Losing Temper

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, everyone.


I hope everyone’s very well. This morning we are addressing #9 of Tohei Sensei’s “13 Rules for Instructors.” Let me begin by reading this for you:

“Do not lose your temper. You must know that it is a shame for an Aikido person to lose their temper, because it means that they’ve lost their One Point. Particularly don’t lose your temper on something personal. However, if you must get angry for the sake of the universe, or for the sake of your country do it with your whole being, by concentrating your Ki in your One Point,. You must know that a person who loses temper easily may become cowardly in a serious situation. “

Yeah. So, maybe first we should define temper. You know, in metallurgy we refer to the temper of steel as describing the balance between its hardness and elasticity. And this is a little like us human beings. When we refer to the temper in humans, we’re referring to the balance of our state of mind. When we lose our temper, this of course means we’re losing our balance. However, our concern here needs to be specifically related to instructing in Aikido.

In Aikido, when we are trying to defend our self when we feel threatened in a personal way, this tends to cause us to lose our temper.  However, we will not lose our One Point when we defend someone other than ourselves, and most importantly when we defend the teaching itself. As an instructor, you are the representative of that teaching. You are its guardian. 

There are some important distinctions for this responsibility. One of them is that when a student insults the teaching in front of the teacher, either he or she can expect the teacher to respond with a very high level of intensity. The teacher’s responsibility is to defend the teaching, against all ignorance. When the teacher speaks strongly and with great emotion to the student, it must never be because we are angry at the student. But instead, it must be because we’re angry at the ignorance. The enemy is never the student. The enemy is only ignorance. 

If the student is being particularly stubborn, (and I’ve seen Tohei Sensei, and Suzuki sensei do this many times) then, after many other things have patiently been tried, there may be the need to shock the student out of their state of ignorance, at least temporarily, to help them understand whatever the teaching point is. So, I think, in the case of representing the teaching, there are times when it may be necessary to use that as a tactic. 

The bottom line is that we must never lose One Point. Losing One Point means taking it personally. When we get our own person involved, we have failed in our responsibility as a representative of the teaching. If there’s ever an on-going conflict between the teacher and a student, or the students in the dojo, then the teacher has lost his or her ability to lead the group. We cannot afford to allow any oppositional feelings to exist between ourselves and our students. Think about that. It pays to listen to what we think and what we say as an instructor. When we are sitting quietly contemplating our students, we can always go look at each one of them and send them each a powerful, supportive, loving Ki. That right there is a great check, just to see what state we are in relation to each of our students. And then, no matter what comes up in the dojo, we’re prepared. And then we know that we’ll only speak and act in a loving, supportive way. 

I think I mentioned this before: People often call Aikido a “self-defense” art. This is a complete misunderstanding of the Aikido that I understand and teach, and what Tohei Sensei was teaching. When we’re attacked by someone else, we’re not trying to defend our self against that person hurting us physically or even emotionally. Right? Because if we do that, then that creates a de facto conflict, one against another, and that’s not Aikido. Now, when someone comes at us, whether it’s verbally and emotionally or physically, in Aikido we are supporting that other person in awakening to their own ignorance, against their own weakness, that is causing them to act in such a way to possibly cause harm to themselves or to someone else. The fact that it’s you that they’re attacking, is not at all the point. It’s just as if they’re attacking someone else, as far as you are concerned. We defend against the weakness, never against the person. 

Understanding this distinction is critical for our understanding in Aikido because it concerns all aspects of relationships in the dojo. 

Okay, just a reminder, after our sitting this morning, we are continuing our new program. My co-host, Lynn Curtis Sensei, will put everyone in breakout rooms together, and you can discuss this subject and see what you come up with. And then after about 10 minutes, we’ll close the rooms, and you’ll return and you can ask me questions about it or make comments. 

Okay, first let’s begin with some Ki Breathing:

Ki Breathing: 10 minutes

Ki Meditation: 10 minutes

Mind Body Meditation: 10 minutes

(Ten minutes of breakout discussions)

All right. So, I think everyone has returned. Let’s begin with room #1. Good morning. 

