefore, we must consider the fact that our relationships with others greatly affect our experiences. This is especially true in Karate Do. The teacher student relationship in the Karate Do context is a very unique relationship that can sometimes become very complicated but, when all of the conditions are right and the level of understanding among those in the relationship is mutual this can be a very fulfilling relationship where both the student and the teacher enjoy physical, mental, and spiritual growth as a direct result of their unique relationship.
Forgive me for stating the obvious but, in order to develop a good relationship on any level with anyone else it is very important to begin with listening and continuing to listen as the relationship develops (See my previous post ‘Listening is the Key’). We are capable of listening and not hearing and at the same time we often hear things even when we are not listening. But, the key is to “listen with the intent to hear.”
There is a famous saying that is well-known world-wide, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I wish to suggest here that this statement should not be taken literally. That is to say, the 'teacher' who will 'appear' is not always a person dressed in a suit and tie who will, like an advice genie, magically appear suddenly, when you are ready and in need, to tell you what to do and guide you through the rough patches or by becoming your mentor after you have fulfilled the basic requirements. Although this is sometimes true, some times the teacher is not a person at all. Rather, the teacher could be an experience or an event that opens our eyes to new possibilities or expands our awareness. Growth like this in an individual thing that can only occur when that person is ‘ready’. Perhaps, it is someone or maybe even something that has always been there but we just couldn’t see it until we recognized it. We couldn't see it because we couldn’t comprehend the importance of that presence and how it could influence our life until. Once it is in plain sight, it we can learn from it or them. I think we have all felt this at one point or another in our lives.
On a personal note, I have had the good fortune to have met many great teachers both in the Dojo and in the classroom; great men, women, boys and girls who influenced me and changed my life’s course for the better. Recently, the teacher that brought a lot of past lessons into perspective for me was not a man or women. It was a serious car crash in which one millimetre further to the right and I would probably not be living today. This teacher opened my eyes and gave me a glimpse of my life’s purpose and is part of the reason I began writing. So you see, the teacher is really within each of us waiting to be awoken. It shouldn’t have to take the hardship or a near death experience to enable us to see and hear the lessons that are all around us. Listen more closely to your inner-voice which resides in your 心 Kokoro, Heart, it guides your Spirit and you will hear loud and clear that which you must do. This inner voice guides us and enhances the impact of the lessons that will be the most meaningful for us. Many of us, unfortunately have become so busy with things that separate us form our inner selves. The further we get away from nature and from the stillness of silence the harder it becomes to hear that inner-voice. One way to get back to a place were we are centred and able to find clarity in in the Dojo. Through training our bodies vigorously something unique happens inside us and we can reach moments of clarity otherwise not experienced. When things get too hectic or too clouded, my advice is get yourself to the Dojo and train.
In the beginning it is the teacher’s responsibility, much like a parent, to nurture and sometimes protect the student in the aims of fostering healthy growth and influence their students’ levels of understanding and awareness to the world around them, because each mirrors the other we must pay careful attention to our words and actions both as a student and as a teacher.
As the student begins to develop and mature, I feel a wise teacher lets them figure out certain things for themselves. The teacher’s watchful eye is still there but the level of independence of the student begins to grow. The Teacher’s responsibility, therefore, should encompass but not be limited to introducing their students to the opportunities to have rich experiences and to develop in a positive manner. After the opportunity is provided, though, it is the responsibility of the student to demand of themselves that the experience be a positive one and use it to develop to the best of their ability. When both the student and the teacher know their roles and take the appropriate responsibilities, I believe, positive growth is the natural outcome. Deeply rooted in this relationship is the most honest kind of respect.
As teachers we must realize that sometimes our student's life path may differ from the one we imagined for them. When this happens the teacher’s pride and self-confidence can be tested, how we handle this situation makes all of the difference. Too many times, I have seen many teachers handle this poorly resulting in unnecessary conflict leading to deep misunderstandings. We must remember our purpose. Simply put, I believe that even though we are all unique in our ideas and abilities, we all have a common purpose to grow and develop and improve ourselves and that is why we go to the Dojo in the first place. Therefore, it may be said that this desire for positive growth and self-betterment is the ‘bottom line’ for why we all begin and continue with our training and our studies.
A Common Goal
At this point I would also like to address the fact that Karate Do has become very style oriented. Each 流派 Ryu Ha or 会派 Kai Ha, Style have a somewhat rigid pride for their specific sets of beliefs, and values that they teach. Although the approaches may differ in concept from one style to the next, I believe there are more commonalities than differences especially when it comes to what the goals aim to achieve. It may also be said that at any level of growth or status in any style of Karate Do there is one consistent commonality; each and every style of Karate Do places the highest value and therefore the highest demand on the honest, consistent practice of 基本 Kihon, Basics.
Even though the approach may differ from style to style, the goal is one in the same; to foster physical and spiritual betterment in the individual training. This is often discussed when presenting the concept of 心技体 Shin Gi Tai, developing the body through the pracitce of 技 Waza, techniques in such a way that the practice forges a strong, honest and respectful character, in short we develop a healthy body by first developing a healthy heart / spirit. It is consistently believed that this betterment of body and mind can be achieved through honest and consistent dedication to the study and the practice of the basics so that when they are applied they will be effective. This gives purpose to our training.
I believe that the teacher should foster this kind of growth and development in their students and that the student must demand the opportunity to grow and develop in this manner from their teachers. The sad thing is when the life choices of both the teacher and the student begin to cloud our judgements causing us to forget this fact making it difficult to recognize true successes in the lives of students and teachers alike. If we broaden our views and expand our way of thinking to include attainment of a healthy, long, and fulfilling life as one of our main goals of the study and practice of Karate Do then we will see that the relationship of the student and the teacher on this life journey is so interconnected that each is important to the other’s growth and development. It isn’t about who is stronger or who has more trophies or titles, it never has been. “The true (path) of Karate Do lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” (Funakoshi Ginchin)