“Strive to make yourself loved rather than feared”. In 1871, St. John Bosco wrote this sentence, together with other guidelines, to the director responsible for the Salesian Institute in Lanzo (Turin, Italy).
I grew up within the Salesian educational system: I appreciated its gifts, it shaped my personality, forged my self. It was the first place, outside of my family, in which I met people who gave themselves totally. For an ideal and, among many, for me.
“To give oneself totally” is something that recalls the dynamics we try to replicate and make ours at the Dojo.
However, as time goes by, and practice and experience progress, some aspects emerge that can be a barrier if you do not work on them.
When we are children or adolescents, we see this or that individual who loves us like our spotless and fearless hero. Then growing up, that image remains clear but we begin to detect, along with the many (and perhaps further) positive aspects, even some limits. Some defects.
To give oneself totally means inevitably transmitting one’s own limits, together with the good aspects. It certainly does not mean to rise to an angelic dimension. We are men and women, capable of enormous heights and incredible depths.
In our practice, if our antennas work well, how many times can we understand something about ourselves, about a technique, thanks to our partner? And how many times does the opposite happen? To be honest, provided that we put our indispensable personal commitment, that kind of effort that nobody can put in our place, we must say thanks to someone else for almost everything we are.
However, it happens that after all this kind of gratitude and harmony are a rather rare commodity. Or that when we finally manage to experience it, it often evaporates, like snow when Sun appears.
Let’s say it: it is a heavy struggle to try to live certain principles that are very clear and that we like a lot too. And maybe we are also lucky enough to attend a healthy Dojo. A competent sensei.
Roughly speaking, it is the replication of what happens to almost everyone as children while attending catechism, as teenagers some volunteer groups or on Sunday a minute after leaving Mass. Yes, yes, ok Jesus, the priest is a good guy bla bla bla … But my life starts again like before. Nothing changes.
To date I am increasingly convinced that the continuous frequency of an environment like a Dojo must be able to offer everyone a solid base of technical skills.
At the same time, to this day I firmly believe that if a Martial Arts practitioner cultivates just that technical dimension without striving to build healthy relationships within the Dojo (and therefore outside), he/she is basically wasting time. More: he/she’s placing devastating mines at the pillars of his/her existence.
Of course, it is a possible option and as such must be accepted as an expression of the freedom we enjoy.
However, going back to St. John Bosco’s quote, I wonder if it is really worth “being feared” rather than being loved.
If for us we need to speak only with the alphabet of the fear caused by the fact that we robotically apply techniques or even something more, something that comes from inside.
What sense does it make to sweat, letting be phisically touched, end up with our face where the mate had his feet… And if we are not able to get in the Dojo with a smile, saying hello, take care of each other from time to time even in the range of the 168 hours a week?
Of course, nobody with life experience can tell the other side of the coin. You find that out for yourself.
I believe St. John Bosco knew it, so he did not add the obvious consideration: “Look, there will be people who, no matter of how much you care, will be totally waterproof”.
We find out quickly enough that we can’t please everyone. That there are people (and that we are in our turn) that no matter how much you try to communicate your love for them, they’ll give back you a glacial indifference. If you’re lucky.
Of course: these are very useful slaps on our ego. Which often leads us to consider ourselves as the Elect, like those who with their own love will save a world made up of poor, unhappy people … How much arrogance!
However, it remains the responsibility of each of us to try to live the present moment, made also of keiko and community moments at the Dojo, in order to exploit or not take the opportunity to grow also in sensitivity.
This should also be done by a Dojo, by gradually putting one’s ego aside and at the center of mutual good. A few lines later, Don Bosco completes the concept:
“Strive to make yourself loved before being feared; in commanding and correcting always make people aware that you desire good and never your whim”.
As long as we think that there is “my” or “your” good, we will always be excellent (maybe) technicians, grumblers, authoritarians, manipulative, moody…