The Tiger and the Goat


This morning we are addressing the 10th of Koichi Tohei Sensei’s 13 “Rules for Instructors.” I’ll read this for you: 

#10  Don’t hold back when you teach. Understand that a student’s progress is your own progress.  Also, don’t hurry to see the results. No one can master something all at once. Know that teaching requires patience. You should teach others with kindness, and from their own point of view.

When we’re given responsibility to teach others, there’s an implication of power involved there that we assume. And the longer we teach, the more experienced we are with our teaching, the higher the level of development and the more implication of this power. It’s the elephant in the room, so to speak, within this #10 rule of Tohei Sensei’s. 

When we become a teacher, we feel this power, and we often think of ourselves as the tiger and the student is the lamb. When you become a teacher, you must tie yourself to the tree of life as bait, and allow the tiger to come and devour you. You are the goat tied to the tree the student is the tiger. And once they consume you, you are immediately reborn to a higher level and then you have an even greater love to offer. And you allow yourself to be consumed again, and again, and again. This is the process of growing and developing as your students grow and develop. We often say that we can tell the quality of the teacher by the quality of the students. So, look around at your students out there in the world. How have they developed while they’ve been tied to you as their teacher?

Have you developed together? Have they developed along with you, and have you developed along with them? And do you have students now that could take over the teaching when you are gone? And if you don’t, why not? What have you held back? Tohei Sensei says here, “Don’t hold back when you teach.” This is what he is referring to.  We must become very vulnerable and give ourselves completely over, sacrificing everything and anything we can give for the sake of the teaching, and for the sake of the students.

Alright, let’s begin Ki Breathing:

Ki Breathing – 10 minutes

Ki Meditation – 10 minutes

Mind Body Meditation – 10 minutes

(10 minute discussion in breakout rooms)

Alright, let’s begin.

Student: Hello Sensei. This is Raina. In our group there was Joelle, Luz, and Kiyomi and we were talking about the metaphor of the tiger and the goat and kind of figuring out what the metaphor was about. And so, at first, it might seem confusing, but then maybe being the goat, you are more vulnerable. And, in being vulnerable, you’ll be more compassionate towards the whole, which is like the students and everybody.

I guess the other thing too, is that when you put yourself in, you know, in the other person’s place, then lots of times that will be something that allows everybody to, to progress or to, to be connected in the progress. 

And then also, if the teacher is like the tiger, then maybe the students don’t want to come to you to ask questions or feel like they can interact with you. But when you put yourself in the goat position, and let the students be the tiger, then the students will want to freely come to you and in that way, everybody progresses. Yeah. So that’s it. I think.

That’s a very good summary. Thank you, Raina. First, I should say that no one ties us to that tree. We tie ourselves to that tree. An essential part of this is that, as a teacher, you’re never a victim in any way. You are an offering, and you must be willing to be that. And as you said, so rightly, it is placing yourself in a very vulnerable position. So, just think about this, this is the most difficult thing that each of us must face as an instructor. As Tohei Sensei says, “Don’t hold back when you teach others.” 

I think this is much bigger than it seems when you first read this rule. It says we should be kind to others and be compassionate and loving and supportive, etc. Yeah. But what does it really take to be that? What do we really have to sacrifice? You will have to sacrifice everything, all of yourself. 

Okay, thank you very much. Next group, please.

Student: Hello, Sensei. Nice to see you. So, in the group we had Joni, Steffi and Thorsten and me [Christophe]. We browsed through different topics. I’ll take them in series and then I’ll ask a question. So, we exchanged our impressions and we said that it’s good to be a teacher with students because we can end up exploring together what it is about. Of course, as an instructor, we may have some, some idea about the direction to take. But there are also situations where we are simply just together exploring. One person said it’s important to be interested and not to be interesting, both for the quality of the connection and the relationship. We said that as students we might be feeling sorry sometimes for not being able to remember what was said the previous time and somehow there is this decision to be grateful with the instructor for being patient and willing to explain again and again. 

We had also the question that we all experienced in this group, a situation where the instructor we had was somehow expressing something weird and behaving with a sense of power over us. At least that was the perception we had and different people around the table agreed on this perception. And the question is, how do we express our disappointment as a student? How do we pass the message? How do we get along with a situation like that if the instructor does not feel somehow to account towards the students?

