The Easy Way or The Right Way?
Today’s been a great day so far: I have a brand new nephew, Dylan James, who entered this world earlier this morning. I received a fantastic piece of fan mail from a Delta flight attendant who absolutely loves the Lawson series, which is always gratifying to get. And I also got an email from someone within the Ninjutsu organization asking me to come out and teach a seminar for them.
I was both honored and humbled by this request. It’s nice to get an email from someone who appreciates my perspective on this art to the point that they’d like me to come and put on a weekend seminar for them.
But I turned the request down.
And here’s why: if someone wants to hire me for a seminar, they shouldn’t: they should hire my teacher Mr. Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center. This is the man who has taught me virtually everything I know about this art; this is the man whose wisdom, experience, and guidance have enabled me to survive some horrifying encounters and emerge unscathed. It’s because of Mark that I am as far along the path as I am.
I enjoy teaching people and I’ve done it for a number of years now. I’m always honored to be asked to be a presenter at the annual New England Warrior Camp, I’ve taught many classes at Mark’s dojo, and I run my own informal training group most Sunday nights in my town. In the past, I’ve conducted training events for the State Department, Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice, and other interesting places like that.
But I’m not studying this art to become recognized as a teacher or a guru or what have you. My motivation has always been to study what I consider to be one of the finest methods of self-protection available to anyone – and then be able to pass my knowledge down to my children so they, too, have the means and mindset to be able to survive any encounter they might find themselves in.
I know of people who would jump at any opportunity to teach a seminar – to try to prove that they have some sort of great insight into this art, or to earn a quick buck. But why would hire a student, when you can just as easily hire the teacher of that student? As I explained to the person who emailed me, I’m still learning to find my way in this art – even after more than two decades. This material isn’t easy; it’s complex stuff that demands constant study. And at advanced levels, this material gets even more challenging. It’s not about “put your foot here and do this” – it’s about a whole other realm of technique. And stuff that advanced can’t be taught over the phone or via the Internet or via Skype or by churning out silly notebooks filled with A+B=C type notes. People who do that are simply misleading others for the sake of ego or to make a quick dollar.
So as I wrote back to the sender, it’s important to get with my teacher and not me. Hire my teacher to come and show you this stuff – not me. If you hire me, you’re getting material that is removed from the source and therefore not likely to be as accurate and fulfilling as it could be. By hiring my teacher, you get to experience what I experience on a weekly basis. It’s better for everyone involved.
I’ve seen too many charlatans attempt to lead folks astray in some vain attempt to set themselves up as a “guru du jour” – people who think they can break things down into stupid catchphrases and marketing gimmicks. But the essence of this art – the essence of any real martial lineage – isn’t techniques written down in a notebook (or xeroxed and covertly handed out for that matter) – it’s experience.
Each student has their own experience. That’s the truth to this training that no one can ever take away from you.
But in order to get that experience, you need to get with someone as high up and experienced within this art as possible. That’s why I refused to teach this seminar and why I suggested hiring my teacher instead. He’s got oodles of more years in this art and his comprehension of the material dwarfs my own. How could I in good conscience pretend that I could be a better guide to this tradition than him? How could I claim to be an honorable representative of this art (knowing full well that my own comprehension of this material is far less than my teacher’s) by agreeing to teach?
It would have been easy to say yes. It would have been easy to go out-of-state and put on a show down south and then pretend that I’m some elevated teacher of this material. After all, I’ve got the license from Japan to do so, so it’s all good, right?
I’m fond of saying that ego is the number one killer of decent ninjutsu practitioners. It’s easy to drink the Kool Aid when people sing your praises. It’s easy to believe that you’re a gifted practitioner capable of leading others.
But that’s the warning sign.
I’m not in this art for it to be easy. Come to think of it, I’m not in life for it to be easy. The warrior’s path is hard – and the difficulties we face are for a reason. It takes effort to see yourself objectively and to understand that you have so much to work on, that you have your own inner demons to cleanse, that you have many more steps to go even after walking so many already.
Too many get lost along the way. They believe their own hype. They pose and posture and pretend and they end up irresponsibly hurting the lives of others by depriving them of their own experiences and their own opportunities to discover the joys of this martial tradition.
They opt for the easy way out.
I made a vow a long time ago that I would never take the easy way out of anything. So as tough as it was to turn down the rather hefty paycheck, it was the right thing to do. And the people who end up hiring my teacher will have a better time and better experiences because of it.
I believe that’s what it means to be an asset to this art, instead of just another joke.