Student: Good morning, Sensei. I had the pleasure to be in room #1 with Gloria, Sally, and David Sensei’s. I think we all agree we don’t see this loss of temper happening. Usually with our instructors in Aikido they’re models of keeping One Point, I don’t think we’ve experienced the opposite too much. I personally was relating what you were saying to being a teacher in public school. I’ve often heard new teachers say, “Oh, period four is coming up. That’s my rotten class.” And this colors their feelings and approach to that period. It affects their whole demeanor. Even talking about it over lunch, I have heard them say this kind of thing. I’ve long since learned not to do that in large part because of Aikido practice. Otherwise, it’s going to color my influence for everybody. I see the kids repeatedly throughout the week, throughout the year, and I don’t want them to think negatively of me.  With my kids, I think of them in the reverse way. Gloria also brought this up. What we give out is what we get back. I’ve heard kids say that kind of negative thing about a certain teacher, right? “Oh, no, it’s for the class that I am going to.”  And then David said, “It’s the mirror universe.”  

In responding to a stubborn student, there is a certain intensity when you feel something, but it’s gone right after that, you know, it cuts. You’re upset at something, and then boom, it’s gone. But even so, I try to make it a point to talk to the student after and explain. “This is why I said what I said. Do you understand?” And then we come to a fist bump that says “Let’s start fresh tomorrow.” So, then when they see me right after class, they don’t relate a negative sense to me. But every moment is teaching is practice. Anyway, that’s how I look at it. Thank you.

Really great, Rene. Thank you. I know that you were once awarded “Teacher of the Year” and they even gave you a car. 

Student: Well yeah, they gave it to me the car for a year. But I did have to buy it after that!

Well I suppose that must mean that you understand this very well or you would not have received that honor.  So, thank you very much for your comments. That’s wonderful to hear. 

Let’s go on to the next room please

Student: Hello, Sensei. We were in Room #2. We had different angles on this discussion. I started out by giving them an example. It was that, as a teacher in the dojo, after a couple of years I could no longer support one student and had to ask him to leave because of overstepping boundaries for other students and endangering the safe atmosphere in the dojo. And that was a challenge for me to avoid having a personal reaction, and not have One Point coming up all the time. So, the challenge is staying calm and how to manage that. And then the story you told us about Suzuki Sensei keeping this one annoying student in the dojo. Everybody hated her but she had to stay because Sensei said she was the best student you had. So, there’s that. The question is, where’s the borderline? How long can you allow that and when is the point where you actually have to defend others? 

Thank you very much. This also happened to me. I finally had to ask a student to leave the dojo also. But for a long time, I allowed the student to stay. He overstepped others’ boundaries for years in our dojo, and during this time I really felt very much like Suzuki Sensei had felt, that in spite of everything there was value there for him, and for everyone. For one thing, it was a constant negative object lesson, and everybody could see it. And I saw that it did sharpen everybody a bit. But at some point, he completely lost his composure and was unwilling to recover properly, so he had to leave. 

In another situation, I’ve had a student that I never needed to ask to leave, but at some point it became so obvious to him that he was blowing it, that he just left on his own. And this was after 30 years of training. So, it’s not like this only happens to immature students who haven’t had a chance to catch on. These are often people that have trained for many years, but have one, perhaps, very small but fundamental misunderstanding of what they are doing in Aikido, and that misunderstanding becomes so large by feeding it and feeding it over the years, that it overtakes them, and causes them to lose themselves completely. So that’s really losing temper in very slow motion.

The story about Suzuki Sensei and that woman student is in my book, “Otomo – A Journey.” I thought it was so important that I put it in the book because it’s so completely non-intuitive. Most simply would not think that it would be the best thing to keep a person that was so troubling in the dojo. But it was perfect for me, and I am sure that Suzuki Sensei saw that. You know, because of what I learned, it transformed my life. I was the one that was suffering the most, at least from my own selfish point of view. And maybe because of that, I was the one that benefited the most, spectacularly. 

Thank you very much. Nice to see you. Let’s go on to the next room. 

Student: Good morning Hawaii time. This is Phoenix. I was very lucky to be in a group with Charlotte with Eiko and Mele. Each of us talked a bit to start with just about losing our tempers. You know, the experience of that, and how it has changed over time. Mele spoke of teaching junior high students and losing her temper when she was young in her career, and how that just rarely happens now.  There is that discipline, you know, as she has been practicing for so long. She sees that it’s just a play. She also brought up what you said about calling Aikido “self-defense” and particularly advertising it that way. That perhaps there’s another way of thinking about that, you know, to describe it to the people that we’re inviting, because we’re not teaching them to defend themselves, but rather to work with themselves. I thought that was very important. 

