“The Limits of Obedience,” by Anonymous

“When my own mind is so clouded as it presently is, how can I choose
a teacher to whom I can genuinely give my trust and obedience?”

faceless-imageI want to write today for two reasons. Well, perhaps more, but two overt reasons. The first is to seek feedback from others on my current situation. The second is to give others who might be in a similar situation pause for reflection on the state of their learning environment.

The issue I wish to write on today is about the limits of obedience. For the past year I have struggled with the idea of obedience and loyalty to a teacher. I have always sought to show respect and sincerity to those who teach, and the times when my own life and ego have gotten in the way of doing so even for a moment have left a bitter taste which only gets worse with time.

My understanding of most things is still very limited. I would estimate that about 10-15% of what I talk about when trying to express understanding is made up of actual experience-understanding and the rest is taken from words and actions of others. In time I hope this will improve but I am still young and “madda chotto yabanjin”, so please excuse my ignorance if I speak of things which I do not understand fully. I have read articles in many publications on the concepts of shu-ha-ri. I understand it to be a process of achieving freedom of movement, thought, etc., by way of initially mimicking another as closely as possible to overcome one’s natural ingrained tendencies and limitations, moving towards complete freedom. This idea has a parallel in the ideas of monastic obedience represented in the early monastic text The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It seems that in both cases obedience and mimicry, which in a crude way eliminate parts of a person’s accumulated personality, are counter-intuitive means of achieving freedom of action and thought. Freedom in this case is the freedom of responding seamlessly and thoughtlessly to the environmental stimuli, not the idea of an impossible “atomic” freedom so prevalent in Western culture today.

It seems to me that the necessity of obedience and the process of shu-ha-ri is reflected in the words of the song “you’re going to have to serve somebody/it may be the Devil and it may be the Lord but you’re going to have to serve somebody.” By placing the teacher at the head of our decisionmaking structure, we dethrone our hidden master, which I have simply come to refer to as the “Enemy.” Implicit in this relationship is absolute trust in the teacher. We must believe that like a national leader who is granted extraordinary powers in wartime, he or she will use our obedience only for the end of our eventual liberation and will relinquish their authority at the earliest possible opportunity.

In the past year I have struggled with this idea in relating to my current teacher. I have known him for nearly four years and I owe him a great deal as his training has illuminated my world significantly. I am deeply in his debt as my accomplishments of the past few years have been largely due to increases in my capabilities obtained through training with him. I try to keep this constantly in my mind. However, as I have learned from him and become increasingly close to him, I have found that his actions and spirit part significantly from both the word and spirit of the art he teaches. Furthermore, as I have felt myself possessed of increasing awareness, I find his spirit produces increasingly uncomfortable feelings of fear and alarm when I am in his presence. In the past year, the most intense I have experienced in terms of my training regime, I have tried to suppress such thoughts, to give my teacher unquestioned obedience, believing that any fault was my own, that my judgments were egotistical and harmful to my development. I continued to place trust in my teacher. Things have reached a point now where I cannot proceed as I have so far. The chasm between the teachings I have received and the actions of my teacher is too wide to ignore. The only thing that has kept me coming back in the past few months has been love for my teacher and a desire to help him overcome some very deep-seated personal obstacles. However, to judge my teacher in such a manner seems to me incredibly presumptuous of a student of my age and relative inexperience. This love is wearing thin though, which is alarming to me. To feel the limits of one’s capacity for love is not comfortable. It has come to a point where I do not want to go to class because when I practice my own training I feel good but when I go to class I feel bad. I must emphasize that this is not the “bad” but beneficial feeling that comes with honest criticism and force awareness of one’s shortcomings, it is a bad of deep-seated spiritual unrest, a kind of blanketing depression and fear which borders on paranoia.

To return to the point, this raises a very difficult question for me. I believe, perhaps wrongly, that obedience remains the essential means of attaining discernment and associated freedom of action. However, when my own mind is so clouded as it presently is, how can I choose a teacher to whom I can genuinely give my trust and obedience? I cannot shake the feeling that whatever course of action I take will be the wrong one, that to leave my teacher will create a bad atmosphere for me and given his prominence in certain circles, possibly reduce my learning opportunities in the future. As with all people, there is great good mixed in with what I perceive as the bad. He has many excellent personal qualities and is by far the most capable and hardworking martial artist I have ever encountered. On the other hand, I am alarmed at the prospect of allowing my teacher to exert greater influence on me as I am absorbing character traits which I do not believe are ethical or helpful to my long-term development. The idea of staying put makes me feel sad and trapped; when I consider leaving my town to pursue further training abroad, I feel a great deal of openness and excitement to be back on the road again. I am naturally inclined to leave, but I mistrust my intuition as I fear taking the easy route out of anything. Staying seems to be the less appealing, less exciting route. As a rule I try to do those things which I feel an instinct to avoid, but at some point I must trust this intuition. This is a very difficult problem for me and has plagued my mind for months now. It is consuming a great deal of my energy and I am very ambivalent about the situation. I think this is a common phenomenon in martial arts and I would very much appreciate if some of the more experienced people who read this blog might offer me some guidance in terms of achieving a perspective which might allow me to make the right decision. I think it would be beneficial not only for me but for guiding many young practitioners who wish to sincerely commit themselves to their study but find personal difficulties in their learning environment. Thank you.

