Sensei and #metoo
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.
7/7/2018 01:16:46 pm
Sensei was an uncommon warrior. All who knew him were taught a special dharma.
7/7/2018 01:59:26 pm
7/7/2018 09:36:46 pm
Thank you for writing so well in a timely fashion.
7/8/2018 06:16:32 pm
Nice, Vivi. And should you ever feel like offering up the long story, I'd be delighted to post it here from you.
7/8/2018 12:49:37 am
I am grateful to Carolyn for her generosity in sharing Sensei;s dharma. My gratitude for her service and devotion during his last years knows no bounds. I have no doubt, we received ten years of his precious teachings that we would not have enjoyed otherwise.
7/8/2018 06:17:12 pm
Omou arigato, Carole, for the kind words.
Dawn Matthews Huenink
7/8/2018 11:58:00 am
Thank you for sharing this great story. One time as a beginning student Sensei adjusted my hakama right on the shooting platform. At first I felt embarrassed but by the end I felt like he was a grandmother. And I loved his way.
7/8/2018 06:17:51 pm
Thanks much for taking the time to post this recollection.
7/3/2019 04:28:15 am
Thank you Carolyn for sharing these wonderful stories and reflections. Sensei was such a special human being and teacher for a lot of people, myself included. Steeped as he was obviously, in ancient Japanese ways and customs, he was big enough to go beyond that in many ways. I remember him hugging us when he was teaching in Marburg where I used to go to learn from him. A genuine Japanese samurai hugging his students! And I remember the softness of his voice: Hai ....He had such a big heart, it never ceased to amaze me. Thank you . PS: I wish you would publish the " sensei and Mee too " piece on the Shambhala FB pages, I think it would be helpful for many people.
7/8/2019 08:22:03 pm
Thanks for your words and recollections, Seweryn. I tend to steer clear of Facebook, but feel free to copy to the link and post it there, if you like. In any case, I'm glad you are enjoying reading these.
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