I don’t know how to do yoga. I know, shocking right? Can’t do it. I know it involves specific poses, stretches and stock ownership in LuluLemon apparel, but if you asked me to stand in front of a group of folks and try and teach them yoga, three things would happen: my pants would likely split from the attempt, all my joints would create a sound likely to frighten all those who hear it and last but not least… You wouldn’t learn yoga! Plus, picturing me doing downward dog is likely causing all the angels in heaven to simultaneously throw up…
Learning a new skill or art can be fun and exciting, but there are certain steps to acquiring that knowledge. If I walked into a yoga class today, I wouldn’t expect exclusive lessons and mentorship from the instructor. After all, he or she would have a classroom full of people to take care of. One would be inclined to assume that one would have to simply follow along and gleam what learning they can as they go along until they acquire the basics they need to start advancing. Some classes are like this. Another option is that you would perhaps need to accept coaching from someone not too far above your skill level. This is more likely.
And the case would be the same for the martial arts. If you walked into a karate class on your first night of training, you could hardly expect that the lead instructor would be the one showing you the basics. Maybe they would; it depends on the school you train in. But unless the school you’re starting with is overrun with black belts (in which case, you should run from that school as fast as possible and find a different one) the safe bet is that you’ll likely be learning from a junior belt, perhaps even a white belt. And not everyone is okay with that.
I’m reminded of a class from just a little over twenty-five years ago… I was stretching and shadow boxing, preparing for the gruelling two hours that awaited me. I was early, as usual, and I noticed a new guy in class. He was wearing a loose t-shirt and sweatpants, looking awkward against the backdrop of students in crisp, white karate uniforms.
Sensei walked up to me and introduced me to the new student (I honestly don’t remember his name. It’s been over twenty-five years, give me a break!) He asked me to show the new student our ten basic exercises and aiding movements as well as the opening of our first form. I gladly agreed and introduced myself as Sensei walked away.
I noticed that the new guy seemed a bit distracted as I spoke to him and I asked him what was wrong. The exchange went a little something like this:
ME: Is everything okay? You seem distracted…
New Guy: No, no, it’s fine. It’s just that… Shouldn’t I be learning this stuff from him? (points to Sensei)
ME: Well, Sensei usually takes the first fifteen minutes before class to stretch and has one of us teach basics to new students. Is that a problem?
New Guy: Honestly? No offence, but I didn’t join karate to learn from a white belt! I want to learn from a black belt… (walks away and starts stretching in imitation of what Sensei was doing)
Now in this guy’s defence, I WAS wearing a white belt! At the time, I had a white belt with a solid green bar, meaning I was ready to test for green belt. I was far from new and was more than capable of teaching what was asked of me. But from this guy’s perspective, I was a white belt and unfit to be showing him the ropes. Ah, that lovely perspective…
Once class was in full swing and we started doing the actual form I was supposed to show the new guy, his confused look and the fact he was looking around in a vain attempt to mimic the other students did NOT go unnoticed. Sensei stepped up behind him and asked what the problem was, since I had shown him these steps. The new student replied that I had shown him nothing.
Once we closed and students started filing out, Sensei approached me and asked what I had shown to the new student. “Nothing,” I replied. “He decided he didn’t want to learn from a white belt. Sensei shrugged and instructed that no one provide guidance to the new student until he asked for it.The guy attended another two or three classes then dropped out. Seems that karate isn’t all that easy to learn when you aren’t willing to listen.
Was it a harsh elimination of an unwanted student? Perhaps. But the lesson here is that if you truly wish to learn a new art or skill, you’ll take the knowledge from wherever you can. If that student had followed my guidance on the first night, he likely would have been able to follow along and progress. Instead, he allowed his preconceived notions about the belt around my waist to negate any possibility of his ever training in the martial arts. A great loss. For him, not for us.
Be willing to accept knowledge from whomever is willing to share it. Sometimes you may lose nothing. Sometimes you may lose a great deal. But unless you’re willing to accept it, you’ll never know. It’s like Sensei used to say, “You’ve got two ears and one mouth, so you should listen TWICE as much as you talk!” ☯