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by Craig Smith
I recently attended the 2nd ceim testing of a student in a Sli Beatha club I advise at Central Missouri State University. The Sli Beatha system is comprised of 33 ceims, or degrees, and the average student will usually test for 2nd ceim after several months of study.
   Intrinsic in the Sli Beatha system, and particularly stressed during the first ten ceims, is a thorough understanding of the principles involved in the various subjects and techniques being studied, so that the student may possess a depth of understanding that will enable him or her to teach others as they, themselves, were taught, and to build original knowledge through their own discovery of how these principles support and interact with one another. Students are taught from the beginning that they are not vessels to be filled with the knowledge of those who teach them, but conduits through which knowledge may flow in undiluted form to others. In this way, each student becomes a part of a dynamic and inter-related process in which they are both learning from and teaching others. It is my opinion that this enhances both the desire to learn and the ability to teach.
   As a result of this philosophy, ceim testing tends to be somewhat lengthy and exhaustive, with the testing of ceim 1-4 candidates taking up to an hour and a half each, and often sounding like the the questioning of an inquisitive child as the person administering the exam continues a pattern of asking, "Why? Why? Why?" to each answer the candidate gives. It is the candidate's ability to answer these "why"s that determines whether they pass the exam, and they are taught from the beginning that the answer is never because someone "says so".
   On this particular occassion, the candidate was naming and explaining the striking surfaces included in the second ceim, which includes the palm heel. After he explained the palm heel, the taoiseach (leader) administering the test asked him if he knew how we used to teach it, and why we had changed. The candidate looked in my direction, and answered, "Because he said so?"
   I reminded him that, while my saying to do something was an expression of my requirement and expectation that it be done, it was never the reason that something should be done. I say things because I believe them to be correct, but they are never correct because I say them. I then went on to tell him and the rest of the class that, although we used to teach the palm heel with the fingers held together, Jim Harrison had shown me a way that I now believed was better.
   Sitting at the dining room table at Bob Boggs' house one night, Jim and I were talking about various things when I asked him his opinion of Bruce Lee. Jim was complimentary of Lee and his abilities, and told me a couple of stories about their times together. He told me about a time when he had taught Lee how to do the Korean heel kicks, and then told me that Lee had shown him a better way to use the palm heel, with the fingers widely splayed and "clawed".
  "Try it", said Jim. I did.
  "What do you notice?", Jim asked me.
   I told him I noticed I was able to get my hand back farther that way, resulting in the palm heel being presented to the target at a better angle.
  "What else?", Jim asked.
   I thought for a moment, but nothing immediately came to mind.
  "What does that position make you want to do next?", Jim prodded.
   Clueless, I appreciated his saving me from further feelings of idiocy by telling me, "It puts your fingers in a better position to attack the eyes."
   As soon as he said it, I understood. And I passed it on to my class. I also told them who had taught it to me, and from whom he had learned it. In this way, they saw how they were a part of an endless teaching/learning process, and also that it is important to credit those from whom you learn.
   Those who are confident of their abilities, regardless of their field. are generally willing to give credit to those who have helped and taught them. They understand that no one, including them, can know it all, and that life is a continuous learning process. They accept, even appreciate, that the world will always be full of people from whom they can learn, and they are ever ready to consider the opinion of others on the merits of those opinions, unfiltered by personal bias or insecurity.
   There are others, of course, whose personal insecurities and lack of practical experience cause them to adopt an air of aloof superiority as a pre-emptive defense against the threatening intrusion of information with which they are not familiar. Behind their carefully manufactured facade of false confidence, and apparent disdain for things outside their own experience, a quivering and fearful soul crouches in the dark corner of their self-doubt, terrified of being questioned, challenged or exposed.
   The difference between the competent man and the con man can be easily recognized by the way each respond to the questions or opinions of others.  The competent man explains or listens, because he is able to explain the foundation upon which his opinions are based, and is ready to give a fair hearing to the thoughts of others, with which he will then agree or disagree on the basis of his own knowledge and experience.  The con man, however, lacking the experience to either form valid opinions of his own or appreciate the opinons of others, will either lash out in anger or retreat into an attitude of superior disdain  -  each designed as a defense against the threat of being revealed as less than the  all-knowing "master" he has promoted himself to be.
   There is an old saying, "There is no smaller package than a man wrapped up in himself."  This is indeed true, as a wrapped package does not allow anything more in from the outside, has been bound in its own self-contained existence, and is threatened by anything that might attempt to open or penetrate it.  The competent person, however, is open to the world, and is ready, willing and able to receive from or contribute to the world around him with a feeling of positive interest and interaction, rather than with the threat and fear of being somehow diminished by such exposure.
   Whether in or out of the martial arts, we see the competent man and the con man constantly at work.  Each attracts others of his kind; the competent man benefiting from the open interchange with other competent men, and the con man constantly threatened by the envy and jealousies of others like him.  And each views the other with disdain.  The difference in the disdain, however, is that while the con man views the competent man with fear and hatred born of envy, the competent man views the con man with simple contempt  -  and rightly so.
   So give credit where credit is due.  And be careful of your associations  -  you will be known by the company you keep.

Giving Credit
Where Credit is Due
Columns by Craig Smith