This article at the above link is one of the best I've read in a long time. Let me explain…no, there is too much. Let me sum up.
Atul Gawande is a surgeon. In fact, he is an outstanding one based on his accomplishments. He is questioning the established methodologies used by doctors. Here are a few key points made in the article.
“as in almost any human endeavor that is complicated, there is a bell curve. There are some who are on the poor end of the curve, there are a few who are at really the top, the great end, and then there are the vast majority of us in the mediocre middle. And there is a real distance between the bottom and the top.”
According to Gawande, what distinguishes a great doctor doesn’t turn out to be genius or brains, science or skill. Successful doctors don’t “have a pill no one else knows about,” he says. What they do have is an outstanding ability to monitor failure and learn from it. They identify and seize opportunities for small changes that end up making a big difference. ... What made the success possible, he says, is a “willingness to recognize failure and innovate."
In great doctors, “their ego was not so overwhelming that it prevented them from seeing the facts of the situation.”
“In a certain way, I’m attracted to blunt criticism. I ended up in surgery where there is the general sense that when you are in training, no one is there to make sure your ego is not hurt. People put it to you straight: ‘You suck at this. You’re better at that. Do less of this and more of that.’” Today, when Gawande hands over an essay to the New Yorker, he prepares himself to see its flaws. “I always make myself think, there has got to be something we can do here that will make it better.”
By no means am I comparing what we do in martial arts to anything as vital as a surgeon and his skills. What I am saying is the mindset he is talking about is exactly what I have been asking, demanding actually, people in the Icho Ryu group to develop.
For far too long, what was imposed on people in Icho Ryu due to Bernie not taking an active leadership role was an attitude that created stagnation in students as well as the teachers since it relied on dogma. By that I mean an American militarized version of Japanese etiquette used as a means of keeping people in place, rather than challenge them to learn.
Rank and authority were handed out for the wrong reasons. Training was all to often done by rote and that got very comfortable for people. This is all too common a story by the way. Not that some good people were not involved, they just were not in authority positions and didn't know what to do about the situation.
And then Bernie stuck me in charge and retired.
And as with any drastic change in expectations and methods, the attitude was from many people, "Better the devil you know rather than the devil you don't know who is demanding things be done differently." I believe that I've managed to get most everyone to comprehend that to grow, you can't rest too much upon status. All it took was having having a bunch of people resign or thrown out and A LOT of time spent working at modeling and teaching what I wanted to communicate.
In any case, read this article, perhaps read Atul Gawande's books too. For Icho Ryu members, this is not about being a samurai, continuing a great tradition, pretending to understand Japanese culture by using some Japanese etiquette, basking in the reflected glory of training with someone who earned his status like Bernie did through hard work and personal sacrifice. It's not about acceptance by society and polite behavior so people will like us.
It's about, as Bernie put it "Through training, research, and further development, we can get better at this."
If there is anything I get out of this article it is a sense I can do more to live up to what budo is supposed to be teaching me about life in and out of the dojo. I hope all of you reading this (and training in what ever martial art is your preferred way) feel the same.