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Layers of Lessons

If you’ve been training for awhile in To-Shin Do, you already know that each and every kata example we practice, whether modern or historical, has layers of lessons built in. If you’ve trained with An-shu Hayes even once or twice, you’ve probably already noticed that his teachings are layered in lessons and never merely a simple one, two, three sort of thing.

One of my most favorite examples comes from years ago in Boston. The seminar was in an old Boy Scout lodge and at one point, right after lunch, he asked everyone to grab a chair from nearby and sit in a circle. As students started to do this, he started talking. But then some students drug the chairs across the wooden floor, creating such a racket that An-shu had to stop talking and wait for people to finish making noise. Then he changed the subject, and for several minutes talked about how you could use a chair for advanced training, demonstrating how to practice throws, sweeps, balance taking, footwork exercises, all with nothing but a chair for your partner. It was an amazing lesson, that is hard to do justice with words. I was jaw-dropped. And I still use that lesson today, always looking for ways to practice my techniques in creative ways with what is around me. Of course, there was another lesson there, that An-shu didn’t put into words. It was, essentially, ‘uh, maybe you shouldn’t drag chairs across the floor when I’m talking (or any other teacher for that matter)’ Again, I was amazed at the lessons and how they were masterfully layered.

Of course, then a few folks came back from lunch a little late and An-shu asked everyone to make room in the circle. There was a tremendous amount of scraping of chairs on wood. An-shu laughed, shook his head and said, ‘some of you get why I’m laughing.’ And many did. Also, many did not.

I also remember a time when a co-worker was confused about something An-shu said at the hombu dojo once. My co-worker decided to be annoyed at what was said. I explained how I thought this was another example of layered lessons. My co-worker looked at me and asked if I really believed Mr. Hayes had planned such a deep and complicated lesson. I actually did, but my response was, ‘I don’t care. Those are the lessons I’m taking away from this. Isn’t that even the dojo motto? Shikin something, something?’ My co-worker decided to continue being annoyed. Alas, my sarcasm is often greatly unappreciated.

I think about these experiences a lot. Because I always wanting to be looking for the powerful lesson in each moment. I want to be the person who ‘gets’ the lesson. And I think about these lessons because I want to always remember that ‘the other person’ isn’t actually the one in charge of what lesson I get. I am. Shikin Haramitsu Daikomyo.

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