This is NOT the review of the Wilder Seminar. If you are looking for the review of the Wilder seminar, it can be found here.
**As a forewarning, this blog might upset some people, probably black belts. I honestly sincerely don't mean any disrespect by it, but I want to preface the blog with this disclaimer: I'm sorry if this upsets you and I do not hold this opinion to be universally true about all black belts.**
I recently attending a seminar. It was awesome. It was the third seminar I have been to, and the second martial arts focused seminar. (First was a Mr. Rory Miller seminar on violence, second was an Iain Abernethy seminar on Bunkai and Kata, and the most recent was a Kris Wilder seminar on power generation and application of this principle with some of the kata movements)
I did not get this vibe from the Miller seminar, probably because some of the first words out of Miller's mouth were "This is not about Martial Arts, this is about violence." and no one showed up in uniform.
However, I have to say something I experienced at both the Abernethy and the Wilder seminar has left me feeling rather perplexed. I felt it quite a bit more at the Abernethy seminar then the Wilder seminar, but it was still there.
Generally speaking I am usually one of the youngest and lowest ranking people there, but not usually via the same person. There are younger attendees who hold black belts, and older attendees who hold green and brown belts. There have been one or two other people younger then myself and maybe 3 to 5 people who are not black belts at these seminars. Overall, there are not a lot of us 'newbies' at these seminars. It's probably 90% Black Belts. I am not sure if the other lower ranking students feel the same way I do, but I usually feel a distinct 'mood' emanating from some of the black belts who attended the last two seminars I went to. Both seminars, walking into the room first thing on the first day, I feel a general air of... I want to be politically correct, because I do not want to hurt feelings or step on toes, that's honestly not the purpose of this post, but to be blunt I feel like a lot of people are looking down their nose at each other.
I have never felt this feeling or attitude from any of the hosts or presenters of the seminars that I have attended, and I certainly don't get this vibe from all the participants either. This is not a blanket statement. However, this feeling does come and go throughout the seminar, and I feel like most everyone is on guard and is always slightly on the defensive. I see a lot of dour expressions.
(There was a brief discussion following the seminar about this, and the comment was made "I don't think those kind of people come to these seminars, I think everyone here wants to learn." I'm not sure I entirely agree with that. Perhaps I am just imagining it though? I agree that close minded ignorant martial artists will more then likely not sign up for these types of seminars, and I do think that everyone there wants to learn, but I just don't get the feeling like the attitude is all bubbles and roses and sunshine. And yes, I am aware that Martial Arts is a serious subject, but like Miller has stated, you learn things better if you have fun with it.)
I'm not sure where this sense of standoffish-ness comes from, but I don't like it. I think it would be cool if all the attendees left their belt at the door and put on a white belt for the duration of the seminar. I think it would be neat if everyone would let go of their pretenses and insecurities and just have a good time and enjoy themselves. Introduce yourself to people, make a point to go talk to someone you don't know, ask them about their style, work with different partners and be excited about it for godssake! We get this chance to work some of the heavy hitters in the industry and I think we should make the most of it, not spend time sizing each other up and worrying about if the person next to you knows more then you.
Are you worried that your partner is going to hurt you? Are you worried about looking weak? Do you feel like you have to uphold your black belt macho attitude? I don't get it! Please help me understand why I saw almost no laughing or excitement. If you do feel this way, maybe other people feel this way too. (I did see SOME, especially when people are doing the drills, but I also saw a lot of eyeing up and turned backs during breaks or before or after the seminars.)
Whatever you're holding on to, let it go!
This little orange belt would be pretty darn excited if everyone came with an empty cup, an open mind, and a willingness to work with others, to listen, and to drop the pretenses, to go as slow or as fast as your partner is comfortable, to hit as hard or as soft as your partner is comfortable with, to be willing to scale back, to not be embarrassed to ask your partner to scale back if that's what you want.
We are all there to learn and to have fun. We all come from different backgrounds but we are united by our passion for the martial arts. No one is out to get you, no one is out to make you look stupid or feel like a fool in front of everyone, no one cares if you don't know something specific that the person next to you might know; you may know something they don't! No one cares what color your belt is, or how many stripes are on your belt or how long you have been training. We are all equals there to learn, share, practice, and enjoy.
I know I just said that no one cares what color your belt is, but perhaps because of this general vibe it can be very intimidating for a low ranking student to walk into a room full of black belts. (For those of us who don't have a black belt, it can best be described as the black belt complex. You know it shouldn't matter, but you can't help but fixate on it to some degree till you have it) I just didn't feel overly welcome till the host and presenter showed up, I didn't see enthusiasm or excitement, I saw sideways glances and people sticking to clicks/schools.
I will be the first to admit, I am just as guilty of this myself. I tend to mainly work with Sensei Nick during these seminars. Partly because I am shy, partly because I have a very strong sense of trust with Sensei Nick and it can be unnerving for anyone to work with a stranger, and partly because I didn't feel like most (not all, but some) of the other attendees wanted to work with an orange belt. It's very difficult sometimes for us newbies to come out of our shell and approach you 'towering black belts' who have been doing this for 10, 20, 30 years or more. Does anyone else feel this way?
Last night in class, we talked about how cool the seminar was and are encouraging out students to attend the Brent Yamamoto seminar. We had a student, a white belt, say he didn't want to go because he was afraid he would be in the way, or he wouldn't be able to keep up with the material. Sensei Nick and I tried to encourage him, but I got the feeling that that is why a lot of lower ranking students don't attend these things. If he were to attend, I couldn't honestly guarantee that he wouldn't pick up on some of the attendees not wanting to work with him because they, too, felt he would be in their way, etc.
It can be really scary attending a seminar for the first or second time, especially as a lower ranking student. We feel like mice among giants! You're the role models, you're the ones we all look up to for guidance and acceptance. We need your welcoming attitude and encouragement, not your aloof detachment. In our minds you embody the black belts we want to become. Think about that for a minute... We're watching your every move to see how a real black belt behaves. If you snub other schools, your students will do the same. If you go out of your way to talk to other people, to share information, to be pleasant etc, your students will follow your lead, especially when you encourage that type of behavior. Do you want your students to be like those of Cobra Kai or those of Mr. Miyagi?
Sensei Nick and I discussed this on the way home, and he said that honestly the two seminars that we have attended together were pretty good. He's been to seminars that were almost downright hostile. Has anyone else had any type of experience like this? What have you done to get past it?
There were some suggestions like forcing people to work with different partners on the first day, but then letting people work with people from their own school on the second day so they can collaborate and be able to take the material back to their own schools better. Miller did this at his seminar and it seemed to work pretty well. It was only a one day seminar that I attended but by the end of the day it wasn't a big deal/awkward to go introduce yourself to someone and change partners every time.
I've decided that the next seminar I go to I am going to make a point to try to get there early and talk to as many people as I can before the seminar starts and during the breaks. To introduce myself and find out who they are and where they come from and what they study. This is going to be a huge challenge as I am actually pretty shy when I have to face people in person. In fact, I've gotten so nervous I've thrown up before! However, this is really important to me, so I want to push myself outside my comfort zone. We grow through challenge and adversity, not by staying in our safety zone.
So if I see you at the next seminar, you can bet I'm going to try to come over and talk to you. And if I suddenly dash off while we are talking, please don't be offended, I might be throwing up in the bathroom because I am so nervous, but by golly I'm gonna make the effort!