About 15 years ago, I was at a martial arts seminar in Virginia that Manaka Sensei was teaching.
Following the seminar, the host kindly invited us back to his house for a small party, barbecue and a get together. While there, Sensei had been relaxing on a couch and flagged me over and asked me to sit down next to him. He told me he wanted to teach me something.
Sensei began to explain an important principle in our art, in fact one in all Japanese martial arts; Nin Tai.
He wanted me to understand not only it's meaning, but also what he wanted it to mean to me and going forward and how he wished I teach it to the students of my dojo community.
There will come a time in every student's training career, (whether it be in martial arts or any discipline) that they will question their teacher, their teacher's knowledge and their depth of true understanding of what they teach. Maybe question their skill, maybe even questioned the trust that they have with their teacher.
He assured me that this was perfectly natural. It's what happens. I began to get concerned that possibly Sensei saw this in me, and so I responded out of fear and somewhat of a panic, but he quickly calmed my fear by explaining that, "It's part of the path."
It's part of the journey. There is a very important step, a step that's so often missed. And that is understanding, Nin Tai. When this feeling of distrust or question begins to leak into the student, they must take the responsibility of recognizing this lack of trust for what it is. Then, take a step back.
You must revisit the point in which you started, the point when you began the path of your discipline. Look at your instructor through those eyes, through that lens that you had at the beginning of your journey.
What was it that you saw in that teacher, in that art that you found amazing?
What did you teach her possess?
What message did they have, that deeply resonated within you?
It's at that point you need to revisit where you are. You must reflect. Then, return to where you are right now and apply that feeling to the mental, spiritual or physical place you are in at the moment.
Does it still fit?
It's much easier said than done. If you're capable, it means you've gone past your ego. It means you've truly put your ego aside to be able to do the internal work that's necessary to recognize the natural discomforts in the challenges that come with growth in any discipline.
And, if you're able to go back, to revisit those feelings, those opportunities that you saw, the inspiration you once had, the motivation given to you and all the new things that were brought into your world through the beginning of this path ... with that instructor ... this is where the step to your next level occurs, where you are able to see a new horizon of opportunity with that instructor.
Sensei explained that it's not going to be the same.
You see, you've already gone through the basics. You've already gone through the orientation of the art, and for many, even the higher orders of the craft. You've already learned so much, and it is expected that as you mature, you will hit these challenges.
At this time we are growing closer to moments of mastery, closing in on a point of disconnecting with the teacher.
You must not follow blindly. Instead, follow responsibly. This is maturity.
You must have commitment to the discipline, to the art, to the craft. And trust, faith.
He explained to me that there will come a time when I no longer trust him or I'm going to be discouraged, so much that I will want to walk away from the art.
Maybe I'll simply feel that this art has nothing else to offer me. And ... for some, maybe it doesn't any more. That's ok.
These questions will come up, accept them. He wanted me to understand that like him, I should also recognize thsi behavior in my own students. It is my responsibility, as it was his responsibility, to explain this to the student ... to explain to them that eventually, 5, 10, 20 years from now these feelings of doubt will arise.
Overcoming the loss of faith and power of discouragement is not easy. But as long as you allow your ego to be out of the way of the discussion, by understanding how nin-tai is the gatekeeper to your personal mastery, you will progress. This is what is most important in order to grow beyond what you ever imagined possible.
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