Budo/Martial Arts

Sensei’s Greatest Concern

Will I continue?

I’m thinking of my specific situation in iaido, but it relates to all sensei and students everywhere.

In my experience, and from what I’ve read of other traditions of martial arts, meditation, or anything in particular involving a teacher and a student, the number one most important factor, and so therefore the most brooded over by teachers, is this question:

Will the student continue training?

On the one hand, the idea of all of these practices is that one’s training is never finished, so we must continue cultivation until our end. In a way, once a person stops, it’s all over. One could say it’s a waste of the teacher’s time if the student quits early. In that respect, ideally a student should practice until they improve beyond their master and can then pass the teaching on to someone else, who will then again surpass the teacher. This is an idea you can rationalize, but it’s also the number one most serious feeling I’ve ever sensed from my teachers. I’ve practiced many martial arts, and so I’ve moved and stopped training in many of them. I’ve said a lot of goodbyes, and aside from the excitement of moving on, the goodbye’s totally suck, because of a hidden love between teachers and students, and the hope that the student will continue on even though they move.

On the other hand, such transitions are inevitable in life and should be understood and accepted by teachers. I’ve moved many times and changed teachers and arts, and though I’ve chosen to do so everytime, it feels inevitable. This is my life, and I am just the person who can’t sit still in his 20’s. Though I’ve moved around, I feel as though I’ve been cultivating the same internal practice, be it karate, tai chi chuan, ba gua, aikido, kyudo, iaido. I am continuing self cultivation by using the body, working towards some invisible goal with kindred spirits. I feel as though I am doing honor to the teachers of my past, though I may not continue their art. There is a practical aspect of passing on an art where such movement doesn’t help, but for that overall picture, I think a student and teacher should trust that this journey will not end, and blessings should be given instead of dark judgements. Like, “Great. What a waste of time. He doesn’t respect the art and will lose all he’s gained.” But then again, if a teacher feels that way, they’re probably not a very good teacher.

Back to the specifics, I think this is something my iai teacher is really thinking about with me. He knows about my past trainings and movements and must think that this will be no exception and I may just leave in a couple years. If such is the case, why would he teach me? It is a service of sorts I pay money for, and I’m not a bad student, so I don’t think he’ll just refuse to teach me. But assuming I do just leave after a couple years and not continue iaido, this isn’t desirable for the teacher.

The issue is, I don’t even know what I’m going to do. Who knows how long I’ll be here. At least a couple years. A lot of years? Forever? Nobody really knows the answers to these kinds of questions.

As much of a hassle it may be for a teacher to lose a student, it is also undesirable for me to invest so much time and money and effort into an art that I will just forget.

So this is life. The teacher and student come together and have an experience in that very moment. It’s not just for the future, it’s not for physical gain, it is an experience of life. This is where we are now, and I know we are both doing our best. He’s watching me giving me little bits here and there, and I am practicing like I’ll be here forever.

We’ll see how it goes.

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