photo courtesy of Sue Kranzdorf
Although the #metoo movement officially started well after Sensei’s passing, I thought it might be of interest to share this story in light of the times.
Sensei had given a directive to the Boulder kyudo group at the end of one class that men and women should alternate as the instructors opening class. (It was generally understood that whoever opened class was also serving as the main instructor for that session.) The class was virtually always opened by male students as a default. At that time, there were only 2 or 3 of us women practicing in a regular way, as compared to maybe 6 or so men. Nonetheless, Sensei asked that we alternate each time for more balance. It happened once. Then, it just defaulted back to men opening class without any particular discussion. I think the men forgot the directive quickly and the women just let it slide, since we just weren’t prone to taking the initiative to do it if someone else was more enthusiastic for that role. In any case, the directive wasn’t followed.
Some months later (I believe it was at the end of a program in Boulder because there were more than the usual number of students present), Sensei gave a concluding talk in which he said, “Men are stone heads.” He repeated the phrase, in English, multiple times.
Finally, in some apparent frustration, one man raised his hand and asked, “Sensei, if men are stone heads, then what are women?”
Sensei replied, “They are the heads men walk on.”
All the women immediately broke into laughter while a number of the men appeared to puzzle over this.
It’s easy to project on Sensei that he would have been a chauvinistic Japanese male, given the tradition he came from, but this was not my personal experience of him at all. We had many discussions about male vs. female power, historical and planetary imbalance of those energies, and so forth. At one point, I asked him about how to bring feminine energy back into balance in the world.
He answered, “It’s important, but it can’t be done too quickly or it will have the opposite effect and just create more chaos and difficulty. It needs to happen gradually.”
At that moment, I reflected on how patient he had to be in teaching us. So much of what he had to give could not be transmitted in the ground of a culture that simply didn’t understand the student-teacher relationship, the importance of good manners, keeping one’s word, and loyalty which were at the core of the kyudo path he taught. He constantly had to begin at the beginning with each of us and give us a tremendous amount of room to discover the practice for ourselves, so we could begin to open up enough for more teaching to occur. Thus, at that moment, in light of his example, great patience seemed reasonable, essential and possible in order to build a firm foundation for change.