After 15 years or so of exercise with the bokken, shinai and katana (wooden, bamboo and life blade Japanese swords) I met a new, my final Iaido-teacher. Though, not on eye-level, from expert to expert I met him. I joined his class as a beginner, put away my prior knowledge, my pride and my katana and started practising the basics with the wooden sword, the way he taught us.
“We say, you can’t teach an old dog news tricks”, he told us, “but you must become like old dogs learning new tricks!” After some years of working with him, and later using my katana in class again, before he left us, I got some old books from him and the allowance to teach his style in my Dojo to my students. (Alas, I must admit, I did not understand enough of his way of the sword, so I am still practising alone …)
When I do Zazen, I always try to improve my posture, my breathing. Every time on my pillow, I tell myself that me old dog must work hard on that new trick, called Zazen. This morning, at Gyoten Zazenkai (Zazen at dusk) at my Dojo, for the first time in my life I could sit in a full lotus posture (both feet upon the legs). So far, I was convinced, this is impossible for me, due to the geometry of my legs. What a surprise! I am glad that I never gave up trying…
Though, it was painful, as always, when something new is about to happen, and beloved old habits must be given up.
Once I read the story of an old master who asked his students to break his legs, when he was about to die, so that at least once in his life he can sit Zazen in the correct posture. It seems, it is never too late for an old dog willing to learn, though it might be more painful and require more efforts later in your life.