If you feel that the teacher is a real teacher
Then give up your own ideas, and learn.
First verse of the Hundred Verses of the Spear
If a pupil comes to him simply to get a little skill in the art, the teacher finds his strong point, what comes most naturally to him as he now is, and develops that. It gives quick results and fulfils the end.
But if someone comes who wants to master the art and give himself to it, the instruction is often the reverse. The teacher has to find out the weak points, and by special training bring them up to the level of the rest. Then he develops the whole range together.
This kind of training produces in the pupil at various times a crisis of faith: faith in the teacher, and faith in himself. The teacher has to modify his instruction according to the fluctuating levels of faith.
Suppose there is a bad weakness, due perhaps to some inherited inaptitude. The quickest way of all is to concentrate on that. A pupil of great faith and cheerfulness is prepared to look a fool for two or three months, failing and failing and failing again at what he cannot do, and not permitted to show what he can do. Not many are prepared to go through this 5 and even those who have been through it may not be willing to face it again, once they have got a little status and reputation.
So the teacher sometimes has to modify the programme. He sets them certain exercises to develop the weak points, but also gives some scope for displaying the strong points. This training is not nearly so quick, and it has something unsatisfactory about it. Normally, an ordinary pupil’s strong points are distorted, because he uses them not merely as they should be used, but also to cover up the weak points.
From the expert point of view, what the pupil thinks are strong points are not really so strong.
This can be seen in many small things in life. Take a job of packing a number of small things of varied shapes into a box. The trained expert stands directly in front of the box and uses the hands alternately. As one hand is fitting a piece in, the other hand is reaching out for another one. But a man who is strongly right-handed stands rather to the left of the box, and hardly uses the left hand at all. The body posture is distorted, and the right hand has to do much more reaching out than should be necessary. The right hand is moving fast and skilfully, but compared with an expert using both hands, the whole process is strained, tiring and slow. Yet many people if they are asked to develop the use of the left hand in this situation become uneasy and say, I can’t do it.’ They have not got faith in the instructor or in themselves. They are unable to hold on to the conviction that in the end the performance will be more accurate, faster, and less tiring. All they know is that it produces a drop in effectiveness now, and they go back to one-handedness with a sense of relief. It feels more natural.
Students of the Ways must see clearly that in an untrained man the intellect is like a barrister. It argues clearly and logically, but the aim is not truth, but to reach a predetermined conclusion. The barrister is paid by one party, and he tries to find evidence and reasoning to further the interests of that party. The two barristers argue as though they were concerned to establish truth, without fear or favour, but in fact each of them is driving towards a particular conclusion. If they exchanged briefs, they would be using each other’s arguments. In the same way, in an untrained personality, the intellect is briefed by the particular emotion which is in the ascendant at the moment. Fear says, ‘I find this unfamiliar and alarming; find me reasons for not going on.’ Boredom will say, T want a change; find me reasons why it would be better to have a break from my practice.’ Pride says, ‘I cannot stand this continual failure; find me reasons for going back to my usual ways where at any rate I had some success.’ Doubt says, ‘After all, does the teacher understand me? Is this my path? Probably he mechanically gives this kind of instruction to everyone, and does not realize that I am an exception.’
At these times what Buddhists call Bright Wisdom must intervene and say, ‘No. This is a qualified teacher and we selected him and resolved to train under him. He tells us that these unfamiliar practices are the quickest way. He tells us we shall be able to do them. What motive would he have for deceiving us?’ Bright Wisdom represents the whole of the personality, and is supported by the whole and not paid by just one individual mood5 it is like the judge, paid by the whole community, who protects the community from those who for a moment are in a position of power.
Often the pupil’s faith in himself depends on his faith in the teacher. But later on there may be a conflict. It is a curious fact that with a certain type of pupil, the first manifestation of faith in himself is when the teacher tells him, ‘Now that you will never master completely – don’t make that a main objective. You must know about it, and do a bit of it, but in the main you should rely on this and this and this’ and he explains why. Quite often this kind of pupil thinks, ‘Why shouldn’t I become expert at it?’ As a personal example, I spent three years trying to master a throw called Hanegoshi, which I saw marvellously performed by a famous judo expert T. Kotani, when he visited London with Dr Kano in 1935. My own teacher told me, ‘You will never be able to use that as a contest technique 5 you had better stick to Haraigoshi which is similar but suits your build better. Your physique and movement is quite different from Mr Kotani’s.’ But I was captivated by what I had seen, and in addition to the full training programme which my teacher set, I also practised about twenty minutes a day at the Hanegoshi. The teacher said no more, but after three years I had to admit he was right. I could only bring it off against much weaker opponents whom I could throw easily in any other way. The teacher remarked, ‘That was a good experience for you. Remember it when you come to teach. I did not say any more because the Hanegoshi is similar in many ways to Haraigoshi, and I knew the practise you put in at it would help you with your own throw in the end.’
He referred to this incident once again much later on, and said, ‘At least you didn’t complain that I had told you wrong. You tried for yourself, and you found out. And you did keep up your practice with the things which I had told you to do. Some of them here try a throw for three weeks and then come to me and say, “I’ve been trying it for three weeks now and still can’t do it. Are you sure it is going to suit me?” I feel like saying to them, “I myself have been trying it for thirty years and I can’t do it properly either!” I don’t say it, but it has taken me a long time to get used to all these little doubts which Western people seem to have all the time.’
Later when I came to teach I realized the truth of his words. Sometimes after watching a beginner for some time carefully, I have concluded that his progress can be along such and such a path. I can see clearly in my mind’s eye how his one-sidedness can change to a co-ordination of the whole body; how his nervous timidity can develop into very quick reactions; how his shortness of arm can be turned to advantage by holding the tips of the opponent’s sleeves. In my experience I have seen each of these transformations several times, and been through similar ones myself. I estimate that he has enough interest in judo to keep up the practice.
But when I have told him what to do, after about three months I see a doubt coming up in his mind because he doesn’t see much success and he seems to be getting worse. There is nothing more to tell him when he asks me about it. The seeds are there, and it is a question of watering them by practice, and waiting. When one is inexperienced as a teacher, one gets quite worried about the pupil’s situation; his anxieties rub off on to the teacher as it were. But an older teacher realizes it is useless to worry or even think about it. The thinking has been done already, and a proper programme has been carefully worked out to suit this pupil. Either he will follow it out, or he will not.