I’ve long felt that the martial arts needs a solid teacher-student relationship in order to function fully. It’s a consciously-cultivated approach that takes our training from simply an activity into the domain of a mature study.
That relationship is treated differently from classroom to classroom, and from country to country.
When I visited Japan, I saw one form of this up close. My experience there was one of gravity – that maturity is cultivated early in the relationship between teacher and student, often because so much depends on it. And it’s not just guidance in a specific area of technical expertise, but counsel on how to live properly.
I regularly watched junior practitioners expressing gratitude to their senior for helping. And the senior practitioner would undertake his or her role seriously also.
But when I visited England, on the other hand, the approach was much different. I saw a sort of student-teacher relationship, but it was the polar opposite. Seniors and juniors, and sometimes teachers and students, would find little faults, make them into jokes and then harp on the forever. Sure, it happens elsewhere too, but the Brits are especially good at it. They call it “taking the piss”; if you’ve ever spent any time there, you know people often take pride in ripping on each other. And though it’s all done in good fun, in some conversations you can’t get away from it – every comment is a dig, a swipe or a cut.
Here’s what I’ve found: culturally we can find a balance in the dojo relationships we cultivate, but we can’t overlook their primary function. These roles provide a chance to grow, to learn and to develop in a way that’s uniquely powerful. It’s rare in the world.
When it comes to how we interact – with our teacher, with our students, with our friends – we don’t have to cut each other off at the knees. In fact, humbling oneself and listening to those who offer wisdom will keep everyone standing. Embracing that means that there’s a chance to share that space of respect and mutual growth with the martial arts classroom, the country, the world, and with everyone.
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Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.