Name Withheld


  1. Clark Bateman says:

    Your situation is too private in nature for me to air a response openly in this forum. If you will contact me through the PM facility here, I will respond with some thoughts that may be of use to you.

  2. If I may.

    I’ve read your post several times in order to better understand the roots of conflict you are faced with. Conflicts so strong that you felt it necessary send out this posting into Aikido community.

    I can only suggest to you this. Several ‘red flags’ or warning signs seemed to present themselves to me from your own words. You articulated them quite clearly. The feeling of fear in the presence of your instructor for one. The other item that fairly jumped out from the page was “unethical” a deviation from your own ethics and morality.

    I think that you already know what the correct answer is. Your “own inner Master” or to put it simply. Your gut instinct “never lies” and it’s yelling at the top of it’s ethereal lungs at you.

    If your leaving causes some problem in your Martial Arts Circle, because of his prominence, perhaps you are in the wrong circle. It sounds like your instructor has enough students to feed his ego as it is. Please don’t go down that path. It’s a dead-end.

  3. From what I understand, your teacher is good at his art, but not at conducting his own life. Simply put, I think you’ve found out that your teacher is human. It is unfair to demand absolute perfection from our teachers, it’s enough if they are good at teaching their art.

    The best chado teacher may not know what career is best for you, simply because he doesn’t have enough information. That’s true even if some teachers feel tempted (or compelled by their students) to become absolute teachers. Even Buddha, for example, taught to his students that they shouldn’t just believe in what he said, unless it was in agreement with their own experience.

    So, to sum it up, it is not only important to choose good teachers, it is equally important to choose what to learn from each one, and don’t get manipulated. Your freedom is yours, and you cannot get rid of it. In the end, it is your responsibility.

  4. You might try reading Ellis Amdur’s “Duelling with O Sensei” which deals with the sort of issues you are talking about.

  5. After 5 years training under a teacher who was homophobic and a bully, I left my dojo and city as a 1st kyu, went to live and study/train in Japan and came back as a 3rd dan. My experiences were very rewarding. I made many friendships in Japan, added another martial art to my training and was inspired to look deeper into aikido and its culture. If your heart and mind are open there will be opportunities wherever you are.

  6. Robert Frager says:

    I appreciate your honesty and your courage in bringing this up. As you indicated this is a complex issue and often very hard to manage when one is in the middle of it. Here are a couple of thoughts.

    1. No one should check their intelligence or judgment at the door of the dojo. Sure we should not make hasty judgments of our teachers. But if you feel afraid, mistreated or abused, I would advise you to take that very seriously and seriously consider whether to leave or not.
    2. It is easy to forget that Aikido instructors are given their rank and position because of technical skill and contributions to the growth of the art. High rank is not necessarily any indication of character or moral development.

  7. O Sensei said the true Spirit of Aikido is Love.

    Why would anyone be in a Dojo with the absense of Love?

    I find that most questions are very easy to answer once we let got of roles and other mind made systems, and use our awareness of life and love.

    Just like Forrest Gump… we all know what love is.

    Best wishes of health, happiness and love to you.

    Aloha, Mike.

  8. bruce baker says:

    Aikido and your teacher is not gonna solve your problems, that is number one. If you learn anything it is that Aikido is a tool, and how you use your tools is as important as learning the possibility of what those tools can or cannot do.

    Two, if you are so weak that you are influenced by your teacher as if he or she is a cult leader, then get away from that influence for a time and see what happens.

    No one person should be the only reason Aikido exists. It is through the effort of many many people that any martial arts practice exists .. you leaving or staying should make no difference at all.

    I have always thought that if you want to see the flaws of an organization …. see how it functions when different pieces of it are removed. Can the people within finction and adapt to changes, and can they take up the slack when any piece of it is damaged, or inoperative?