Very interesting question. I hear this question a lot more than you might think. “What do we do when we’re dissatisfied with our teacher?” First, it’s not our job to correct the teacher. Our job is to learn whatever there is to learn, and every teacher has something to offer. Sometimes, we look over there at the cow on the other side of the fence and we think maybe that cow looks better than our cow. But this is a big mistake to compare our teacher with another teacher. The teacher we have is the teacher we have, and there’s a reason why we have the teacher we have, always. So, if you find a shortcoming, something disappointing, something unapproachable about your teacher, it’s not that you’re necessarily wrong about him. But you need to ask yourself “Why do I have a teacher with this particular shortcoming?” The answer is always, because this is our opportunity to awaken, not just to the art of Aikido, for instance, or the art of sewing or the art of surfing or whatever you happen to be learning. No, it’s much bigger than that. This is our opportunity to discover who and what we are, and what we’re here for. “What is my purpose?” And if we can see what the teacher is all about, it will help us to understand much more deeply what we are all about. I think that’s an important thing to remember. Thank you. 

Okay, next group.

Student: Hello, Sensei.  This is Vernon. I was in group number three with Fincher and Roy and Jose. And what we discussed was the application of patience in ourselves and using ourselves as a mirror. And do we catch ourselves being impatient in order to trigger that patience? And the answer for that was getting to a patient place in ourselves before reacting to a situation, like worries we’re seeing about instruction, and how we are perceiving that instruction. 

The question that I have is, when you’re instructing a student, and they don’t get that instruction or follow that instruction, and you’re repeating it over and over and it’s not working, would you explain instruction yet in a different way?

Tohei Sensei suggests here that we teach others with kindness and from their own point of view. That is the translation that we’re using here. I’d like to go back and look at the Japanese again, particularly in lieu of what you’re asking here. Of course, we all have students like you describe, when it seems like we’ve been teaching the same thing again and again and again, and it hasn’t gotten through. 

I remember very distinctly Koichi Tohei Sensei, who in my mind was probably one of the greatest Aikido teachers of all time. He was phenomenal in his ability to communicate some very abstract and difficult things to understand. And yet I remember clearly on several occasions, him expressing his frustration to us that “No one gets what I’m saying!” That’s what he would tell us. I think there’s always going to be that feeling. I also remember Suzuki Sensei expressing this to us once.

I would suggest that, with a student or a group of students that doesn’t seem to be getting what you’re trying to communicate to them, the important thing is to discover what is their point of view, their position, their level of development, that prevents them from understanding. I have to say, on another level, that maybe part of patience is just realizing that no one is going to understand certain things until they come to a point in their development to make that possible. It does not mean you shouldn’t be teaching it. You just continually offer it, no matter what. You’re planting a seed that will grow if it is watered and fed. And who knows? I’ve had students that I’ve been teaching something to for many years suddenly say, “Oh, I see what you mean there,” for the first time. 

I once was in San Francisco, training for a few days with another teacher. And we practiced shomenuchi kokyunage, which had been difficult for me to get at the time. But I suddenly understood the movement when I was with him. And I came home, and I told Suzuki Sensei, “I finally got it, he showed me the key.” I detailed for Suzuki Sensei my new insight into this art, and Sensei just laughed at me and said, “I’ve been teaching you that for 20 years.” So, you know, the other thing here is that sometimes you just need to hear it from a different person. Sometimes we just need to look at it a little differently. But it’s always something that requires patience and understanding on everybody’s part. Thank you very much. 

Okay, next group.

Student: Hello, everyone. This is Phoenix, I was lucky to be in a group with Olaf Schubert, Vitaly and Rene. So, the conversation started out just talking about the difficulty of balancing teaching a group with a wide range of experience, meaning if you’ve got different levels, etc. You may spend a lot of time thinking about how to support what they need. And one thing that was very interesting, one person said that he used to really plan his classes, plan his workshops, all that kind of thing, well in advance and make sure everything got covered. And then some 10 years ago he gave that up. And what he does now is just show up.

May I ask who it was that said this? 

Student: Olaf Schubert Sensei.

Ah, I met him just a little over 10 years ago. I am very glad to hear this!

Student: And what came to me, as you were talking, I was thinking about what’s happening at Lokahi Dojo right now. Boyer Sensei is teaching, and our classes start with children, and then we have the children and the adults together for the first hour. And he very much focuses on the kids and getting them involved. And just watching that process. I mean, I can’t explain it, but as a student, I learn so much from that, because I see how he does it, so to speak. And, and I can see the reaction in the children as well. You know that, “Aha!” “Yeah, that’s it, you’ve got it.” That encouragement. It just helps my own practice so much. I mean, he does that with the adults as well. But there’s something about being in a mixed class. That was unexpected.

