Students who step onto the mat in dojos around the world are often asked to bring an attendance card with them. This practice is more than just a way of keeping track of who is in class. It is also an exercise in discipline, and a metaphor to reinforce the roles we each play in the training.
We request that as a student, you present the card palm up with both hands. This represents mindfulness, that you’re giving your attention, that you have a grateful “learning attitude”. It’s a contrast to just tossing the card to your teacher, like, “Yup, I’m here. I’m entitled to something.” It’s a martial arts practice.
It’s notable to pay attention to how I, as the teacher, receive the card. I accept it with two hands palms up – that’s my way of signifying that I’m grateful to be in the teacher role, that I understand that you are making a choice to place me there. It’s my acknowledgement that I’m grateful for that opportunity and experience to serve.
Such a space is a co-creation, and that’s a quality very particular to the martial arts environment. We are working together in our respective roles. The student is not distracted or undisciplined; the teacher doesn’t think, “Gimmee gimmee gimmee…let me snatch that card from you, I’m in charge. I’m entitled and deserving of your deference.”
In general, I think martial artists work towards becoming people of gratitude. We try to understand the deep principles of being a connected and respectful human, rather than as a sort of “gimme-gimme-gimme” person.
I’m most conscious of this in the world when I’m somewhere where someone is serving me. Rather than saying, “Gimme a double latte with a double shot of whipped cream and gimme a double shot of chocolate and let me roll my excessive, pre-diabetic self outta here,” I’d rather say, “May I please have” and “thank you very much”.
I choose to respect the role of service into which someone puts themselves. It is an extension of the metaphor of the attendance card – they are present to serve, and I try to be present to receive and to honor their service. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a coffee shop or at a restaurant or on the mat. It’s a very profound practice, a big deal. Moreover I think it’s demonstrates a black belt attitude to recognizes and appreciates that service, which in turn honors the relationship. So we’re not “gimme gimme gimme” people. We are “yes please, thank you very much” people.
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