    Ya know, we get so many people who are either looking for religion, or a purpose in their lives, and they don’t realize that Aikido is not their way of life, it is just one of many tools and learning experiences that enhance the quality of life.

    Eventually, class is over and you are back out on the street again, just plain old you.

    This may sound harsh, but it is the truth of all things … PEOPLE WILL DIE, and PEOPLE WILL FAIL, ACCEPT THE FEAR OF YOUR MIND and you will understand all things.

    We can’t fix everything, and there is not a solution for everything.

    I don’t know who started this kind of thinking, but it is delusional. Reality is where you see the bad, try to do good, and have the strong help the weak when they can, but some will get sick, some will fail, and some will die … that is nature at work … and we all know nature always wins.

    A good teacher will teach you what they can, what they know, and then it is up to you to use it for good and make society better because of what you have learned. At what point is your debt for what has been given to you .. paid?

    I say, leave that teacher, fix your problems, or at least become aware of your problems are so you have an idea what to fix, and then see if there is room to continue Aikido training, or not.

    That is my opinion … do what you want … cause that is what everyone does anyway despite what anyone says. Everyone, including your teacher is seeking to fulfill some empty spot inside themselves that practicing Aikido fills, and address some deeper fear, that may have changed over time and is addressed over time, but whatever the reason a person practices …. they should not be addicted as if they were drug addicted seeking a fix or caught up in some cult following. You should always be free to come and go, to join or quit.

    Whether you imagine there is an unspoken contract, or some written contract, without that freedom to leave … you are a prisoner, a slave, and maybe that realization is where your doubts stem from? Just a thought.

  9. Alister Gillies says:

    As in life, so too in Aikido. It is no different. If you hide from life in the dojo, you are hiding from life everywhere. You are blocked in the dojo and in life by fear and uncertainty. These are natural symptoms of change and should be accepted as transitory – they will pass. It is not useful to feed them. From a centred perspective you can view them with equanimity and perhaps even laugh at yourself and come to view both success and failure, as Rudyard Kipling says, as “twin impostors”. You have nothing to lose but your own chains.

  10. I too have just recently split from my instructor. Not an easy thing to do.

    Our relationship lasted 15 years and although I will credit him and thank him wholeheartedly for getting me started in the the study of martial arts, it was definitely time to move on.

    Things change and nothing lasts forever. If you have lost your trust in your instructor, if this person is not giving you value for your time, effort, respect, and money then you should leave. Life is too short and in this day and age there are many other instructors out there that can give you what you want without making you feel bad while you’re getting it.

    I don’t think you are “limiting your capacity of love” as you can still have fond feelings and memories for this individual. For some reason, you have hit a fork in the road and you need to go your separate ways. I would strongly suggest that you part from them with courtesy and respect and do what you can to refrain from burning a bridge that can hopefully be established again in the future. There should be no reason why you have to leave without figuring out some way that you can avoid being uncomfortable should you meet each other again.

  11. SHIHAN D says:

    Dear student,

    Sometimes we must step outside the box to see what is in the box, my feelings (and this is just me) you need to seek out another teacher that can channel your training to the right heights. obedience is one thing but sometime we can be too obedient. Time to seek another.


  12. Generally “sensei” means born before, or pointer of the way. First and foremost he is human with all the potential for failure as well as success. When one harvests wheat, one must separate it from the chaff. In human traits there is good and not so good. In aikido as in all other life, discerning what you can use as opposed to what must be discarded or ignored is simply the beginning of wisdom. Including walking away from the whole damn thing.

  13. Hello, and thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns with your Martial brothers and sisters. It seems you do not give yourself enough credit. Your inquiry alone shows a sign of intelligence, and maturity, so don’t worry so much about your age. Although this is a very delicate matter and should be treated as such, I will try and keep it short.

    Your genuine concerns can be confusing at times, but you must keep this in mind. The philosophies of some Martial Arts can be beautiful,eye opening, and an enlightening way to live ones life, but not all who teach the physical application live by the philosophy. In my experience, my fellow practitioners and teachers never lived in the manner of philosophies, because they are American, and Americans are taught very, very differently than Asians. Different thought prossess, different way of life!! This is not sixteenth century Japan, and we do not submit evey waking moment of our lives to the study of the art we vainly pursue perfection in. We do not live with our teachers and devote our lives to our teachers. In these times past, a teacher could ask a student to take thier own life for no ryme or reason, and nine times out of ten, the student would. If not, that student would live in shame for the rest of his life. I know this is a drastic example, but you have to ask yourself, is this you?

