An Aikido teacher once reported this quote:
The words are by Morihei Ueshiba and were repeated several times to his student Morihiro Saito, as Gaku Homma refers to in several writings.
The komebitsu (米櫃) is the typical wooden container in which Japanese families stored the rice they ate. So the sentence sounds a bit like:
“If you’re worried about living, don’t teach budo“.
In the last years, in addition to practicing, we have been teaching Aikido and we understand now a little more the delicate balance between the material and intangible dimensions of practice.
Except for very rare examples that we can count on the fingers of a single hand, full-time teaching of martial discipline has never produced wealth, intended as great availability of money and means.
Rather, it leads to a life in which a dignified subsistence is already a great achievement, as a result of a very intense both physical and mental commitment. Classes, training, seminars, institutional activities, activities in the local area: an intense life similar to the frenetic coming and going of an ant that turns a hundred crumbs into a meal.
A thousand variables added to the ongoing crisis makes the condition of the professional Martial Arts teacher extremely precarious and -for sure- underpaid.
The witnessing of several sensei who have now become elderly is moving: intense lives, spent on discipline and almost always for the disinterested good of many students. Existences bordering on poverty, which the tact of some old students only rarely manages to alleviate.
After all, it is precisely the figure of the teacher himself, even at a school level, who has always been constantly devalued, belittled and delegitimized both on a salary and social level.
There are many reflections that could be made. We limit ourselves to 3 aspects
First: client or practitioner?
In order attend a martial discipline course you need to pay. A lot or a little, it depends on your wallet perspective. In a world accustomed to the concept that “customer is always right“, it is not so simple to conceive the fee for attending a course as something that allows you to walk on the path of a discipline. Putting yourself in the dimension of being a customer is not wrong but… Who would go to a Lady Gaga concert to see her press “play” on a music player? Yet, from a formal and sound experience point of view, the result would be the same as a live concert. Probably technically superior too.
Demanding high quality standards (teacher training, safety of the practice facility, organization, etc.) is a healthy and useful client attitude so that the practitioner can benefit from that path. Yet, if you want to be a practitoner, you should not limit yourself to a customer behavior.
Second: student or novice?
Moving from the customer paradigm to the practitioner mode is not immediate.
However, there is at least one other dimension, at least in the groups that have a professional teacher and in those in which the teacher has gradually reduced his job efforts in favor of teaching (there are many of them and not only among retired ones).
On the one hand, the guide, the technical reference of a group, who lives the discipline in a total way. At least from the point of view of the hours committed.
On the other, the students. In order to make the business work, they have to alternate job and practice, otherwise not only will the Sensei not be able to have a meal, but also the students’ bills will start to accumulate.
For many reasons, in such conditions there is a risk of reversing cause and effect. There are practitioners with many good and technically valid values. But for almost everyone, practice is a parenthesis, even though a very important one, within their lives. It has a beginning and an end. Meanwhile it seems that everything revolves around the Dojo and maybe that’s even true. But if each group looks at its own history, it cannot help but recognize that few practitioners “survive” over time around the Sensei. It’s not a betrayal, it’s life.
This is normal in school studies cycles: elementary, middle, high school, university, doctorate… Everything has a beginning and (hopefully) an end and each closed cycle opens the way to another.
It is more difficult in some environments to accept that even the training path within a community of practice ends over time and brings a person from A to B. The individual will progress in life also thanks to the commitment made in a discipline.
Educators know this well. Martial Arts teachers live it.
It is obvious that the educator, the teacher, the parish priest, the coach know that the people who rely on them will live nourishing and useful experiences for their development – and that therefore their proposal is a proposal in some way of a journey that lasts throughout existence.
However, thinking that students should share the same radical approach witnessed by their teacher, could be a dangerous mistake. Both for the Sensei and for the student himself/herself, who may perhaps be induced to make decisions and take directions that are taken so as not to displease the teacher and not thanks his/her own awareness.
These are, for instance, the not uncommon cases of individuals who begin to attend only the Dojo, without alternating relationships in other environments; of people who, without realizing it, slowly let go of study or work. The result, usually, is a nice crash against reality and, a second later, the abrupt interruption of the practice.
And even if this were not the case, if the group managed to always share goals and principles in a constructive way, in a few years it would still change its physiognomy. The many who leave must be replaced with at least as many who start, if you want a decently full komebitsu. And this somehow requires a continuous action of sowing and harvesting.
Third: how much is the intangible worth to us?
For millennia, society had forms of support for people dedicated to religious worship. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, priests could not have property but were recipients of a tenth of the land’s produce. In this way they could dedicate themselves completely to worship and the temple.
This form arrived to us over the centuries, existing in Europe until the end of the 19th century, only to be transformed into a tax paid to the state and abolished in recent times (for example, in France in 1996).
The same happens in other cultures towards individuals who dedicate themselves, in society, to roles of service for those intangible dimensions in which the materiality of our existence converges with the needs of our spiritual components.
Martial disciplines are not religions – even if many are linked to them in much committed forms and intensity – yet it is undeniable that continuous practice soon shifts from the purely physical to the psychodynamic level.
It usually improves character, focus, intensity, clarity, intention, tranquility… Along with other physical, emotional, relational, empathic aspects…
So how much is this worth to us?
For us who, according to data from the Chambers of Commerce, barely dedicate 5% of our gross income to culture, entertainment and sport.
Perhaps it is worth ensuring that the komebitsu of someone who manages to make us appreciate the intangible is always full enough so that his concern does not add pressure to us rather turning out to be of help in focusing where our good lies.
Disclaimer foto di Bilguun Bayarmagnai da Pexels