I got the book “Holding the Center – Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion” by Richard Strozzi-Heckler recently. I finally picked it up to begin reading it last night, and randomly opened it to this paragraph, in the chapter on Teachership:

“The kanji for sensei is a man leading an ox by a nose ring. This indicates that through wisdom and intelligence a teacher is able to guide even that which is difficult and resistant. Sen depicts the earth giving birth to a plant, which in turn yields a flower or fruit. From this image we are reminded that life comes from life, that learning and growth come from a living transmission. Sei is often spoken of as Heaven, Human, and Earth united to create something new and useful. With the symbols placed together, sensei or teacher is someone who has more experience than us, whose consciousness is more expanded, who has walked before us on the path that we are now on, and who embodies a vision of the world that is more powerful than the one we now live in. Sensei is able to guide students on the steps that are necessary for them to gain proficiency in a specific discourse. A teacher is someone willing to cultivate our own life so that it will bear fruit." 

While the explanation of the symbols escapes me, the sentiment rings true. The entire chapter is a very interesting look at what it is to be a teacher.

The other day in a weapons class Sensei wanted to work with bokken, and before class was considering what to focus on that day. The class ended up being an intensive little workshop, essentially, with lots of emphasis on breathing, correct technique, and incorporating weapons into familiar techniques, such as ikkyo.

Sensei’s classes are frequently, no, usually, like that.  "Just a regular weeknight class" is never “just” anything.

After class I usually thank Sensei, if he’s not busy talking to someone. "Thank you, Sensei,“ I say, adding something like "I really enjoyed the class,” or “that was really interesting." Even, maybe especially, when the class was challenging, or even frustrating.

It’s polite to thank your teacher, and sometimes I feel like it might come across as only that. Just being polite. But there’s nothing contrived about my gratitude. I deeply mean every word. (And I’ve told him so.)

Classes are always inspired, never rote or perfunctory. Familiar techniques are presented in fresh ways, new subtleties explored. Sensei considers the response his words might elicit in a given student, knows just how much pressure or breathing room each person might need that day. He gauges the mood and abilities of the assembled students, and tailors the content of the class accordingly, on the spot. He sees endless detail in the mass of movement on the mat and offers strategic corrections, all while planning the next technique, managing the energy of the group, and keeping track of the time.

It all looks perfectly natural. For Sensei, it probably is. Just like it’s perfectly natural for a hawk to swoop at blinding speed through the branches of a tree, appearing on the other side with dinner in its talons. Perfectly natural from a lifetime of practice, and amazing to witness. It is as interesting to observe the teaching as it is to learn and practice the Aikido.

But as a student each class is a tremendous opportunity – to improve my Aikido of course, but also to examine my way of being, and to discover how I might take Aikido with me into the world. I am consistently blown away by the care and attention that goes into each class, and I am grateful for every opportunity to train under such a remarkable teacher.

Domo arigato gozaimashita, Sensei.

—–

A note from the next morning after I wrote the above post:

I just went out to feed, and a hawk flew between the trees, at eye level, right in front of me, and across to the neighbor’s yard where it scattered a flock of small birds that were sitting in a tree.

I haven’t seen a hawk hunting in my yard in years.

There’s something really weird about the universe.

I’ve just read Terry Dobson’s book “It’s a lot like dancing…” for the first time. I usually read with a highlighter in one hand, but this is the kind of book you don’t want to deface. Besides, nearly every page would be highlighted in its entirety. Here is one of the many beautiful things he said:

What is more important than anything I say is that I touch you. Through me, through my touch, comes the touch of the founder of Aikido. There is no Bible you can buy that says, “This is what Aikido is.” It is transferred from person to person. These vibrations pass among us.