    Most Americans, and even Japanese run their dojo’ in America for one of two reasons, and in some cases both. For the love of the Martial Arts, and running a business. I pay my Sensei for for a service, and in turn, the dojo stays open and I am taught. Please don’t get me wrong. Respect is a huge part of this, but I would never do anything against my own moral values. This is not for sale, and either are the techniques and knowledge you obtain in the dojo. You cannot buy technique. Only through hard work, respect for the art and others, and loyalty can this be purchased.

    Remember the foundations of honor. Obligation, justice and courage. Even know your teacher deserves respect for teaching you an art he has earned his degree in, doesn’t mean he should ask you to obligate yourself to dishonorable acts, or to live as he does. Do not obligate to dishonor, justice, know the difference between right and wrong, and have the courage to follow your heart know matter the outcome! Read “Living the Martial Way” by Forrest E. Morgan.

    Without pushing my beliefs, I am a Christian first and foremost. I always say, look and search for the true teacher, the Lord, and you will get answers!!!!

    I hope this helps you, and that I was respectful to your questions.

  14. Perhaps it is time for you to be an Uchideshi at another school,
    train under another Sensei. It will give you some perspective.

  15. Four years. You must be near shodan. That’s sort of an adolescent stage of training. Adolescence, among other things, is that awful place where you start to see your elders’ human failings. The question then becomes, is it time to leave home? If you do, your path to promotion is limited. You may, however, still learn a lot if you have an inquiring spirit. Saito Sensei, the elder, said to always think of O Sensei and he will guide your training. Harder for us who were not his students, but Stan gives us helpful resources.

  16. Brett Jackson says:

    I’m impressed by the sincere advise that’s been generously offered in the above posts. Your problem is not at all uncommon. Few teachers have the luxury of teaching without requiring to charge for it, and there’s nothing wrong with charging for teaching — it’s a necessity of life. Like other entrepreneurs, Aikido teachers hope their students will continue to support them. Some (many, most) senseis try to inculcate a feeling of loyalty in their students to themselves personally and to their style more generally — in business this would be called marketing. You shouldn’t fall for this inculcation unreflectively. If you purchase a car and in time you decide you need a different car (whether the car had some critical flaws or whatever), it would be childish to re-purchase the same vehicle out of brand loyalty. Teachers have egos and their feelings get hurt when students move on. Teachers need to harmonize with that and learn from it as part of their growth. The better the product, the higher the retention rate and vice versa.

  17. Brett Jackson says:

    You can look at it from an Aikido perspective as well. If a teacher makes you feel uncomfortable or even at risk, that is itself a dangerous situation that should be treated as such. It’s not going to be easy to neutralize that kind of situation through any kind of direct “negotiation” (irimi), such as talking the problem through with the teacher (you are not likely to change your teacher and he or she is probably not going to appreciate the attempt). The best way to deal with the threat is simply not to be there. Like leaving a disfunctional relationship or ignoring someone with road rage. I would call this a tenkan.

  18. Brett, I agree that in many cases, one being if love is not there for you in the Dojo, the best way is to simply not be there. At first this seems to be a bit ironic since one of the stated premises of Aikido is “Conflict Resolution”. I felt how does that make the World better to just leave, what did we resolve?

    However, since I left my Dojo a month ago, I have grown more Spiritually, physically (health), and expanded my business, and intimate relationships with many, all in less than a month than I did in the past few years. As the say goes, close one door, open another.

    For me the most important thing is to practice Aikido, the “way of Being” in my everyday life and I do. Be kind, caring and understanding of everyone’s way, of everyone’s path since all Paths’ lead to the same place which often, when Ego is involved, is so hard to see.

  19. Araki-Metcalfe Paul says:

    Do not worry
    As you learn Aikido yuor knowledge and expertice will naturally grow.
    Sometimes you outgrow your teacher and have no further need for their assistance.
    Time to move on to bigger and better things awaiting the eager inquisative mind.
    Look around and seek out someone who can assist you to move up onto a higher level.
    The old saying of when you seek something it will appear, will now make sense to you.
    Many of us have grown out of our past and present teachers over the years, and saught out ones that could take us even higher.
    One day you may even get to the point where there is no one who can ecite, stimulate, or can offer you any more. This is only natural if you continue to train with a true heart, question and evolve.
    If you do something long enough and do it right of course you will become a master of what you do.
    Many teacher fear you will outgrow them, but this is exactly what a good teacher wants. They wish to pass on their knowledge and expertice to the student in a way they can understand and have them fly past them to greater heights. Any teacher who does not do this should not be teaching. No man is the sole source of knowledge and expertice, although many think otherwise. If you sit at the feet of giants (great leaders and teachers of Aikido) you do not grow any taller. Just because you trained under them does not necessarily make you a giant also.
    Good luck
    Paul in Japan

  20. I think there is a difference between obedience and loyalty. Blind obedience can be dangerous. One must think for oneself, of course, and do what one believes is right, with guidance from those one respects. But loyalty, in my opinion, means being a friend, being honest, and doing what is best for the person (sensei) involved. It means risking the wrath of that person who may not want to hear the truth. It means understanding and forgiving that person for being human and accepting the good with the bad, without necessarily buying into the things you don’t believe in.