And Charlotte mentioned how much things in her life have changed the likelihood of her experiencing that kind of losing her temper. She is retired, so she has lots of time to practice. She practices at home, she meditates with a group of other people, and just connecting like that changes the way that she is living her life. And for me, I think it’s very much focusing on this issue with respect to work. And how, if I feel strongly about something I can get that temper arising in me, right? Then, I want to fix it, but that doesn’t work. And so finally I am learning when I am in meetings just to remain quiet and watching myself be calm. And then when there’s something that’s essential that needs to come across, I see clearly and it’s not an opinion but an understanding about something or that kind of thing. Then I can speak calmly.

And one other thing that came up was with Clayton Naluai Sensei. It wasn’t so much a matter of him being angry, but his intensity when he was trying to get something across was just so effective. I mean, he always radiated such love, but sometimes love with the extra intention when he was demonstrating something for you. So that sticks with me forever, I think. 

Thank you. I think that it’s important to mention that none of us is perfect, of course. And so, this “loss of temper” happens occasionally for everybody, no matter how experienced we are. I saw Tohei Sensei lose his temper. I saw Suzuki Sensei lose his temper. But the significant thing I noticed about both was that as soon as the anger was expressed, it was gone. We must do our best not to shut our feelings down, judging them to be right or wrong. That’s not calmness, to bottle our anger up, so that we’re not showing anything on the surface. There must be laughter and tears and anger. Human passion happens, and it’s fine. 

And yes, if we lose our One Point in anger, we immediately return to One Point. And this exercise we practice again and again in the Ki class, in techniques, and in meditation. Someone or something surprises us, or strikes us in a distracting way, we may lose our attention, but immediately we come back to the calmness of attention. In this way our capacity of attention becomes stronger and stronger and therefore our calmness deeper and deeper. The degree of that within each of us tells a story about the intensity and regularity of our practice. If we’re sitting as well as practicing all the time, then it’s much easier to come back to stasis after losing a little bit. So don’t get mad at yourself if you lose your temper. Because that’s just throwing bad after bad. 

Okay, thank you very much. Next room please.

Student: Hello, Sensei. My group was with the Joni and Raina. Raina and I shared how children can sometimes make adults upset. I shared that I was teaching third graders last week and one boy was being always chatty. He never listened. So, I told him to do something about it. And he told me “How dare you!” and I became irritated with this boy. And at that point, I think I lost it and I said, “You know, for that kind of talk, you are very rude, and I can send you to the principal’s office.” And after that he became very quiet. And this makes me think a bit about what you mentioned about discipline; we must discipline the ignorance of the person, not the person himself. But I wonder, you know, he might or might not be ignorant. I think he knew how to press my button there. And Joni said maybe children are a little bit different. I understand that we do need to discipline sometimes. But what about adult students? And if they are not ignorant, maybe they are purposefully pushing the instructor’s button. And there’s a teaching we must apply. That is my question. 

Thank you very much. I must say that this is not a lack of ignorance when someone is pushing your buttons. That is a demonstration of ignorance in action. When someone is going against his own best interest, he may be pushing buttons, so to speak, only to get your attention. He’s purposely trying to push your buttons, yes, of course, that’s true. But that doesn’t mean that he’s not ignorant. He is demonstrating that he is, at least at that moment, ignorant of the principle of loving kindness, the principle of openness, the principle of listening completely. And we must follow these same principles as well. Even when we are scolding someone, we must be watching and listening very carefully to our self and to the other person, to be sure that our words and actions are not delivered out of ignorance but are in support of awakening. 

Now, I am not sure that it’s different with children. I don’t teach children very often, but Lynn teaches children a lot, and she shares her experiences with me. And whenever she’s talking about the challenges of teaching the children, it sounds to me exactly like the challenges I have with grown up adults. You know, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I do notice that when we lose it emotionally, we seem to be returning to a kind of childish selfishness. So maybe when you lose it as an adult, and you’re misbehaving, you just haven’t grown up yet. 

Okay, thank you very much. 

Student: Joelle and Roy and Alexei were in our group. My question is about being careful to prevent, or being careful not to lose, your temper. At a certain point, your teacher says to Keep One Point and then you return to your One Point. How do you know the difference between being careful not to lose your temper, or just expressing your temper, and then coming back to One Point? Which is being wrong? 

