Maintaining an open mind as a student over the course of time, is a lot harder than it seems. Simply take note of who is still training with you when you started. It is not easy to continuously have to rework what you already know in order to try and integrate emerging understandings into the shell of known material. One’s levels of inspiration and motivation typically wax and wane over time. It is far easier to get caught up in what you think that you know and try and expand that sphere of knowledge. In reality to try and fill in the spaces of a known entity, believing that you are really expanding the boundaries, is a delusional state that prevents real growth. The best example of this is seen with a person who posts frequently and widely on Aikido forums in which this person has gone to extraordinary lengths to formulate and explain to others bio-mechanical and physics models of what this person believes is done. In reality, this person becomes his own worst enemy and an enemy to those in pursuit of continually expounding upon one’s knowledge base. I will provide you with some of my suggestions on helping one’s self to be as motivated and inspired as possible in order to continually let go of what you know in pursuit of improving your Aikido.
Life is Too Serious To Take it Too Seriously:
I spent an awful lot of time directed towards my training in budo. If I am spending that much time of my life in pursuit of excellence in budo, I need an extra large dose of humor to keep myself and those around me in good spirits. I take pride in saying that I may have one of the most politically incorrect dojos in the US! The humor starts at myself and extends to everyone else and everything. Everything is open to jest about. Laughter provides an invaluable counter-balance to the serious pursuit of my budo experience. It is very easy to become frustrated when making very subtle but substantive changes in our movements. It is a lot easier to laugh at our failures, blind spots and overall thick-headedness than it is to try and battle through this difficult path. It will ultimately make no difference in outcome if we get it or not. We all will one day end up in the cosmic compost pile, regardless of the paths taken to get there. If that is the case, you might as well enjoy some of the ride…..
Spend More Time Focusing on Your Failures Than Your Successes:
The sooner we get over how wonderful we are, the quicker we may actually one day be wonderful! If you did something “right” and you spend all of your time focusing on that, what exactly are you learning? Pat yourself on your back, get other people to pat you on your back (if you need more than what you can do for yourself) and move on to areas that can use improvement! I once got into an online dialogue with someone who took this approach as a sign that I was a negative person. I tried to point out the error of her assessment, but she was too locked into her positively Pollyanna world to see beyond. The limits of her abilities in Aikido spoke for themselves and no one was going to change her mind as to the rightness of her path…. And so it goes…. I am always encouraging my students to slow their practice down to a speed that keeps them intimately aware of what is happening with themselves and their partners. They are encouraged to not force something to happen but to stop and analyze the situation to try and understand what is preventing or stopping a technique from working. This approach opens a person up to becoming acutely aware of what parts are working and not working. You need to become aware of the mistakes in order to begin to wrap your head around correcting them. When you do correct them, you typically then start to see a host of other problems that were masked by the problem that you just solved…… Welcome to the Wormhole! The deeper you go in, the more complex you find things to be. That opens up a brand new world of growth to explore! I have often times said that the day that I stop learning is the day that I hope that I stop breathing!
Time is Finite, so Embrace Time and do not Fear Time:
Our society is so hyper-focused on using time efficiently and effectively, yet not that many people thrive in the 365/24 Type A Time Warp. Some times you need to step back from what you are doing and just do something seemingly aimless and fun. This past June, I thoroughly enjoyed the laser-like Zen focus of spending a good part of a day taking in the beer garden experience in Munich. My great achievement was that my midget-like body could contain several helpings of liter steins of beer! I am not waiting to be nominated for a Nobel Prize for this great accomplishment, nor do I expect to attain budo enlightenment for that experience, but I did have an awesome time. Some people might consider that endeavor as a wasted time period that could have been more constructively used…. I burp in their general direction….. When I am practicing budo, I do not try and “get it.” I recognize that I am not that smart, so I am better off letting myself become aware of what I am focusing on, than trying to “complete the picture.” I find it a lot easier and more rewarding to keep focused on some small aspect of what I am doing that is not working out as well as I might have hoped that it would. KISS is more than a four letter word! I do not have to rush to get it, or anything else for that matter. When I do, I will. When I do, there will be something else to begin to look at. My time is better spend on some small part of the now that I can impact, rather than something beyond what I can reasonably address in the present. The fear of not getting “it” soon enough can overwhelm someone to the point of walking away from a pursuit because he/she does not believe that it is possible to “make it.” This time needs to be balanced with down time. Down time helps us to recognize the worth of time. It also allows our us to process stuff at an unconscious level. We then come back to what we are doing and we seem to have integrated the learning at a deeper level than when we left off.
Focus on the Camaraderie:
The odds of you ever having to use your Aikido to save yourself or a loved one is very small. The odds of you ever reaching Aikido enlightenment is worse than the odds of you being struck by lightening. It seems to me that my most meaningful and favorite part of training is the camaraderie that I share with the craziest bunch of good hearted knuckleheads that I know! Let’s be honest, the lifelong pursuit of budo is a pretty weird thing! We can’t be all that normal now can we? I genuinely cherish the time spent in budo with the people that I know and are meeting. I learn as much from the people that I learn to avoid as I do from those that I learn to spend more time around. These encounters and relationships enrich my life on a daily basis. I genuinely love pursuing this path with those around me. They provide me with motivation, inspiration, laughter, anger, sadness, joy, etc… Those are all experiences that let us know that we are alive and in the moment. Being in that place helps us be the best that we can be in that moment in budo as we continually look beyond and ahead, while knowing where we came from.
Marc Abrams Sensei