    I believe a good teacher wants his/her students to maintain integrity. That is the best way to honor that teacher and show loyalty. Obedience – nah!

    Wishing you well,

  21. A teacher is a student who teaches in order to continue his study. (Mochizuki Minoru Sensei)

    The question is: is our teacher here for us or is he here for himself?

    How is his life style? Brand name articles, fancy cars, mindless hobbies and activities, whimsical spouses, secret personal life, etc.? Or did he prepare the proper environment and conditions to continue his study? How does he deal with daily life? Does he tell us what we want to hear or does he tell us what he thinks? Is it obvious that he has his students’ best interest at heart and has been maintaining that attitude in spite of all the model students who have left him for whatever reason?

    Having one’s students’ best interest at heart doesn’t mean giving them what they want, it means giving them what they need, which is often contradictory.

    Did he leave his own teacher or was he expelled and avoids the subject or has he maintained the relationship with his teacher and often talks about him without hiding the fact that there were disagreements at times?

    Is our teacher a public person, does he make himself available to his students, will he make the time to listen? How are his senior students, the product of his teachings? Is it an unreachable clique or a group of compassionate students who close the gap between our teacher and us? How do they behave when the teacher is away?

    Is our teacher a human being? Is he struggling with his weaknesses and does he admit them and work on improving himself?

    Those are not the only questions to ask, but they may help in seeing more clearly through one’s emotions.

    In all relationships there are problems. Doubt is healthy when it leads to researching the truth in order to make a decision. Doubt is wrong when it becomes the excuse to avoid making a decision. Many students who left their teachers without fully understanding their actions and their consequences end up being treated the same way by their own students. It may go for another generation or so but will die for want of the spirit that ensures the continuation of the lineage.

    When the relationship is based on the right reasons, all difficulties become opportunities to strengthen that relationship. Otherwise the slightest problem becomes the excuse for running away from the relationship.

    If you decide to leave your teacher over deep disagreement with him, then do it cleanly. Return your ranks, certificates, all that which you received from him. That will be the best expression of your disagreement. Look for another teacher, explain the situation and do not expect any special treatment since you will be considered as a high risk student and will have to establish your credibility, which may take time. That may help you if you later find out that you made a mistake and want to go back to your teacher. But be ready to start again from the bottom.

    If your priority is to learn, be unconditional, accept anything, do not victimize yourself.

    Patrick Augé

  22. The Author says:

    Wow. Thanks. While not everything said applies directly to my situation the spirit of what has been said has been immensely helpful. I had a “wu” moment yesterday when I realized that this is indeed over, I had already taken the steps necessary to leave town when I wrote this (I am on the verge of completing something else there so the timing is ideal,) but the responses and perspectives which were so generously offered helped calm my spirit on the matter. Yesterday I started to laugh about it. My world had been so serious and full of judgment. Now it is over and I feel light again. I have no regrest about the past four years as it kicked my training up to new heights and has given me a lot of maturity, but now that it is over I am happy. Some good learning, good habits, good friends and now I will have a blank page again. I never have much faith in the internet’s utility as it seems to generate more harm than good but in this case I think it has been immensely beneficial. Every one of your contributions in some way helped me have a wonderful morning as I looked at the past four years as a totality and had a good laugh at the absurdity of it all. So sincerest thanks to all of you.

  23. Alister Gillies says:

    Dear Student,

    The Aikido community is a rich resource and you have had many responses. You are not alone. I hope you find something that will shed light on your situation – it is not an uncommon one. I would like to share the following thoughts with you:

    Many people believe that their Aikido, character, spiritual development, life, etc, will improve by asociation with this or that teacher and become obsessed with getting something out of it. With maturity, however, it soon becomes apparent that what you put into your Aikido is more important.

    Having an idea of gaining something will only get in the way. Being obsessed with your own development, or vicariously basking in the reflected light of some charismatic teacher will only result in imitation at best, and a narrow arrogance at worst.

