In his book, Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, H. E. Davey states that:
“You must always consider the effects of your words and behavior upon the other students in your class. (None of the Japanese cultural arts can be learned in great detail without a teacher, or in isolation, and discovering more positive and effective ways of relating to others is just one of the numerous benefits of studying these art forms.) Talking to people in a depressing fashion not only can weaken them, but can sadden them, which in turn taints your own surroundings. This vicious cycle is in fact a recurrent cause of lack of harmony within a school of art, a household, or even within civilization as a whole.” p. 52
Although Davey is speaking in terms of the Shodo (Calligraphy) classroom setting, his thoughts can apply equally well to the Dojo environment. How many times have we worked on a particular Kata, or specific element of a Kata, only to be told by our Instructor that it is not quite correct and to repeat it again, and again, and again until some evidence of progress is visible, all the while becoming more and more frustrated with ourselves? How many times have we come to the Dojo feeling like we are carrying the “weight of the world on our shoulders” and bring that feeling with us onto the floor, neglecting to leave it outside when we enter the training environment? How many times during class have we expressed negativity either by word (“No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to do it!”) or by action (for example, by making our inner negativity visible to others through physical responses)? These are the kinds of things that have a detrimental effect not only on our fellow Deshi, but on the overall harmony, or Wa, of the Dojo.
It is imperative that each time we enter the Dojo we leave all negativity behind us and approach our training (and its challenges) with a positive and constructive attitude. In this way, we all contribute to the Wa of the Dojo and make it a better place for everyone. Concerning the topic of Wa, Davey goes on to state that:
“In the Japanese cultural arts, the cultivation of wa (harmony) is considered to be fundamental. Without this personal state of harmony, because the body and brush reflect the mind, one’s calligraphy will become rough and unbalanced.” Ibid.
One can easily read “sword” for “brush” and “technique” for “calligraphy” here and it makes perfect sense.
So, if we accept the fact that feelings of frustration and disappointment are emotions that we all experience in the Dojo at one time or another, what alternatives do we have for dealing with these feelings in a more positive way so that we do not affect our classmates negatively and compromise the harmony of the Dojo? Here is one example: An Instructor corrects a particular technique in our Kata performance several times and we do not seem to correct it with the next repetition, and the next, and the next. When we are asked to try to improve it by repeating it yet one more time, instead of ‘beating ourselves up’ and adopting a negative, defeatist approach, we should do our utmost to face the challenge ‘head-on’ and positively. When asked to do it again, we should say: “Hai, Sensei, ganbarimasu!” (“Yes, Teacher, I will do my best!”) This way, the harmony of the Dojo is preserved and everyone will feel encouraged by seeing their classmate’s positive approach to their challenge .
Please remember…we are all human and we all make mistakes. Instructors, Deshi and, yes, even Tsumaki Sensei, all struggle with certain Kata and techniques from time to time and make errors; but it is HOW we deal with these frustrations and disappointments that is the key factor here. As the time for the Shinsa (formal testing) draws closer with each passing day, strive to approach your training positively and always keep at the forefront of your thinking that everything you say and do in the Dojo has a direct impact on everyone else around you…for good or ill. If your inner harmony is solid and true, then it will inspire and encourage those around to follow suit and soon, the entire Dojo will function as a harmonious whole.