Monday, February 18, 2013

Paying your dues

How long do you have to be in a group before you’ve earned certain rights or privileges?   The easy answer to that is: “it depends on the group.”  It’s usually a much more complex answer than that, however.

Has the 15-year green belt (middle rank) paid their dues more than the 7-year black belt?  If someone who was the star in one group joins another group, do those “dues” transfer over? 

I’ll use myself as an example.  After 20 years with SJT, I like to think I’ve paid my dues for the most part.  While I could have and could still do more, I’ve been around a long time and been through a lot in my group.  It doesn’t mean I can slack off more or stop trying to get better, but if I want to tell people how to strike the odaiko better or explain how a rhythm should *feel*, I think I've “earned” the right to do that.  While our group is pretty democratic in that we can all make comments like that, what I say may have more “weight” because of my time and experience.

However, when I go to taiko gatherings like the NATC, this concept gets distorted quite a bit.  To people new to the art, they might not know me…from Adam (sorry, had to say it) and my 20 years doesn’t mean squat to them.  To others, they might feel like my experience makes what I say into gold; the other extreme.  Then when I hang around with the “classics” (those who have been around longer than I have and may have founded groups), my 20 years might seem like a small achievement and my dues aren't really "paid up".  I may never feel that I've paid my dues as much in that circle.  But that’s ok, it’s not really a goal.

There’s really no danger in feeling like you haven’t paid your dues, unless you self-deprecate to absurdity.  But there is a real danger in feeling like you have to those who don’t agree with you.

Acting as an authority on something before you’ve “earned” that right really undermines what advice you might truly be able to offer.  It's one thing to mentor someone, another to act like it's your place to tell people the right way to do something.  Assuming you get whatever benefits one who has paid their dues does makes you seem arrogant.

In groups that are more hierarchical, this kind of thing still happens.  In my dojo, when we see someone with say, 2 years' worth of experience teaching someone with only 6, we usually stop them.  That person with one year still has plenty to work on for themselves, and it’s not their responsibility to be teaching.  We don’t squash friendly chats or people asking general questions of those of higher rank, but teaching techniques and the like is considered bad form.

There's really no easy way to determine when you've "paid your dues" in a group.  But since the penalties for assuming are much worse (and long-lasting) than not, it's often better to give it a lot more time than you think is necessary.  And finally, if it's important for you - if it's a goal - to get there, ask yourself why?

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