    Student/teacher relationships formed on this basis rarely develop beyond the infatuation stage, and with time fade away as disillusionment sets in. It seems to me that you are at this stage. In reality relationships within Aikido do not always conform to the high ideals espoused by the art or by individual teachers. The techniques may be divine, but they are practiced by human beings.

    Interestingly, O Sensei avoided this pitfall by travelling to different groups and teachers, responding to different needs at diffent times, like a visiting grandfather. And herein is a clue: your needs are no longer the same. Accept this and move on!

    While it is true that Shu Ha Ri is a natural developmental principle, it is one that can only be facilitated by a teacher that has undergone the process themselves. In reality such teachers are rare. In any event Shu Ha Ri is a never ending process, which led O Sensei to say:

    “The great path is really no path at all”

    Beware of teachers who claim to have gone through this, and remember that there is no such thing as self conscious virtue.

    I was once told by a very old Japanese teacher (83), very closely connected to O Sensei, that “each person must find their own way by purifying their own heart through practice”. He was talking about not having any gaining idea, overcoming the desire to pin or throw, and losing physical strength to allow kokyu ryoku to naturally arise. He also added that this is not easy, and that a teacher cannot give you this – he was in his late seventies before he understood this.

    The Aikido road is both broad and long, full of diversity and richness. No one teacher or style has a monopoly on Aikido. So shop around! Be comfortable with yourself and you will find your teacher – perhaps he/she is not so far away. I wish you luck.

  24. Well said, Mr. Gillies.

    When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Being ready means being unconditional. The state of being unconditional is different from passivity and stupidity. One should reflect on that.

    Patrick Augé

  25. I studied jujutsu for three years, taking private lessons two to three times a week and classes twice a week, almost to the rank of ikkyu. One evening, my sensei became very intimidating regarding religion. It became apparent that teaching jujutsu was not his only agenda. He wanted a convert to his denomination. This had become clearer over time since he had given me “chick tracts” ridiculing various religions, including the one into which I was born. Despite my acquired love for the art, it became clear that night that I could no longer continue training with him. My suggestion is that if you believe that you are acquiring traits that are unethical, stop training and take your time finding another dojo or art.

  26. Tough stuff –sounds like you are handling it well– after 27 years with my teacher i found myself in very similar waters as you describe– in my case the stakes were huge and my departure was complicated by all the deep ties that had to be put in jepordy, but all in all i find my self relieved– the leaving was worth it and i learned for myself that it is never too late to get out of a bad deal

  27. Simon Lafrenière says:

    I simply want to mention you were good at saying what I wish I could have at a particular time and thank you very much for that as it brings more clarity and understanding to my life. My evening was quite vivid as a concequence and I wish you all the best in you study of authentic martial arts.

  28. All living creatures are innately BORN LEARNERS. Teachers may sometimes help a little. For millions of years, birds when ready, have said “Thank you,” then stepped out of the nest and flapped their wings.

    Most flew, and continued to learn very well.

  29. A true teacher helps you to find and to free YOU. A false teacher merely wants a symbiotic following. Mastery is autonomy not co-dependancy. A master helps you to master yourself. A fool will propagate fools. The autonomous can choose co-create. But only if they want to. The dependent merely lean on each other like drunks.

  30. Tom Collings says:

    This is great stuff – a problem most serious students/teachers of the arts face at least once or twice on the Path. Many thoughtful responses – wiser than anything I can offer. I’ll only add words of the old gambler “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” It’s time to walk away my friend, with appreciation for what you got and with your head held high. If your teacher is worth a damn he will understand. Good luck.

  31. You wrote, “I think it would be beneficial not only for me but for guiding many young practitioners who wish to sincerely commit themselves to their study but find personal difficulties in their learning environment.”

    I believe that the first question that one should ask in such a situation is: does this hobby stunt my professional or academic achievements? Limiting one’s income potential for a relatively useless hobby is rather self-destructive.

    You wrote, “I believe, perhaps wrongly, that obedience remains the essential means of attaining discernment and associated freedom of action.”

    Discernment of what, and freedom of what sort of action?

    You wrote, “By placing the teacher at the head of our decision-making structure, we dethrone our hidden master, which I have simply come to refer to as the “Enemy.””

    To whatever extent that one might achieve harmony through aikido, which I believe is no greater than any other repetitive activity or activity that lends itself to extensive pondering, it is that enemy with whom you seek to achieve harmony, and that enemy resides within you and is the part of you that you wish to believe does not exist– it’s the innate evil that comes with being human. Your so-called “enlightenment” is nothing more than, after climbing a mountain of pain to prove the fact wrong, realizing and accepting that you are evil.

