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So essentially I began training in Aikido from a desire to learn physical self-defense maneuvers (osae waza, etc.) and to learn something about inner peace. I knew only what many of us read everywhere about Aikido being a "way of peace;" a "way of harmonizing with hostile forces." Word! I'm down with that! I spent my whole life a pacifist among fighters, so I had a pre-existing and deep appreciation for the power a warrior has in creating peace. The language was right up my alley. I studied very hard for about 2 and a half years, and after 10 years of sporadic interaction on the mat, I'd estimate I have about 1 year's worth of solid training, conditioning aside.
Now, I practice something every day, but there is no substitute for the kind of dedication which puts people on the mat with each other. One of the first things I came to love about Aikido was that I got to train with everyone. Each fellow student has a unique contribution to the development of one another, and while that sounds like a lovely bit of poetry, I think it has a profound bit of logic to it as well. The biggest obstacle to learning is not seeing the lesson and when we begin to see everyone as a potential lesson (i.e. teacher role), we begin to allow for much greater potential in learning. That's the danger of ego: presumption...or so I presume.
The community facet of Aikido has come to represent the essence of the whole for me. We humans are as comfortable as we generally are because we have a society in which to gain resources (like learning). The society of Aikido is no different. We get together for different reasons, but we get together and we share a part of our knowledge and experience with each other that we may help one another to some degree in some way. Then we leave for home, hopefully a little more developed than we were before, whether it be a little more serene, a little tougher, whatever.