Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Superior Inferiority Complex?

Among the many responsibilities placed upon the senior students of North Texas Aikido, being in the rotation to teach the beginners' class and occasionally fill-in for the Dojo-Cho are high on my list of favorites. On the nadir of that curve is the admonition to be on a constant vigil against developing an inflated ego as a result of being placed in that elevated position of authority.

An established piece of my personality is an odd conflict between my personal ambitions and my desire to abandon self and "defeat my ego." Concurrent with my hope to become established as a teacher on a regular basis, is a desire to make myself almost anonymous in a crowd of Aikido practitioners of higher rank. At the same time that I seek status, I crave humility, and these two desires wage a heated battle for the rights to hoist their flag over me.

This conflict has been growing steadily for the last few years, as I've found myself more and more in a position of authority, particularly in the absence of our most senior student who has been pursuing his post-graduate degree. Of the Nidans (2nd degree black belts) at our dojo, I am the second from the bottom of the totem pole, as it were, because we factor in such criteria as how long we've been training overall into our concept of seniority. There are several other people of the same rank as myself, but higher in seniority above me due to their greater number of years of training and knowlege of the art. School, work, health issues and other personal matters have limited their ability to attend classes on a regular basis, leaving the remaining black belts to shoulder the responsibilities that we all have to the dojo and our fellow students.

If I sound as if I'm complaining, please understand that it's not out of any sense of feeling put upon. Indeed, it's this very atmosphere that feeds my sense of ambition and a desire to make a place for myself. If I were looking for the proverbial "lucky break" to establish myself and cement my position of authority at the dojo, this would surely be it. The problem is that I have come to realize that these ambitions don't come from the best aspects of my personality. Rather, I see it as a sign of weakness that I always seek to be in charge, to control the situation to my liking and feed an already turgid ego. It is during these times of introspection that I find myself wishing to strip myself of rank and any pretense to authority and subject myself to selfless training under a sea of superiors. On some occasions, it's driven me to the brink of abandoning my training altogether.

When teaching class, or placed in any other position of representing my Sensei or the dojo, it's easy to seem certain, and etiquette dictates that Kohai shouldn't question or correct their seniors out of respect.
New students aren't familiar with that particular point of etiquette, and I frequently find myself wondering:
What if I'm wrong?
Am I injecting too much of my own perspective into the teaching?
Am I up here trying to teach, or am I just trying to impress the other students?
What if I'm challenged in some way that I can't handle?

I frequently discuss my worries with my Sensei, and for his part, he has gone a long way toward reassuring me that my concerns are natural, healthy and perhaps by their very existence, an indicator that I haven't yet crossed over into meglomania. My freshly-graduated Sempai has also assured me that he will soon reestablish a regular presence in the dojo, and listening to my concerns, has graciously (and jokingly) offered to put me back in my place.


Blogger Dianne said...

HC, I'm with you in the struggle. I have the same set of contradictions - wanting to be great, noticed, appreciated... and knowing that I need to be humble, secondary to others, etc. And not just knowing that, but wanting it at some level. Last night in my community group (small group/bible study) we read an excerpt from Jeremy Taylor on humility and it brought this to the forefront of my mind again. Thanks for reinforcing it ;-)

July 29, 2004  
Blogger Richard said...

I found your July 28 posting insightful. We are all on the same path, but our individual journeys to the Aiki path are different. We as individuals are the sum total of our life experiences giving us each a unique and individual perception of what we have chosen to practice. Aikido practice provides a structured environment where we see then attempt to mimic movements based on our interpretation of what the instructor has shown. There is no room for individuality in interpretation yet we humans are all individuals and our individualism manifests itself in out practice.

You are not alone in your struggle to find a comfortable place within yourself that is safe from your ego. Kwan told me years ago "Richard you must defeat your ego". I held Kwan in high esteem so I took his words to heart and still remember those words today. I no longer allow my ego or emotion into my practice. I try to train in a joyful and confident manner sharing my interpretation of Sensei’s instruction through body movement with a minimal amount of verbal correction.

What you are experiencing seems more like the pressure to fulfill a role you are not ready to accept. Allowing yourself to be second is of the utmost importance. I do not put myself ahead of others although I do allow then to put me ahead of them.

Needless to say I am back. I may never have told you what a joy it is to train with you. We, the dojo sempei, have supported each other through a journey that has spanned a decade and is well on its way into the second. I cannot imagine a day when you would not be there to train with. A quick question, do they leave you standing at the end of the mat alone? I have been pleased since my return that someone is always after me. Hey, maybe they missed me.

Yes back, but not to put anyone in their place because they already are. I work to help my kohei grow and in turn they help me grow. I learn from everyone I train with. If you are wrong, only the ones that are sufficiently versed in the art would notice. Teaching or impressing? As leaders of the class we attempt to show confidence and knowledge. Keith three “what if’s in a row”, we don’t do what if”s.

So hang in there and if you get too frantic, you have my number.


August 01, 2004  
Blogger HeadCheese said...

Glad to have you back, Richard!

It's not that I feel unready to be in the position in which I increasingly find myself. Rather, I just want to be sure that my motivations are not based in ego and the seeking of status. I also want to stay grounded in a sense of accountability to my Sempai and my Sensei.

August 01, 2004  

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