    In any case, by rejecting your responsibility to own your life by assigning to another your responsibility, you are inviting the instructor’s demon to direct you. And when he or any other person fails you, as is inevitable of evil people, who shall you blame?

    If I were to give you advice, I would begin by challenging your use of the word “teacher,” whose use erroneously asserts the fatal flaw of irresponsibility.

  32. Patrick Augé says:

    We should never accept whatever a teacher says or does just because we trust him or because he is famous. We should look at everything he says or does as a teaching that needs to be experienced and verified by ourselves.

    In order to choose a teacher, we should look at his life-style. Is it simple? What kind of people is he surrounding himself with? What influence do they have on him/her? Is he/she the same person whenever circumstances change? Is he/she teaching as a way to continue his study? ….

    We are all bound to make mistakes. It’s how we manage the consequences of those mistakes that that become part of our shugyo.

    Without accepting our teacher’s humanity, his eccentricities, we cannot develop that teacher-student relationship that’s essential to the study of budo.

    It’s when we expect our teacher to be perfect that disaster strikes. A teacher is a human being. We are all struggling — at different levels with our greed, our fears and our ignorance.

    Patrick Augé

  33. Drop the whole notion of “obedience”. You teacher either leads by example or he or she does not. If the example isn’t one you wish to follow, don’t. Your teacher will either respect that or not. If you see unethical issues, then leave. This art is all about what kind of person you wish to become, it isn’t about the skill of your waza. Don’t stay with anyone because their waza is great, but they are not the kind of people you would like to emulate. Sure there are compromises made… this is all shades of gray a lot of the time. But have a line in your mind that doesn’t get crossed and if it does, you leave… period.

  34. I will also attempt to offer a point of view, if it is of any help. Being such a personal issue, I will try to be very brief, so that you may choose what would work for you and what would not – if tried.

    1. There is no obedience. A teacher/Sensei/etc. who requires obedience is not a teacher/Sensei/etc.
    There is no obedience in mutual respect..

    2. If it is not too late, maybe try to “settle” the issue within yourself BEFORE leaving your teacher/dojo. Overcoming your own weakness in front of these issues will be the signal for you that you are ready to move on.. Be thankful for the opportunity to meet yourself in such a circumstance. Be thankful for learning to deal with situations like these, and people like that. Then, when you leave it is because you move on, not because you run or hide.

    3. The only place to practice or to actually live, is from the “center” as we call it in martial arts. I call it a state of power, thus, every aspect of your training is a learning step where you are the central and focal point. It’s hard to explain this succinctly, but you are the center of your universe. When you meet a student or a teacher, engage with mutual respect in mind. Engage with respect even if the other side does not reciprocate.. Maintain respect, from the center… and you will always be fine, empowered, and free.

    If you are interested in what I wrote and found it useful, stay in touch. I wrote a book that you may find of some use in terms of working from within your own power.

    Best wishes to you.

  35. Not to play devils advocate here (I have left a long time instructor due to his strong prejudices…) but I am a bit surprised that no one has thought thru the instructors perspective. Not to imply that it applies to this case, but here is a question-

    What do you do as an instructor when somebody can’t cope? If it is the student’s problem and he quits and goes someplace else, he will find the same problem there. And the temporary relief of leaving is overwhelmed by the disappointment of realizing there is a new problem. I have had students that became unable to cope with someone in the dojo and left in a panic. But the person they had a problem with wasn’t immoral or unethical at all, just more new age and caring than most.

    Again, I’m not saying that Anonymous is the problem. But there are, by necessity, so few details in this story that its worth an honest look (Nev’s ruthless aikido honesty).

    But more importantly, I’m not a psychologist, I’m an aikido sensei. How can I best help an aikido student who has sudden fears or doubts or issues before they cut loose and run their problems elsewhere?
    Any personal experience from that perspective would be very helpful, as all the rest of this thread has been. Thanks

  36. Hello,

    Your in a difficult situation at best…Remember not all Top Professionals are good people, and not all people are top professionals, separate the two….Senseis are “human”, and they don’t walk on water, although some think they do…ha!

    My relationship with my Sensei is fairly simple. If I can take home a more positive then negative I’m happy; if I have to feel unhappy most of the time, i would question myself staying there…Mine is really good, by the way…

    Remember your Sensei may be good at martial arts, but may not be good at teaching martial arts. Performing and Teaching require different skills.. Some days require more patience than others, ask yourself, does he have the patience in regards to your training?

