No Open Bills

My former Zen- and Calligraphy teacher used to describe teaching students as throwing a boomerang: one day, all the effort will pay off and come back to you. That said, he was not naive enough to expect a guaranteed return of investment: “maybe, coming back the boomerang will just hit your head” he used to add.

A slightly different point of view had the Master who taught me Aikido: he used to emphasize that he doesn’t have any disciples, because it causes too much trouble. All he gives us, he used to say, are the pearls. It is our job alone to make a necklace out of it.

Teaching Hitsuzendo (photography courtesy of G.A. Stinner).

From this background it may be understood why I hesitate to call those who study Zen and Hitsuzendo (Zen-Calligraphy) with me “my students”. I prefer seeing them as my Companions on The Way, never sure how far ahead or behind my own footsteps might be.

And I hate open bills, hidden contracts and unspoken obligations of any kind.

Whenever someone leaves the Dojo and crosses the doorstep, we are even. No obligation, no burden, nothing to pay back. No boomerang expected to return one day. That is the reason why I charge even my dearest and most beloved “students” a monthly fee: they pay for the lesson they receive, and no obligation to “pay back” remains whatsoever.

I used to study certain Japanese Arts under the so called Iemoto (家元,) system, where the Grandmaster of his (family owned) art/business passes on his wisdom under well defined conditions for a well defined amount of cash. You will never be free, never “own” what you have learned. All you can hope for is to climb the ranks, pay even more money and (if things work well) one day win your own students to charge. In the West, we call such system “franchise”, nothing I want to be associated with.

Doing my own thing (photography courtesy of G.A. Stinner).

To be very honest, I have always shared great sympathy for those men and women doing “their own thing” living alone in an (imagined) cave high up in some (imagined) mountain. Why caring fore someone else who fancies to follow my (imagined) footprints?

It may well be a certain mercy for my younger self. The one, who had the unlikely luck to meet the right elder one at the right time in his life.

The gratefulness for all those who threw their boomerang, just to be hit by me on their head.