Tag Archives: George Bateson

Ties That Bind and Binds That Tie

21 Mar
The following is submitted for all journeymen who chose to live life rather than merely exist. Although the following tale is based upon actual events that occurred within my Karate-Do Dojo, named the Issho-Dojo (Lifetime Dojo), the concepts espoused apply to all who have found themselves in situations where external demands appear to impose a no-win situation. This article is respectfully dedicated to all who have suffered the so called ties that bind, binds that tie and the no-win situation.
My Issho-Dojo, which at the time, was located in East Rutherford, New Jersey had many students pass through its doors. They learned from me and, as is the case in all true teacher-student relationships, I learned from them. The following events occurred one hot, steamy, humid New Jersey summer night. I was teaching the final class for the evening. Heat and humidity notwithstanding, I am not particularly fond of air-conditioning. As such, the Dojo is simply ventilated, through an open door with the assistance of a simple fan placed on the floor. I am not cold-hearted and do occasionally turn on the 20 year old air-conditioning unit. I find that if I flick the electric switch on for about a ten second duration every hour and then turn it off, the ancient cooling unit provides the faintest wisp of cool air. The most efficient cooling system in the Dojo is the human body which cools itself through the process of “bio-mechanical heat exchange”, commonly known as perspiration. In the Issho Dojo there is never a lack of such bio-mechanical heat exchange. With that background in mind, it must be understood that on that fateful evening, the Dojo was hot and steamy. There was only about ten minutes left in the final class when I noticed that one student named Daniel was beginning to tire. Daniel had trained with me for about five years and was a good student. Daniel was ranked as a Ni-Kyu (second grade) Brown Belt. Yes, five years and Daniel was “only” a brown belt (See Endnote 1). Daniel was also the “Dai-Sempai” (oldest Brother) of the class, and as such, had a bit of “clout”.
Daniel was clearly showing the effects of the heat and humidity. Given the number of years that Daniel had attended the Dojo, he was self-assured in his physical capabilities. This indicated to me that it was time to challenge Daniel’s mind and spirit. I looked at Daniel and asked him, “Daniel, are you tired?” Daniel was forthright in his reply, “Yes, Sensei, I am.” Daniel was about to enter the realm of what is known as the “double-bind” situation. I addressed the student body, “Okay class, Daniel is tired so it is time for everyone to perform a Kata to wake Daniel up.” I then commanded the students and Daniel to perform a Kata. Now, to be sure, the last thing the students wanted to do was another Kata in the hot steamy Dojo. Further, it was clearly apparent that the group was not particularly fond of having to perform a Kata because Daniel, the Dai-Sempai, was tired.
After the student body performed the Kata, I commanded them to line-up in the formation that would normally indicate the end of class. I again turned to Daniel and asked, “Daniel, are you tired?” Daniel was a quick learner. It was clear that he did not desire to have the group perform another Kata because of his tiredness. He stood straight and tall, looked me directly in the eye and responded, “Thank-you Sensei, I am no longer tired.” I appeared satisfied with Daniel’s reply. I addressed the students, “This is a lesson in the ability of Kata to rejuvenate.“ “Daniel was tired, and having performed Kata, he overcame his tiredness.” I then proceeded to tell the students, “Since Daniel has new found energy, we should celebrate his rejuvenation by performing another group Kata.” I again commanded the group, naturally including Daniel, to perform the most demanding Kata in the Mokuroku No Kata (catalogue of Kata). Once again I commanded the students to line-up in formation. I am sure that the students truly believed that class was now (finally) over. To capitalize on their belief, I asked Daniel to issue the command to have the students kneel in the seiza position. The kneeling seiza position is used to execute the formal bowing ceremony that starts and ends class.
Daniel, much relieved commanded, “Isshon-ni, Seiza” (All assume seiza). The students gratefully knelt in the position. I also assumed the seiza position and faced the class. As is the custom of the Dojo, I asked the students if they had any questions or comments. The students, one-by-one replied that they did not. For dramatic effect, I continued with the ceremony. I turned on my knees so that my back was to the class and faced the “Instructor’s Wall” of the Dojo. This wall has photographs of my Sensei hanging. The students awaited my command to bow to these photographs in a show of respect to my Sensei and the lessons imparted to me, which I in turn impart to my students. I paused. I then turned back to face the class. The students faces transformed into looks of woe. I looked directly at Daniel and asked, “Daniel, are your tired?” Daniel looked at me and in the most honest fashion possible replied, “Sensei, I do not know how to answer.” I did not want to be derelict in my obligations as Sensei. As such, I could not allow Daniel to leave class in such a befuddled state. So to clear Daniel’s mind, I informed the students, “We must all stand and perform yet another Kata to clear Daniel’s mind before we leave.“ Daniel, had experienced one of many variations of the double-bind” situation. As we all do in life, I am sure Daniel will encounter many more such double-binds. You all have heard the expression, “Ties that bind.” The double bind is a “Bind that ties (your ability to think freely and act spontaneously).”
The anthropologist Gregory Bateson noted the similarity of the Zen Koan technique to the double-bind. The double-bind neutralizes the ego by paralyzing it (See Endnote 2). In this context, ego is defined as the conditioned aspect of self (see Endnote 3). The ego self cannot handle the no-win oscillation from one option to another in such a transaction as this: If you say this dog is Buddha, I will hit you. If you say this dog is not Buddha, I will hit you. If you say nothing, I will hit you.The imperative conditions that create the double-bind are (a) that two (or more) people are involved and (b) there is a bond between these two people that (presumably) cannot be broken. The situation is such that the person in the double-bind has temporarily surrendered his ego autonomy. Of course, once the jump to a new context of living takes place, an event called “satori”, the job of the master is accomplished and he lovingly releases the double-bind. The nature of the double-bind is that the “victim” cannot confront the inherent dilemma and therefore can neither comment on the conflict, nor resolve it, nor opt out of the situation.
The double bind is often misunderstood to be a simple contradictory situation, where the victim is trapped by two conflicting demands. While it is true that the core of the double bind is two conflicting demands, the differences lie in how the conflicting demands are imposed upon the victim, what the victim’s understanding of the situation is and finally, who (or what) imposes these demands upon the victim. Unlike the usual no-win situation, the victim has difficulty defining the exact nature of the paradoxical situation in which he or she is. Typically, the demand is imposed upon the victim by someone who they respect (a parent, teacher and the like), but the demand itself is inherently impossible to fulfill because some broader context forbids it. (See Endnote 4).
Let us re-examine Daniel’s dilemma. No matter how Daniel responded to my question or if he did not respond, I was going to command the class to perform a Kata. Daniel and the entire student body assumed that the alleged cause of the punishment (of having to perform yet another Kata) was Daniel’s purportedly unwise reply. Daniel voluntarily surrendered his ego to my questioning in fear that there would be a repercussion for an improper answer. By surrendering his ego, Daniel did not realize that there was no proper answer. Regardless of his reply, he and all the students would be required to perform a Kata. Daniel and the class were subject to my authority. They knew they could not decline my command to perform a Kata. For those readers that lack martial arts experience, it is axiomatic that within the Dojo, the word of Sensei is absolute law (by the consent of those governed) (See Endnote 5).
In all the years since that eventful night for Daniel, I was always struck by the fact that not one student offered advice to Daniel as to how he should respond to my question. Suppose you were in the Issho-Dojo on that hot, steamy, humid New Jersey night, how would you assist Daniel, or better yet, if you were in Daniel’s place, how would you answer my fourth inquiry as to “Are you tired?” There are many possible replies. In fact, there is no “correct” answer. I offer the following reply as an answer which, had I received from Daniel, I would have released him from the bind.
“Sensei, I am physically well and clear of mind. I wish to thank you for the experience, so may I and the rest of the students perform a Kata to show our appreciation for the lesson? “
In this manner, Daniel, the victim, removes the threat of giving an “incorrect” answer. He freely and voluntarily accepts the so-called “punishment” in a manner in which the contentment of the punishment is denied to me as the instigative inquisitor. The result is that the dilemma no longer exists for the victim.
I suggest that in either a double-bind situation, or in a perceived no-win situation, evaluate first, a change of context and second the severity of the punishment. If you can, redefine the context. In the Dojo tale, neither Daniel nor the class could change the context. By entering the Dojo they acquiesced their authority to me as their Sensei. (See Endnote 6). If you cannot redefine the context, then evaluate the severity of the so-called punishment. If the punishment (physical or emotional) can be borne without long-term dire harm, then break the bond by voluntarily undertaking the punishment so as to undermine the contextual authority and break the double-bind.
Many years have passed since that fateful night. Since then I have experienced situations that, at first glimpse, presented themselves as either a double-bind, or a no win situation. In such times, I remember my student Daniel, who taught me how to re-evaluate and redefine situations which impose ties that bind and binds that tie. Until my next article, I hope you travel unbound through your life’s journey. I remain, 

