The Cleaning Cult (Part II)
by, 06-10-2011 at 23:57 (2345 Views)
"The Cleaning Cult" (continued from Part I)
So what does this have to do with anything??
Right....so here's the warp and woof of it. There is a Japanese cultural tendency to put one through the paces of a business, club or martial art. There's much more of a "fraternity" feel to the whole process than what I experienced in the West. Although it is true that there is a "Frat" feel to the martial arts as experienced in the Western world, in Japan this more an integral part of it. In general one can come to expect this when entering a dojo, and if you aren't put through a kind of rigamarole then you belong to a very progressive group or in the worst case: they see you as a visitor. If you go through it, do your part, act the junior and learn what is expected of you then you get to stay on to become a senior. Many times this rite of passage is welcomed as it lays one into the folds of things. The scrutiny of the instructor, the constant pointers and tweaks that take place and the frustration of not being able to do something properly and going over and over it again are in fact, wanted attention. More into it, everyone takes part in the cleaning; on wood floors they bend over, put the rag on the floor in front and run behind it hoping not to slip and fall on their heads. In a tatami room, one usually sits on the tatami and draws the rags towards oneself in a left to right motion, scooting backwards along the mats to reach the end. But almost always the juniors who get the rags and prepare for the ritual cleaning and they are the ones who are summoned to do the most menial of chores. So while in fact everyone does the cleaning, a pecking order is established by who delivers and who waits.
That being said, there is an extension of this within Japanese martial arts and while it serves to be helpful, it can also be detrimental. I personally like the idea of cleaning the dojo, and keeping it fit and tidy. I think there is a lot to be said for that. I've also experienced good things with initiation and for lack of a better term, what I call "weeding" during training: the tendency to go over and over something until it simply bleeds frustration, tears and sweat does have rewards. Yet, I have seen it backfire when it's propelled by hubris and inanity and it can drive people to leave the martial arts. There is a very slippery slope one can go down, that without particular care, can lead to a form of harassment by senior students- in the workplace it's called "ijime". By using their position, their right, the seniors can force the juniors to do things to humiliate them and many times get away with it. It's part of the group-think, and it has become a HUGE problem in the workplace. My guess is that it is bleeding in from society to other things.
This is comparable to Origami. You practice making perfect folds time and time again and then you are able to create something new. While scrutinizing the paper folds, working on the connection that they make with one another, you can create something other than a wrinkled up ball of waste-basket fodder. What is important is that each segment serves as a means to an end. Those means must be made clear, they must be detailed and the seniors must play their part in helping, not hindering. The complete lack of hubris is what this hinges on, IMHO, as the cogs in the system start to jam if egoism and sadism enter into the mix. The big picture must be maintained by the individual, the folds must serve the greater good to end up with a neat-o looking animal shape. If not one just folds paper endlessly without any point it is wasteful and eventually frustrates the folder.
In my mind's eye it's the inability to see the big picture, to look past the scrutiny and the treatment as an inferior that also becomes a problem. Just like in the cleaning scenario at my first job in Japan, people can tend to lose their way in the forest if they just focus on the bark of the tree (in this case, the bark around the trunks of the tree). By my reckoning there is a a generation of modern sports enthusiast budoka who train hard and long, without really understanding what they are training for. It becomes self serving and about "me". The same might be said of their teachers, who really don't get it either (worse, they do and they don't explain it), which places the odds against the student, only "getting it" with a fleeting moment of clarity in a the fog. It's discipline for discipline's sake because it's culturally expected and not because it serves any real or meaningful purpose. This is not unlike checking for dirt under the fingernails of a severed hand and then proclaiming "here's your problem" then handing the severed appendage back to it's owner. The whole thing can end up missing the mark.
I personally do not believe this is anything particular to Japan. It's a situation that bleeds into scenarios back home in the United States as well (and I suspect other places). There may be different reasons for it, however the problem seems to be fundamentally the same on a deep seated level. Many enter a school, get some training, leave and then start to assemble a group of students. Without that scrutiny from a trained eye, this leads to other problems, but that is best left for another time. The focus here is on the weeding. If one has not been properly "weeded", without a clear intention as to why, without any indication of being put under the microscope (in kata, this is called "Oyo" -application or "Bunkai" -dissection) there is a tendency to fit things together with the imagination. To those ends one binds things together which do not necessarily go together. The result is a hop-shod Frankenstein's monster, a porridge of bits and pieces. A few folds in Origami that really don't make anything. When that happens you lose track of the big picture. Sometimes it works out...sometimes it comes full circle, but many times it doesn't.
So what am I getting at?
Clean what needs to be cleaned with efficiency, do things with a purpose and above all think, think, think.