The economy of AKBAN – debt in knowledge communities


August 20, 2019
Yossi Sheriff

Debt to the teacher

I make sure a student pays tuition on time. A student should not owe money to his teacher. Paying tuition makes the student-teacher system simpler, I fulfil my obligations to the student and the student fulfils his/her duties: attendance and payment.

About two months ago, a student I did not see in many years came to the Dojo and said he wanted to pay me an old debt. He is now an adult, and it has been many years since he trained, but while recently talking to his mother, he realised that when he was a child they only paid me a very small fee because his family had no money. A nominal fee for a student who has no money is also a fee! And so, during the years I teach, I got paid in children’s paintings and in flowers from those who did not have any money. That’s fine, symbolic payment is a valid payment and a student who paid doesn’t owe me anything later.

The reason for this economy in Akban is related to the inner freedom I want. If, after a student left the dojo, the teacher thinks that the student owes him, that causes big trouble for the teacher, suffering.

A relationship should allow for exhaling and inhaling. If it is not possible to release then it is impossible to put in new air. I try to let go, and succeed. That’s because I like to breathe, one of the survival secrets I teach. This is how I come to Dojo with a happy heart.

Debt to the community

Akban is not me, Yossi the teacher, Akban is a precious and rare community of human beings, in the best sense of the word, veterans who have been training together for three decades. The debt to me, to the teacher, amounts to tuition and attendance, the debt to the community is not that simple and is indeed very large.

Community debt is not a financial debt, the community has not lent us money, the community has inspired us, helped us persevere in difficult moments, imbued the techniques we practice with meaning. Repayment must be accordingly. Paying off debt to the community is a complex work reserved for the emotionally stable, for very powerful people.

For example, the Ninjutsu database, the documentation project, is repaying a debt to the community in which I grew up, Bujinkan. It’s not about money – the cost to maintain the Bujinkan pool of techniques is not excessive – it’s about work, many hours invested in documenting our syllabus.

In order to repay an inspirational debt to the community, attendance is needed, it’s like gardening, like teaching, like raising children, repaying debt is a practice that requires attendance, presence.

Paying back such debt is an extra bonus, it allows us to grow as strong human beings and change roles – from children to guardians.

Examples:
A veteran who teaches repays huge debt to the community. He continues the line of knowledge and contributes his unique perspective and interpretation.

A veteran who keeps coming and practicing even though he is old and injured – repays debt because he gives us all a better frame of reference and inspiration to keep on practicing.

A veteran who uses the knowledge he learned in AKBAN to build a business and explains how – returns debt of knowledge. Specifically, how to use martial knowledge in completely different areas and settings.

A veteran who understands how to be a seaman, knows how to surf, sail, understands the winds, the clouds and the sea and knows how to bring his expertise to us, repays debt to the community, he increases our knowledge and enriches us all.

Every contribution makes us all in this person’s debt – we owe him. And since in our community we’ve been together for decades, we all owe a lot to such people, me too.

Not everyone has the luck and the power to be able repay debt to the community, I think it’s fine, as wrote at the first paragraph, at this point nobody owes me anything, but when a veteran repays a debt to the community it’s a great thing, it’s wonderful. I have accrued great debt to Akban and I love this very much.

Ninjutsu throw - Kata Guruma - AKBAN martial arts