Gurus are people who may genuinely have insights and experience but they are “still susceptible to all of the normal human failings of greed and narcissism and there really is no circumstance where you can more fully exploit your egocentric desires…than being a guru – its like the ultimate rock star experience, especially in a traditional context where you getting this sort of Eastern authoritarian very hierarchical structure imposed on the relationship between teacher and disciple……I think it’s a relationship that needs a modern rethinking…I think you just have to lose the hierarchy and think of a teacher as one who has an expertise…they have more experience in something than you do and you want to learn this thing but this like learning to play the piano or to hit a golf ball …something that doesn’t have the same component of projection…the crazy dynamics.”
Neuroscientist Sam Harris on The Kevin Rose Show
We might think about this idea in our relationship to our Sifus (and other people and groups we admire with great passion). I’ve seen some some interesting (and sometimes destructive and debilitating and distorted) relationships between students and their teachers in martial arts, this desire to put the teacher on a pedestal and to believe they have magic powers and are some sort of elevated being. The more I learn the mechanics and developmental processes behind martial arts, the more I realized that fighting is just a skill that can be learned, like playing the piano. In some cases, it can take a very long time. Some people have more aptitude and some are willing to put in a lot more work than others. So in the edge cases, when you run into someone that is way more skilled than you, maybe even more skilled than you thought possible, they might start to seem capable of feats bordering on the magical.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Science Fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke
Fighting skills are like learning a musical instrument. You can learn to make beautiful and amazing music that is magical, but it is not magic. No one is thinking that their piano teacher is some sort of higher being. We are often looking for something and someone to believe in and we find people who have knowledge and skills we admire and we put aside some of our rational faculties and in some cases throw our lives on the pyre for the person we admire. But they are always just people. There is this concept called “levels of development” in psychology. It describes the fact that people can often be better than average or even a genius in one area, but under-developed in another. So they may be a martial genius, but bad at business. Or they might be self-absorbed. They might not be the sort of person who has the best interests of their students at heart. They might be more interested in showing off and cultivating awe than in communicating how it all works and how to get to where they are.
Something to think about!