 Sensei John Szmitkowski, Soke, Jiriki Kata-Do
 The reader may wish to consider the evolutionary process of self-discovery as set forth in my article entitled Dante’s Issho Dojo which is filed in the category Martial Ideology & Life.
For more on either Sanchin Kata as meditation or my new book on Sanchin Kata, please feel free to visit my website WWW.Dynamic-Meditation.Com.
1. For those martial artists who are accustomed to rank being linked to time spent at a Dojo, or the length of a financial contract, please see the Memorial Page of this blogsite so as to obtain an understanding of rank in Shihan DeFelice’s style of Goshin-Do Karate-Do that I teach.
2. Goswami, Amit, The Self-Aware Universe, (G.P. Putnam & Sons, New York, NY, 1993) p. 240 Citing: Bateson, G., Steps To An Ecology Of Mind, (Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1972).
3. Goswami, Id. p. 277.
4. Goswami, Id. p. 240.
5. This phrase comes from Shihan Peter Urban and may be found in several of his works, including The Karate Dojo and The Karate Sensei. Both are highly recommended.
 6. The subject of escaping the double-bind by changing the context of the relationship is beyond the scope of this article; however, I offer the following illustration. Within the psychoanalytical field, there is the following illustration of a double bind imposed by a parent upon a child. A parent tells a child, “Do this task, or you will be punished.“ The also tells the child that such punishment is because “I love you”; however as this is said the parent physically frowns and turns their back to the child. Thus, indicating something other than the love espoused. As the parent walks away, the parent adds “Do the task only if you want to”. Psycho analysis says that the child is in a double-bind because 1) The task must be done, or they will be punished, 2) Punishment is doled out as a manifestation of verbal love while the physical body language of the parent dictates otherwise, and 3) an illusory choice is given to the child to determine whether or not to do the task. It is clear that the child cannot change the context of the relationship because the child cannot usurp the authority of the parent. I suggest that the child (assuming a sufficient level of emotional growth) can break the psychology of the double-bind by changing the emotional context as follows, “My parent, I will voluntarily perform the task because I desire to show you I love you as much as you love me.” I suggest that the statement breaks the (emotional) context of the double-bind.
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