Today I had a unique opportunity in that I got to sit down and have lunch with a unique old friend. He’s not really old in that he is a few years younger than I am but he played a unique role in my life at one time. As you have read possibly in previous posts, I have been a long-time martial arts practitioner and have gotten a chance to experience and practice a number of different martial arts styles.
Early in my training, I had the opportunity to be exposed to a number of styles in which the physical training was absolutely fantastic. The memories of these workouts easily come back to me from 30 or more years ago, they were that memorable. However, it wasn’t too many years into my training when I began to sense something lacking in my training. I was not too far into my teen years when I began to think that there was more to martial arts than punch, kick, sweep, grab, choke, etc… (You get the message…lol)
I began searching for different systems and styles and sometime in the early to mid 1980’s while I was working on my undergraduate degree, I wandered into a Taekwondo school and watched one of their workouts. For whatever reason and for the life of me, I can’t remember why, I decided to give this system a go.
The main instructor was a talented African-American martial artist who appeared to be very gifted – not only physically, but seemed to carry a lot of non-physical characteristics that I found intriguing. I joined up and immediately began coming to class on a daily basis. The main instructor was often not teaching class but had a stable of young, talented martial art instructors that were in training to become certified instructors. It was here that I met a young man named Brian Hamlet.
Brian or Mr. Hamlet as students were instructed to address him was a young man in his early 20’s but you could see that he truly loved teaching and loved the martial arts. I found him to be a kind, energetic, and talented instructor and I found myself spending more and more time attending his class. As the years went by I got rank with this organization and opened my own school. I kept touch with Mr. Hamlet for 4 or 5 years as we trained occasionally together and we both took Kobudo (traditional ancient weapons together).
I left the organization a few years later as I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the organizational philosophy and then struck out on my own and developed my own system.
Mr. Hamlet, while doing a google search found me and found this blog. We began emailing back and forth and finally got a chance to sit down and have lunch and a good visit. It was great fun and I enjoyed going back 20 years and catching up. In talking about the past, we reminisced about our ancient weapons training and some of the experiences we had with our instructor.
Brian continued to train with this instructor after he and I and one other soul were the only black belts in the original group to get our black belt in this ancient weapons system. I did not as with other systems, believe in a lot of the rigid protocol and the “correct answers” you were suppose to give, even if you didn’t believe the answer yourself. Brian continued to train with this instructor and helped him out in many ways for years in demonstrations and promotions until they had a parting of the ways when this instructor opened a martial arts school a stone’s throw away from Brian’s. In my opinion (and many others) this was a disrespectful thing to do as this put this man in direct competition with Brian.
I asked him about how this made him feel and what he did when he found out. He told me was surprised and hurt by the choice of this other instructor. I asked him if he said anything to the man. He reported that he did not. We went on to have a lengthy conversation about his reasons why he chose to keep this to himself and just sever the relationship on his part. It should also be noted that Brian was not the only one to disengage as this other instructor, once he told Brian he was opening a school nearby, never called Brian back.
In Brian’s mind, one does not question the junior/senior relationship. This is very common in martial arts and has long since been a way of training that has come down for thousands of years. The problem I have with this is that the current group of martial art instructors that I have met (and I have met a TON!) in my life don’t have a fraction of the wisdom and spiritual awareness of those Buddhist monks and Samurai of old. Talented physically but their physical skills and knowlege far outweighed their social, emotional, and spiritual skills.
So the question becomes “Are we are Brother’s Keeper?” And if so, are there limitations to who we would offer our honesty and authenticity to?
I can easily see how Brian’s role with this instructor translates into everyday life. So many times we are hurt by our “seniors” and we choose to not say anything. Personally, I feel that this does damage to oneself and the other person. Damage in that we do not “air” our feelings which then doesn’t allow the other person to respond and possibly reflect on their part in the conversation.
There are many layers here and nothing is cut and dried simple. However, I still remain convinced that we are indeed our brother’s keeper when we are in a position to offer feedback. I say feedback because our intervention may be nothing more than a question. In the question however, we may choose the words that cut right to the heart of the dilemma or conflict and in putting it in the form of a question we can minimize the authority, righteousness, ego, or any other form of “I know and you don’t” mentality.
In taking on the role of being my brother’s keeper, I try to be aware of situations in which I don’t offer my wisdom, but instead, I offer something to consider. As mentioned above, this is usually in the form of a question as I find that most people do better when you allow them to discover the depth and insight within the topic. In that way I am offering my compassion and help without coming across as a “know-it-all” or even a junior/senior type of relationship.
I look forward to my next encounter with Brian as it was fun to engage in what I call “verbal martial arts.” If done from the best of intentions whether you are a martial artist or not, there is a tremendous amount we can gain and give by coming from an open compassionate heart. Once again, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from a former instructor, and who knows, maybe planted a seed for him to consider.
As always, I’m grateful and open to your thoughts and suggestions.