Senior-junior relationship seems to mean something completely different here in the U.S. than it does in Asia (or rather, I should say in Japan, since that’s where I am from and know well).
Asian thinking says that the senior person should be respected for what he or she has accomplished to get to that position; therefore, junior person should follow his or her way without questioning it, regardless of potential differences in opinions. The American way, on the other hand, is to follow our own thinking. If it is in disagreement, then challenge him or her to get our way.
I think there’s a place for both ways in our lives. The way of questioning had its contribution to advancements in technology and culture. But when it comes to Martial Art, I much prefer the Asian way, and it’s probably evident in how I teach and be taught. The vibe I am getting is that I insist that way, simply because I am Asian and I am used to it that way; or because Taekwondo is an Asian art, and that’s simply how it is in Asia.
That’s not so. Here, I thought I’d discuss some of why I tend to stick with the Asian way.
As mentioned above, senior-junior relationship is commonly more strict in Asia. This is not limited to just Martial Art, but also true in schools, corporate world, and even sports such as baseball. I admit, that sometimes this creates awkward situations that I don’t care for.
I have never worked in the Japanese corporate world personally, but I have friends who do. I hear that employees simply will not (cannot?) leave work until their supervisor/superior officer goes home. While I’ll probably follow their way if I were there, partly so I wouldn’t look like a slacker, I’d still hate every minute of extra work hours.
But I still think this senior-junior relationship is important in Martial Art. Why?
The short answer to this question is simple: because it is the proven way that works.
Martial Arts has a long history, way beyond my lifetime. During its long history, it has evolved and progressed to become what it is today. Who am I to reinvent the methods that made the Martial Art so strong over the years, after only a decade of training I’ve had? That’s like a blink of an eye compared to this long history of Martial Art.
So why is it effective? I am no expert, but here is my analysis.
Martial Art allows anyone to be able to do super-human feat. While we are individually different, and some will have easier time to get to a certain level than others, one thing is still clear: to be able to do more than what others can do, we must train harder than others.
But are we capable of physically pushing ourselves to the levels required to accomplish this constantly and consistently on our own? There are some who are, but my guess is that the most of us are not (I know I am not). It is extremely hard to push ourselves beyond the limitation that our mind unconsciously created.
Some of methods employed to accomplish this can be strange, extremely difficult, and/or unconventional.
To get the full benefit out of the training, the instruction must be followed completely to the best of ability, and that means the instructor requires full trust, without questioning. Changing it at discretion of individual student might make the training much less effective.
Also, I believe having this relationship creates more intense atmosphere, and intensity can help pushing a student to train harder. Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but my personal experience tells me that I work harder with authoritative figures around than with just my friends. Sure, it may be more fun and enjoyable to train with friends, but I tend not to push myself to the level necessary for advancements.
I realize that this way is far from perfect. For one thing, for this relationship to work at its best, senior individuals must be trustworthy and willing to share their complete knowledge. In the worst case scenario, I have heard of an instructor taking advantage of students in extremely inappropriate ways.
This is just my analysis, and many will probably not reach the same conclusion that I did. And that is okay.
However, I wanted to share my thoughts, so that everyone at least knows why I behave in certain ways on the floor of our school, and hopefully won’t think that I am blindly trying to follow the tradition or disrespect the American way. It is because I believe it can generate the best result for fellow students who have the same goal as I do…to be stronger, faster, and more skillful.