Never Say This To Your Sensei
It felt like a long training session at the ju-jitsu dojo. On this night, the focus was on practicing the hip throw (O Goshi). I was physically exhausted and my muscles were drained of energy. The person I was partnered with was close to my size, and even so, I had struggled to execute the throw. I felt defeated. I concluded that I wasn't capable of doing this technique.
After the class was over, I approached the sensei and expressed my concern. I told him that it was difficult for me to throw someone my size. So, it would be impossible for me to throw someone taller and heavier than me.
Sensei looked around the room. His eyes stopped on the tallest and most heavy-set man in the room. He called him over to where we were. Sensei turned to me and said, "Throw him."
I hadn't expected this. I looked at Sensei, at the man, and then back at Sensei. I said, "I don't think I can do that." Sensei repeated his command. I said, "I'm not strong enough to throw him." Sensei repeated his command a third time.
My first attempt was dismal, a complete failure. I was straining my muscles, using every ounce of my strength, and my opponent stayed where he was. He wasn't resisting. He just stood there, an immovable object. This confirmed what I knew. I could not do this technique.
Sensei gave me corrections about the positioning of my feet and my hip. He told me to do it again. The corrections continued after each of my attempts. I was tired, frustrated, and cranky. Sensei didn't care. His command became reduced to one word, "Again." He was relentless.
It was the longest half hour of my life. I was worn out, ready to throw in the towel. Then it happened. There's a moment in the learning process, after countless repetitions, when everything comes together. It happens when you're too tired to think anymore. You experience an AHA moment with your body.
It turned out to be one of the best half hours of my life. I learned what I was doing wrong. Previously, my understanding had been cursory at best. I lacked the details and refinement. Once I had those, I was surprised at how little effort it took to execute the hip throw.
I repeatedly threw my partner over my hip and onto the mat. Now, when Sensei said 'again', I was a willing participant. The ease and flow of my movements felt right. I could see the beauty of this technique.
The lesson ended when Sensei was satisfied that I knew I could execute the hip throw, regardless of the size and weight of my training partner. All three of us had big smiles on our faces.
Years later, at Teachers College, I learned the term for what Sensei did. He took advantage of a teachable moment. Such moments are unplanned and can have a profound effect on a student's learning.
A good sensei will believe in you, especially during those moments when you don't believe in yourself. He or she will push you to question and expand your belief system, about yourself and the world.
Never tell your sensei you can't do something, unless you are willing to stay on the dojo floor until you can do it.
Next week: Proper Technique
© Debra J. Bilton. All rights reserved.
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Debra J. Bilton
Martial artist, Sensei, Buddhist.