Thank you very much. That sounds terrific. I didn’t know you folks were doing mixed classes. Well, anytime you’re watching children there is that joy, yes?  I watch Lynn teach children sometimes and I always learn something and it’s so refreshing to see children in a class. Well, it can be also very frustrating, but when they get it, they really get excited. Okay, thank you. 

Next group.

Student: Hi, Sensei. So, I [Prakash] was in a group with Lynn, Mele, Gloria, and Christel, and we had a few different threads. The expectations that the teacher has of the students and vice versa, was important. And I think that became the strongest theme we talked about. Gloria mentioned how there was a study where a group of teachers were told the kids they were getting this semester were the very best students with the highest IQ, and at the end of the semester, they had all excelled. And so, the attitude that the teacher has toward the students, and what the teacher expects of them really comes to fruition. And someone also mentioned that when the student challenges the teacher, it’s a really good opportunity for the teacher to learn to observe how he reacts to that.

Challenge. Yes, it can be challenging.

Student: Yes, particularly when the student feels that you’re not the best teacher for them. And they think they want a better teacher.

Yeah, right. Well, we talked a little about that. That’s surprisingly common. In fact, I think that no matter how amazing your teacher is, there is always a moment at some point when you feel that your own development should be higher and decide that it probably has something to do with your teacher, instead of recognizing that it has only to do with you. And that’s when the teacher really is challenged. It is challenging when you hear that from a student and yet you need to support them anyway and have the patience and loving kindness in your heart to do so. Just remember what it was like when you were there because we were all there. I mean, no matter what a student comes to us with, considering their frustration with this process, which is all so difficult, we’ve been there in some way. We’re asking so much of each other and of ourselves. So yeah, we must be able to learn to empathize enough with the students that we can understand anyone’s difficulty and help them. Okay, thank you very much. 

Next group please. 

Student: Hello Sensei. I [Boyer Sensei] was in a group with the Bill and David and Alexei. We also talked about being judgmental as a student towards the teacher and how this might actually work the other way as well. Teachers might be judgmental too. There was a comment about feeling freer as a teacher than as a student in class to do Aikido movements or the things we’re practicing. Or about being less self-conscious as a teacher. And then also about not using our students to nourish our own egos. This is also a big way we discussed. And then the question that came up is, in that context, how to be more open as instructors towards our students, how to be more vulnerable? How to take more risk. What does that mean, for an instructor?

Yes. I think it’s important in our practice to understand that all the pain and all the joys, in fact all of our senses, our thoughts and our emotions, all this is just scenery. We tend to get lost and wander in the forest of scenery in our lives. That will always continue until we find the core, the foundation of being which we call maybe “taiga” in Aikido, when we’re practicing shugyo. Whenever we find that there is no difference between all that scenery and the original being, then we’ll never be distracted again by the whims and difficulties that arise. There will no longer be one thing and the other. This realization puts an end to unnecessary suffering. Maybe it’s as if you have a habit of eating things that are very sweet or spicy, and then someone offers you a bite of a simple carrot, it’s just not interesting at all, by comparison. There seems to be nothing attractive there. But if you are hungry and you just take a bite of a simple carrot, it’s splendid. I’m not sure if that’s a perfect metaphor, but it’s something like this. It’s as if we get so impressed by, and really engrossed by the obvious, that we are numbed to the subtle. We suffer so from our own pain and pleasure that it becomes our whole life, and we forget that it is just scenery. That’s the real challenge because we are missing the purpose of life itself.

So, this business of tying yourself to the tree as the bait becomes not only natural, but you are already there, if you’re wise enough to see it. That’s what being born means. Of course, I come upon this question of what it is that motivates me or helps me to find my way to this kind of vulnerability that’s required. We find ourselves I’m sure, asking this question again and again in our lives, but each time when that question comes up, it means we’re close, very close. In that instance, we’re closer to understanding or the question wouldn’t be there. So, the answer lies right there. It’s right behind the question.

Well, it’s all very moving, and very piquant [having a distinct and unmistakable flavor] you know. It’s like when you have something that’s so beautiful and vibrant, and cherish-able, then it’s perfectly natural, and not difficult at all to give yourself over to. 

I think that’s one way to say it. [And perhaps you ask yourself here, which is he referring to, the distraction or the core?]

Okay, thank you very much, and we’ll close the class now. Have a nice week. Aloha. 

Domo arigato gozaimasu