Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Memory and Deference

First off, I want to say "thanks" to those who've expressed sympathy about the sore neck. It's fine now - it was sore for about three days. Fortunately for me, the kick that got my neck was aimed for my headgear, and therefore was already largely pulled. I am still somewhat on the injured list, not for the neck, but for the strained tendon in my right foot that got me the sore neck by impairing my fighting mobility.

Painful though it was, I learned an awful lot from that particular fighting class. An awful lot of my tactics in sparring revolve around literally throwing my weight around. I love to pursue and jam people up, and this class I simply couldn't do that, and it got me hit a lot more than I'm used to. I think J. missed her kick largely because I simply wasn't where her experience told her I would be.

We didn't spar tonight because our gear was inaccessible to us - being upstairs, past a patch of tile floor that was being redone. We'll probably spar again Thursday, assuming the floor is done. Instead it was a heavy kata night, dominated more by talking than actual practice. We had a guest black belt (second time in a week, with two different guys!), who may choose to join us permanently, which would be lovely. The guest is a student of A.J. Advincula's, who has been out for several years due to a traumatic injury, and would like to get back in shape, though he has ongoing problems.

Sensei D and the guest had a couple of extensive conversations which got me thinking afterwards. If our guest (I'll call him M) joins, then that means that two of the three people ranked above me in the dojo will have memory problems, and the third will simply have a lousy memory.

This is not to speak against the guys above me. Sensei D and M both, even in short conversations, know a ton more martial arts than I currently do, or even than I'm likely to for another decade or so. Sensei, likewise, though he's a bit quieter about it most of the time. But all of these guys have really crappy memories. Really, really crappy memories. Sensei just lands on the lower end of the spectrum, but both Sensei D and M have actual brain damage leading to striking difficulties with laying new memories and with longer recall.

This can (and has) led to some tongue-biting moments for me already, and I'm thinking I should probably try to come up with some more thought out specific strategies for dealing with it. The problem being that all three of these guys will contradict each other, or even contradict themselves of a few days, weeks, or months ago with no realization that they're doing so, because they don't remember what originally happened. Sensei D will remember incorrectly something that Sensei showed us two months ago, and insist on doing it that way because that's what makes sense to him. Sensei will show me something, and six months later show the next student something different. This sort of thing happens all the time - literally constantly - and it's going to happen more if M joins up (which, just to be clear, I really hope he does. Frustrations aside, he'd be a great asset to us, and I think we'd be good for him too.).

It does get frustrating for me, though. Easily my strongest asset in the dojo is my brain and memory. I can nail down kata sequences in about half the time it takes the other students, and very rarely forget anything that's been explicitly shown me. But I feel like that sharpness is a hindrance in dealing well with this particular set of men. I feel reasonably comfortable in questioning Sensei when he changes something he's previously told me. We've been together long enough now (5 years), and he treats me enough as if I were already a black belt, that I feel like I have standing to do so. But I've found that I'm very leery of questioning Sensei D if I think he's got something wrong. For some reason, even if I'm very deferential, it feels like I'm questioning his authority in a way it just doesn't with Sensei. Though I've only met him for the one class so far, M feels a lot more like Sensei D than like Sensei to deal with. Maybe it's the mutual military background, or the fact that they're both big men (Sensei is not), or that they're both more forward personalities than either Sensei or I. I had been with Sensei for quite a while before I realized just how long he'd been studying Isshinryu. With both Sensei D and M, I had learned much of their background within thirty minutes of being introduced.

This post is turning out a good deal more mushy than it started in my head, for which I apologize. Basically, I'm seeing a possible future where I will either have to bite my tongue and let gaffes go by repeatedly, or I'm going to have to find effective ways to correct for the phenomenon - preferably without pointing up the memory problems themselves, since all that effectively does is make the guys feel bad about something that isn't their fault. Correcting a superior is always tricky, no matter the circumstance, and the idea of having to do it all the time is giving me serious pause.

And all of this is complicated by having all three men come from slightly different Isshinryu lineages, and thereby also having legitimate differences in how they do stuff. I think if they were consistent about it, I could get it sorted out (this is how Sensei D does stuff, this is how Sensei does stuff, etc.), but when they're trying to learn each others methods and getting stuff wrong, both in how they do their own stuff, and in how they remember the others, it all turns into a big mushy, confusing mess. One I need to figure out how to deal with, because they don't even realize they're doing it.

2 comments:

Michele said...

I do not envy you. I does sound like a tricky and potentially frustrating situation. From reading your posts, it seems like you have a good relationship with your Sensei. Would you be able to discuss your concerns with him? He may be able to guide you as to the best way to handle this situation.

Minivan Ninja said...

I have similar concerns in my dojang. Fortunately, I train directly with my grandmaster most of the time and have no problem asking him to clarify something. Unfortunately, it is often because of confusion in the approaches between him and his daughter (who is an instructor).

I'm becoming more and more careful to not undermine her authority, as unintentional as it might be. But it can be difficult because we never know which one is going to be the judge for our test.

And Michele had some good questions. I think one of the difficulties in learning martial arts is that while there are standards, there is also quite a bit of room for interpretation.