Sensei


When I get very frustrated or scared by life, I tend to do something somewhat strange: I look for martial arts schools. Then, after a little searching, I realize why I'm not finding what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for a martial arts school, but a sensei (or sifu, or "teacher"). Oh sure: I'd like to be strong like that (head-crackin' strong) and learn stuffs related to inner peace and balance (and head-crackin') but, as with my early demands on directors, I'm actually seeking guidance. More specifically, I'm seeking someone I can respect and who can rearrange me into someone who makes sense. You know: someone like Pat Morita. Thank you for that, My Childhood. When you have a moment, I'd also like to discuss the long-term psychological effects of way over-prioritizing Thundercats time.

It appeals to me on many levels. Martial arts offer the masochistic side of me a delightful little playground of self-induced torture, which is ultimately always more relaxing to me than, say, relaxing on a beach in San Juan. (The distinction between relaxation and exhaustion has always been for me a rather tenuous one.) It's also plain ol' simple. Now, there is nothing simple about the actual martial arts, but there can be something basic about them in the sense in which they are often portrayed in film: montages of incredible repetition. If you just, keep, smacking, that, granite, post, it, will, break, with, a, tre, men, dous, sense of catharsis. And there is the head crackin', of course. I'm not too proud to confess the personal appeal of that brute mastery over the world's greatest prey. Yeah, okay: I have some issues.

THAT'S WHY I NEED A SENSEI!

Look, my desire is deep-rooted and sincere, in spite of what may come across in my "humor" here. I'm also aware, however, that I'm making an essentially juvenile error of perception. The movies tell us that the mentor in this sense will initially be inscrutable and/or terrorizing, then there will follow a sort of hazing by which one is broken down, only to rally at the last possible moment and prove him or her self to be worthy of the master's heretofore latent genius. Then this paradigm is relentlessly repeated, in smaller incidents, until it all culminates in one final, intense repetition of the story -- usually some ultimate competition or battle. The student is punished relentlessly through Herculean (albeit exceedingly brief) trials, barely surviving to see the end, whereupon s/he wins the day with some detail from the previous repetitions that makes the audience feel that thrill of a conflict between surprise and expectation. And then, somehow, the student does something to show us that s/he hasn't really changed at all -- s/he had it in her/him all the time/time.

I don't mean to say the hope depicted here is juvenile. Hope is great stuff. Then again, so is a realistic relationship to one's environment. We undervalue sanity in the movies, and that's all to the good. It makes it easier to agree amongst ourselves (read: appeal to a large audience). In the rest of life, hope -- like love -- needs a support. It is, of itself, not a true virtue. Both may be necessary (and I believe they are) but they aren't virtues. Hope is a thing with wings, but not a cargo jet. Get not me wrong: I love hope (and I hope love?). It's just that, we sweat and bleed and nothing is as simple as a montage would have us believe. Even with a continuous rock'n'roll soundtrack (sorry iPod [I may need to lay off the parenthetical statements {for a little while}]).

No, what's juvenile is putting one's hope into any one person, and I include oneself in that estimation. Even if we are the hidden master of Wushu, we're absolutely going to need support once in a while, and usually at the time we most revile the idea of asking for it. We need one another. It's in this sense that the allegory in a good ol' pulling-up-bootstraps film does indeed have relevance to one's life philosophy: We need teachers, and we need students, and we can never be certain which of these we are at a given moment. The mainstream movies are made for simplifying -- or distilling, if you prefer -- this kind of complexity into a nice, iconic story for the masses. So maybe it makes sense that on an individual level, this sensei paradigm doesn't work in the same way. It is too unique, too dynamic. Too valuable.

All I'm saying is, it feels better with a sensei, and if you have a single, universal sensei, then it's a whole lot less fuss. I mean, I'll still be smacking this granite post over here if you need me, but it would be a lot more fun if I could blame it on someone else. Let's commence to the head crackin' climactic battle already! Yes, sensei, may I have another?!
 
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