There is a general misunderstanding that many have here. To be fair, it is because we all think we can control ourselves. But we really can’t, because what we call “controlling our feelings” is usually hiding or masking our feelings. And in this way, our attempt to control ourselves is false, and therefor always leads to problems. 

I would suggest that the whole point here is to practice so that we develop ourselves enough to be free in every moment, and so to allow ourselves to be naturally expressive of our true state, no matter what it is. If we are filled with gratitude and loving kindness, in other words if we are truly practicing, we will never harm anyone. Our natural condition is freedom. In such a state, the spirit of non-dissension prevents us from ever doing any harm to ourselves or others. 

I would say that it’s a mistake to teach each other, or to encourage each other to control ourselves, at least as adults. However, I understand that in raising children these days, teaching the child to control him or herself, per se, is not the way that’s considered appropriate anymore. Now, instead, we are taught to help the child see the possibilities of harming someone with their words or with their actions. The idea is that, in this way, kids can see for themselves what is in their own best interest and gradually will learn to act naturally and safely. 

Let’s think about maturity. When we become mature, it means we’ve grown enough to see that a negative reaction to others is never in our best interest. It always causes more negative response from them. So of course, yes, if we’re immature, and we just let ourself do whatever we want, there’s going to be a problem because that is selfish mind run wild. Right? That’s not true freedom. I remember when I was a young man, I realized that true freedom is not freedom to do whatever. True freedom is freedom not to do, not to be a slave to our own conditioning. This means first noticing, and then deeply considering, the effects of our actions today on our conditions tomorrow. If we are repressing our own emotions, we are not being free or being true to ourselves. It takes the result of truly noticing and sincerely considering to understand what is destructive in our behavior. 

I think this is a really important point that I hadn’t expressed in relation to this rule #9, at least in the beginning of this discussion. I think what you bring up is very important – this idea of controlling yourself versus being free and open. Something important to contemplate here. Thank you very much. 

Let’s have the last group please.

Student: Hello, Sensei. I’ll make it short. I was in a group with Christoph Sensei, Lynn Sensei and Bill. I think our discussion was very much along the lines of what you just said. This is a study in itself, right? And we start out with maybe saying, “How can this be? How can this rule really be applied?” Christoph gave us a good example, in something he recently encountered and that was, if someone behaves in a way that you feel is inappropriate, if you don’t correct them, or if you don’t respond, are you encouraging that bad behavior? And if you do respond, are you violating another rule right there? 

Basically, if you take this rule of not losing our temper and just go out and try to follow it without really allowing the teaching to soak in, without saying, “Well, how is this possible? Should I be doing this?” This is more or less a study that Tohei Sensei is giving us and not just a rule. If we say “I have to be real by not responding in opposition.” etc. it’s going to be very difficult for us. But if we take this rule and wonder about it, we see that it’s certainly active in our life every day, and how can this rule of not losing our temper be followed? In other words, what is the essence of this rule? 

This has been a good juxtaposition between what I think you were saying whether we have to go out and apply this rule just to be a good student or a good teacher, as opposed to looking more carefully and saying “Wow, what’s he really talking about? 

Well, thank you very much. I think that it’s important to remind ourselves that our practice is to follow the way of the universe. And that is not simply following rules. The way of the universe cannot be controlled. There are no rules to follow. In spite of these “13 Rules for Instructors,” following the way the universe is being present, and opening ourselves completely to whatever may be taking place inside or outside of us, so that we can respond truly and genuinely in every moment. This process of learning takes effect by mistake after mistake after mistake. That’s how we learn.  In spiritual practice this is known as “illumination in Surfeit.” We wake up only when we’ve done it enough times to want to change. The word “surfeit” means “excess.” Change happens when we have had enough.

So, following the way of the universe is not some magic future where everything good happens later. It’s paying attention to what’s happening right now and awakening to these things. Now is all there is. I mean, particularly, I should say this right here, this class. The process each of us has been going through just in this last hour has been a constant awakening to some of the mistakes that we’ve made in our past recently in the way that we tried to apply this rule. 

This process I am offering here, of familiarizing ourselves with these sayings, is just a way for us to cause these things to bubble up so that we can examine them with each other and within ourselves to come to a greater maturity in our ability to follow the way the universe. 

Thank you very much everyone. I really enjoyed this.

Domo arigato gozaimashita