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Question Everything (Politely)

I am hapa, half Caucasian and half Japanese. My father was born in Georgia and my mother was born in Fukuoka (on the island of Kyushu in Japan). Because of my mixed race and background, I tend to view things in a mixed way.

As an American, whenever I hear something, I question it. Why is it so? Is it true? Who says so? Are there exceptions? My mind races with questions.

As a semi-Japanese, whenever I hear something, I accept it, particularly if the statement is by a senior. I think, "yes, yes."

Actually, my views are even more extreme. On one side, I disagree with just about everything. If someone says, "you should do this," I will want to do just the opposite. On my other side, I am more likely to blindly follow authority.

It can drive you a little crazy.

In Karate, how are we to react when our Sensei tells us something? In the Japanese style, the student should say, "Yes Sensei," and accept it. In the American way, the student might start asking questions.

In the old Japanese teaching system, there was really no place for questions. The teachers taught and the students listened. If a student asked a question, the teacher might take it as a sign of disrespect or as a challenge of his authority. The teacher might snap back, "I expained that already! You should have listened!"

If a Karate student asked his Sensei, "does that technique really work?" the Sensei might proceed to demonstrate the technique on the student (in a particularly painful manner).

In Karate, we have to walk a fine line of being respectful and also asking good questions. If we really do not understand something, I feel that it is best to ask a question. However, this might be handled best in private, unless the Sensei has expressed or shown a willingness to address questions in open class.

We should ask the questions in a respectful way. I tend to phrase questions in terms of my own lack of understanding. I might say, "I am sorry Sensei, but I did not quite understand that. Could you please explain it again?" I would not say, "Sensei, that made no sense!" or "you said something different yesterday!"

I do not like blind obedience to anything or anyone. I feel that it is best to question everything (politely). If you wrestle with a question and come to an understanding, you will truly understand the subject. But if you simply accept a statement, you have merely memorized it.

In addition, there is a tendency in some Karate schools to almost worship the Sensei. If a Sensei abuses his position and acts irresponsibly, a student has to have the good sense to recognize it. Can you imagine possible the consequences of blind obedience to an "bad" Sensei? A Sensei is a person. So are you.

Again, I also believe that it is important to be polite. Most Sensei are kind, genuine people. But even then, blind obedience is dangerous, and will not help you to understand Karate.

A teacher who is afraid of questions probably does not have the answers. In constrast, a teacher who is willing to accept questions probably knows the answers or is willing to find them.

Questioning in part of the learning process. Even when you become the Sensei, you will continue to question things and yourself. (Hopefully.)

But I don't expect you to accept what I say -- I wouldn't.


Charles C. Goodin