    Although it’s difficult separating emotions from fact, being a Sensei means teacher, not a right to over power people. His job is to have all the “boy scout” attributes to make you the best that you can be…

    And your job is to try 100% every time you’re on the mat. After all, aren’t you paying monthly dues to his Dojo?…….. Pay for training, not Abuse…
    One thing is certain, time will give you the answers….but you should have a positive experience every time you’re on the mat…I always look forward to my training, and I think that is the way I want it to be…

    Be Patient, Keep training…Best to you…

  37. For what it is worth, a few responses based on my experience as a clinical counselor by day and aikidoka by night:

    Perception is not always reality – the human mind has evolved into this amazing problem solving machine. Look at the incredible things we can do merely by the powers of external control our minds allow us to have – we can fly airplanes, build skyscrapers, hike up mountains, and so on. But the trouble we run in to is when our unpleasant private experiences (thoughts, feelings, memories, etc.) show up, we want to get rid of them. But along the lines of what has already been said, you have come upon how you feel about your situation and realize it has presented the ultimate question: to stay or leave? What our mind says about a situation is one thing, but I think there are two deeper aspects to our reality: 1. what we actually observe about our experience (as opposed to what our mind says about it) and 2. the direction our values point. More on that later.

    Wisdom is gained by approach, not avoidance – when we face painful experiences in life most people do one of two things: run away or “buck up.” When it comes to the private, under-the-skin experiences, those methods often don’t work for us. We end up denying or avoiding our pain and are left living a life stuck, entangled with our struggles. The alternative is to approach our experiences with a sense of flexible curiosity and openness to what it brings no matter if it is unpleasant. Simply stated, acceptance. This can be applied whether you choose to stay or go.

    What do you have control over? – A central concept we use in our dojo is, “The only person who can stop you from moving is you.” We cannot control what other people say, how they act, what they believe, etc. Can we influence others? Sure, to an extent, and ultimately other people will choose for themselves how to respond based on our influence. You have a choice in this matter and it is free for you to choose. Will you allow yourself to freely choose what you want regardless of what other’s say or do? This is a hard thing to do and I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I struggle with this all the time – we all do.

    Willingness and values – if you can cultivate a willingness to have your experience as it is, then maybe you can allow your values take the driver’s seat. Ask yourself, what is it that you want YOUR aikido to stand for? What is it that you want YOUR life to be about? What would that look like for YOU? And would you be willing to have all of the thoughts, feelings and sensations that show up along the way? What you value as a human being is YOUR compass. Follow the dial, and you find that your path is not straight but you will know what direction to go.

    Be bold and stand on your own two feet – in my opinion, whether you stay or leave both are bold and courageous choices. And that’s the point I think. To WILLINGLY stay means you want to strive toward your goals no matter how your sensei acts. To RELUCTANTLY stay means you sacrifice what is important to you and you are fighting with yourself. To willingly leave the dojo in pursuit of a dojo that fits your style and values would be a meaningful step as well. As long as you have the resources, and that’s where your compass is pointing, then I say go for it! I would imagine there would be some fear that comes with that but that fear is something to take with you along the way because it will lead you. As singer, songwriter John Mayer says, “fear is a friend who is misunderstood.” This whole experience you are having is showing you something. You’ve got to “go find out for yourself.”

    Follow your path and you will find yourself along the way.

    Be well, friend!


  38. Dear Sir,

    Sometimes our (our in general) teacher’s code of coducts is not aligned with ours but we are affiliated to the style not the teacher. We owed our debt to the style founder. Our responsibilities is understanding the art well and spread the art diligently and responsibilities. As long as teaching martial art is a way of making living there is always a teacher who put his or her own welfare above students’ one. My karate teacher (son-in-law of the style founder) told us that family is more important than karate. Please find the other teacher or keep practicing what you know and some day you will find the rightous one. Every martial art has something to offer.


  39. The stated problem and the follow-up discussion prompted me to express my insight.

    With my first aikido teacher, (who was my age by the way) I had practiced for four years, I had a very good connection; I was totally subscribed to his great skill and spirit. Using Nev’s formula “A true teacher helps you to find and to free YOU. A false teacher merely wants a symbiotic following.” My first teacher was a true teacher. At the time I had not been fully aware how LUCKY I was. I had to relocate and after a long break I continued with a new teacher, who is skilled in waza but rather underdeveloped spiritually and emotionally. Under Nev’s classification he would be a false teacher. That would be too simplistic an explanation. Although I truly believe that his teaching would improve with his spiritual development, he still might be a good all-round teacher for less advanced people. As for me I take what I can, technically, and explore by myself spiritual and philosophical dimensions.

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