Meeting a Master of the Way on the Way

If you meet a Master of the Way on the Way,
Greet him neither by bowing or not bowing.

Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about manners. As a student of several martial arts, I have come to appreciate that each art has something to offer. There are no bad arts or good arts, just arts that each teach us something different or teach us the same thing differently. Back in the early 1990s, I started practicing Kyudo (The Way of the Bow). For those of you that don’t know, Kyudo is Japanese Meditative Archery. I was fortunate enough to have had a very gifted instructor, Shibata Sensei XX. He has taught me more than I can ever put into words, but all of his teachings can in part be summarized with one word, manners. When a person practices Kyudo, they cut through thinking mind with the sword of the shot and they are therefore able to see their true nature. The problem that most students don’t realize is that the shot might be the teacher of the student, but the manners are the teacher of the shot. The perfection of the shot can be achieved only when manners have been perfected. Without manners, there is no shot, or if there is a physical shot it is an illusion and the teaching of the shot is a delusion. If I learned anything from Kyudo it is those true manners that are one of the most important lessons that any martial art instructor can teach.

Through manners, we are able to practice our art in such a way that the inevitable outcome is a disciplined mind. A disciplined mind allows for the development of a disciplined body. That in turn disciplines the mind to a greater degree and that in turn disciplines the body to a greater degree…. The cycle continues and compounds the beneficial gains over and over. However, it all starts with manners.

When a student first starts taking Taekwondo, they are taught the foundations of the art’s manners. They are taught how to bow, how to address and interact with their instructors, they are taught the various ceremonies that make up a typical class, etc. Every time they go to class these manners are reinforced through both positive and negative motivation, and with time these manners become part of the student. Unfortunately, a great number of these students’ manners are illusions, even though they don’t realize it. They go around playing the role of a student that has good manners, fooling themselves and their instructors, unawares of this simple truth that what they are doing is a sham. It is true they are not to blame but unfortunately, they will never reap the benefit of true manners in their practice.

So who is to blame? The instructors are of course. Students are a reflection of their instructors. If an instructor has a bad quality, it is reflected and amplified by their students. Therefore, if an instructor’s manners are an illusion, so are all of their students’ manners. No matter how hard an instructor might try, they cannot teach something that they themselves do not possess. It would be like trying to reflect your brown hair, as blonde, in a mirror when you stand in front of it.

So, I ask all of you that are reading this, how will you greet a Master of the Way on the Way?