Thursday, April 6, 2017

Question Everything: Dogma

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We all get taught things along our path.  Teachers here, instructors there, sensei and peers and people you didn't expect to get lessons from will all teach you something.

But when does it become dogma?  When do you believe something so much to be true, either because the person saying it means so much to you, or because it makes you feel good to believe in it?

When do you recognize the dogma you subscribe to and what do you do about it?

In my karate organization, for the rank of black belt I'm looking at next, I have to be able to interpret any sequence of movements from any of the myriad kata (forms) I know.  What is this block into this block into this movement into this punch actually supposed to be doing?  What is the attacker doing to cause me to warrant this sequence of moves?

There's an argument that says the movements should not be taken literally, that they teach concepts of movement and mechanics that can be adapted to suit the situation and preferences.  But the other school of thought says that the movements are to be done almost exactly as they are in the form, and it's up to the practitioner to understand the lessons hidden within.

I'm much for the former.  But our organization, the people who will be judging me, are for the latter.  And so I struggle under this but ultimately I have to follow the rules if I want to advance.  I can talk to others about my opinions, I can argue my case with people on both sides, but I'm not going to be able to change the system.  If the former is important enough to me (and it is), I will have to study that on my own but also train to do/explain what the requirements tell me to do/explain.

The dogma of my style, of my organization are clear, although at first I wasn't as aware of them, and now I can choose how I react to this information.  But this dogma is quite established.

A more extreme form of dogma in martial arts is when you have dubious schools that focus on harnessing energy to do extraordinary things, like drop an attacker without touching them, make people lose balance with just a light touch, etc.  The students have convinced themselves so convincingly (usually through the instructor's reinforcement) that these skills MUST work, that they do.  Even when they only work because of that belief, and not for or on anyone else.  This is an extreme form of dogma, but not too hard to fine.

In taiko, I see people adhere to different dogma, like they do in martial arts.  A certain group is "best".  A certain way of playing is "superior".  The sempai-kohai (senior-junior) infrastructure is the most "beneficial".  Being louder = being a better player.  Etcetera.  Some of these come from a person's own beliefs, but often they are taught and/or magnified from the instructor(s).

My group has its own style, its own set of rules, its own way of making things work effectively.  Some might even call it a dogma.  I find most of it works really well for me, but (and as anyone who knows me can attest), I still question and ask "why" because I want to know, I want to understand - not just swallow, not just absorb.  Even if something turns out to be the best advice I've received, questioning it well will only make it more valuable in the long run because I'll understand it better!

Just understanding that everything you've been taught, everything you know, might not be true, is scary.  Not scary "for some people", scary for all of us!  And it's not easy to speak up, to question, to make the effort to look past what's dangling in front of you.  But if you take away any one thing from my blog, let it be this.  Always, always question.

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