Beyond Thankful

A few days before Thanksgiving, I was at a parking garage on 27th Street and Broadway and I was going to pay the ticket. I was standing in line when this guy steps to the front and he tries to jump the line. My response was to flex on him a little bit: I postured up and looked at him eye to eye, and it worked. He understood that I wasn’t really having that.

So in the moment I thought to myself, “I was right – he really tried to pull some smart stuff and I shut it down.” But then thirty seconds later, I began to wonder, “What harm would it have done to let this guy just go in front of me and give him a nice gift?” I knew I could wait a couple more seconds. What if I thought, “Hey – be my guest!”

This brings us to the point that we’d like to make about giving thanks during the holiday season. In the past. we’ve encouraged students to take a little time before the end of the year to sit and think about the things that they’re grateful for. That’s the meaning of the holiday, that’s what the intention was. And it’s a very healthy thing: along with the football and the egg nog and the Black Fridays and holiday shopping and New Year’s, taking a minute and being grateful.

But this year, I began to think about the word “Thanksgiving” as a compound of “thanks” and “giving”, and tried to change my approach. What I did this year – and probably most of you do this and I’m late to the party – was to try to have thanks and then keep giving. Not just thanking for the gifts that we have, the blessings that we have, and all the stuff we’ve received this year. But really taking seriously this plan to keep giving, to keep generating, to bestow blessings on others without needing to be reciprocated.

This is what I did at Thanksgiving, and it’s what I’m going to try to do during this holiday season: to give to someone in the next three or four weeks in a way that they cannot repay me for. To create giving through an act of generosity and in doing so, to actualize these two principles: be thankful, and keep giving.

So if you’d like to take it on, it might be a nice experiment to see what we can do with this group, however many of us, just being generous. Yes, be grateful to those around you and think about what has been great about this year. And yes, recognize all the fortunate conditions and situations you’ve experienced in your life. But try, once you’ve done that, to give more than just your thanks – find a way to be generous and give someone else a reason to be thankful also

Shihan Gene Dunn

Student & Teacher

By Professor Lynch

I have long believed that one of the most valuable aspects of martial arts training is the relationship between student and teacher. It doesn’t exist in any other activity or lifestyle in the way it does for us in the martial arts.

There’s no doubt in my mind that it has been an absolutely crucial component to my success.

My teacher plays a unique role in my life because he doesn’t always give me what I *want*, but instead gives me what I *need*. He provides me with what I require for my project of overcoming my own weakest elements.

By endlessly furnishing me with chances to learn, he has helped teach me humility and compassion and generosity. He teaches me how to love my students, training partners and my family more. He continues to teach me how to accept new levels of accountability, responsibility, technical ability…the list goes on and on and on. The things that I’ve learned from him I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For my part, it’s critical that I do everything I can to make sure that our relationship as student teacher stays intact. This is an ongoing process, and because he’s always asking me to revisit and reconsider so many of my creature comforts, I have to guard against my own resistance sometimes.

That means I can’t just toe the line. I have to deliberately keep myself on the “student” side. I do this knowing that he will do what he has to do to stay on the teacher side of the line, and together we keep the relationship alive and healthy.

The most helpful thing I discovered in my own career as a student is also one of the simplest. It goes like this:

“Oss, Professor!”

You see, we’ve already established our relationship and we’ve already earned each other’s trust. I’ve accepted him as my teacher and he has accepted me as his student and we have both accepted the dojo floor as the learning space.

So I feel completely comfortable and confident in saying, “Oss, Professor!”
to just about anything.

Even when I think I might know something, even when I think I might have this situation figured out, it’s still “Oss, Professor!”.

And its not just because he’s always right. It’s because when he is teaching me it’s another moment of another day where he is giving something to me, where he’s taking the time and spending his energy for me.

So “Oss, Professor” is a way to show him that I’m grateful. And to show him that I am his student, and I am always willing and eager to listen.

If I were to stop saying that – or get argumentative or combative or snarky or sarcastic in the face of a suggestion – it would mean that our relationship had changed. Implicit in our “Oss” is an acknowledgement of mutual trust.

Plus I don’t really ever want to present myself to him in a way that says, “I got it all figured out,” because I certainly don’t. That’s why I need a teacher. If I start acting as if I know already – or if I know better – then it’s as good as saying, “Thanks, but I no longer need you.”

The teacher can be such a powerful role-model and mentor that I believe it’s very natural to want to be like your teacher. I know that I am actively emulating the way he approaches Jiu-Jitsu and the way he solves problems. I am always listening intently to the way he communicates his thoughts and vision for the world.

With all the years of trying to be like him, it is tempting to tell myself that I’ve “arrived” – that we are equals, that I’ve learned all the lessons diligently and that now he and I are the same.

It would be so great, I tell myself, because it would mean that I’ve gotten what I always wanted.

But it would also mean that I’ve lost what I always needed: a teacher. Someone who will always see a little more than me. Someone who will always hold me to an incredibly high standard. Someone who will always be the model that I aspire to. Someone who will continue to give and care and love and teach me to be a better person.

I am protective of that relationship. I believe it’s good for me, good for my family, good for my relationships, good for my emotional health. I learn from it daily. And it’s why I’m committed to this notion of humility and gratitude.

“Oss, Professor!”

Black Belt Seminar with Chie Swain

Thank you to all the attendees at Sensei Chie Swain’s seminar at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Clinton Hill! As a bonus, Sensei brought a few (not-so-surprise) guests – husband Mike, daughter Sophia and son Masa. It was truly an honor to watch the precision, clarity and beauty of a master instructor. Enjoy the photos and feel free to share!

The Habit of Action

The martial arts teaches us that motion leads to emotion. No matter how you’re feeling when you show up to training, you always feel better once class is over. That’s because physical movement and activity is linked to better mood and attitude.

It also means we have to take action if we want to see, feel or experience a change in ourselves.