One might argue, not without significant merit, that whenever we do anything at all, we do it for the first and the last time. For every 'doing' is unique, set in an unrepeatable context of time, space and circumstance.
Still, this is a narrow view; for we could not possibly survive if we looked at life that way every instant. We look at 'doing' something with repetition, implying that the following 'do' is somehow 'the same' as a former one because it shares certain properties that we consider essential and more important than the vagaries of contextual contingency. A good example, coming to mind because it is on my mind, is a teaching session at the dojo, and especially one where you're the teacher. There are two things in relation to this I'd like to pause and reflect upon.
First of all, I would like to debunk sensei-dom as it is practised in the context of the martial arts. Actually, it should be debunked right across the board, for I think the whole 'teacher' thing is pretty much bunk, not just the 'sensei' version. Still, I don't have the time, so let's take martial arts context as an example.
Maybe I should also mention that I have little or no respect for 'authority' per se, or just because it is 'authority' or because some f-tard says so. For someone to have 'authority' over anybody or anything, and especially me and mine, they have to prove it. Of course, some 'authority' is implicitly imposed in practical social terms and that's OK; but that's authority-by-power-and-social-contract and it is a necessity of social existence. That's very different though from someone telling you 'believe me, because I know' without necessarily having provided one with sufficient and credible evidence that he or she actually does know. As for me, I will bow to no one, except those who have earned my respect and proved their valor; or, alternatively at the gun-point of necessity and expediency. Please remember that when I come to the end of this blog.
Back the martial arts. I deny utterly and completely the validity of the concept that when a man—Pace, ladies! I am being gender inclusive. Just trying to avoid awkward phrasings. But, let's face it, a male 'sensei' is still much more likely than a female one; a situation which I would like to see changed, but remember that you have to be the change you want to see in the world, if you actually want to change it—steps from his everyday identity onto a dojo floor to teach martial arts and assumes the role of 'sensei' he magically becomes 'more' than he usually is; that the context and the role somehow add something to him.
It's bullshit, plain and simple. For all he does is assume a role. He may become something 'different', but 'more'? Hardly. If he isn't that thing he is on the dojo floor also in life outside that context, then he's just faking it. If he however is that thing also in ordinary life, then stepping into the role of sensei on the dojo floor is actually becoming less; for he is reducing himself to the role he's assuming at that point, having to discard aspects of himself that he would bring to his interactions with people during ordinary life. The first casualty is a certain kind of sense of 'equality' with those of lesser rank attending. These people are usually known as 'students'.
I always disliked that reduction of oneself—applied to myself, of course; for what others do with themselves is their business!—and as time went on I have come to dislike it more and I simply won't tolerate it in my classes. I refuse to do it either to myself or those coming to learn during my classes, and especially the ones with whom I develop what you might call 'long-standing' relationships. You see, people come to a dojo usually not because they are compelled to do so—as are, for example, those going to school, who are effectively drafted, press-ganged into the service of a deity called 'education', but which is really a cleverly-disguised demon called the 'education industry', who is, to quote one of Georgette Heyer's enchanting phrasings—magical prose that could have flowed from the pen of Jack Vance—from one of the first chapters of The Black Moth (Amazon link here), 'florid of countenance, portly of person, and of manner pompous and urbane'. And that's being kind. Very.
People come to the dojo for any reason you care to dream up, and then some that you won't, but in almost all instances it is done by choice, not coercion. Those who stick around and who continue to come to one's classes because they find something to give them sufficient reason to do so may be expected to... Well, they should, especially if they pay their fees on time and do other useful things to express their appreciation, be able to expect more than some functionally-reduced version of the person who's showing them what's what. Learning sword stuff is basically a head fake—which is a kind of Kansas City Shuffle—because what you learn isn't what you're being taught. Evereybody looks left and you move right
Note how I avoid the word 'teacher'? Deliberately so. The term 'sensei' hasn't figured into this either yet, but I am going to introduce it now, but in the more literal sense of describing someone who has already gone along a certain path or segments of a path, through his life and maybe your own, insofar as it is a similar path. But that is all. The sensei doesn't necessarily as 'knowing more' even; it just so happens that with regards to particular aspects of...well, 'life' I guess...he's been where the one who calls him 'sensei' is yet to tread. Therefore said 'sensei' can point out some of the features of the 'path', if you will, that will hopefully empower the one who comes after to tread it with more preparedness than s/he would otherwise. But that is all. It doesn't make the sensei wiser or better or more 'authoritative'. It just so happens that he has had a chance and taken it to walk that kind of path. And if he's trustworthy, then why not pay attention to what he's seen along the way?
And that's all.
And now, to an unnamed person I take a bow...
... for she has earned my respect—and that usually takes some doing.
She'll earn even more of it, I'm sure, because I assume that she will, unless she stumbles or forgets, my last bits of advice during our final dojo session and always have the presence of mind to remember that ultimately she's the one who needs to observe and police herself, so that she knows exactly what she is doing with her mind, her body and her sword at every moment. For nobody is going to do it for her. Teachers—who should be senseis in the sense above, but rarely are—by and large suck at this job of pointing out some important aspects of the path, while at the same time leaving those who trod along it after them, or a similar one, to make their own decisions about what to actually do. This is known as 'empowering', and it can be difficult, because the temptation to make the damn horse drink, too, by shoving its face into the pond or other ignoble and possibly futile means, is great. But that's not empowering, which is all about enabling and encouraging people to make decisions and know they are making decisions, rather than finding excuses why they do this or that, or why life is giving them a hard time or whatever.
I hope this little bow of respect and acknowledgment of mine doesn't go to her head, for she has got a long way to go to get to the stage where she knows enough about the mind-body-sword thing to be able to claim that she 'knows' something substantial. But she's just started, and so I hope that her current attitude, which in certain regards qualifies as 'ornery', will see her through the traps along the way. That and an inherent earnestness, which is quite remarkable. 'Earnestness', as one should maybe point out, is different fron 'seriousness'. Give me a choice and I take the 'earnest' person anytime. By and large they are the ones you can rely on, and if you need a friend, earnest is very good indeed. And we all need friends. Real ones.
Anyway, this is one person whose presence I will definitely miss. And to her—in a paternal and respectful, but definitely 'friend' kind of way, for I regard her as such as well—I would like to say, as I have done to my daughters more times and in more ways than I can count, to always derive style from substance. It is possible to infer substance from style, of course, but the inference is usually tricky and laden with pitfalls—and is inaccurate much more frequently than it is not.
How to discern the 'substance' of any given thing? Well, yes, but who said it was going to be easy? If it were, many more people would do it, and not be who they are or do what they do.