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Home > Columns > Ross Robertson > October, 2006 - How to Be a Student of Aikido
by Ross Robertson

How to Be a Student of Aikido by Ross Robertson

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Aikido is a lifelong discipline that requires a certain amount of investment. And it's an investment that pays immediate and long term benefits in the form of health, mental clarity, self-assurance, and capacity for joy. Yes, you can defend yourself too, if you ever have the need.

But aikido, like other martial arts, is its own path. A dojo is not a fitness center. It's not an academic institution. It's not a sanctuary or retreat. Coming to the dojo with these expectations is likely to be frustrating for everyone.

Many find the imagined level of commitment daunting. In reality, no heroic effort is required. Taking small, easy steps regularly and mindfully is all that is necessary. The assumption that you'll never be as good as Sensei, that you don't have what it takes, that you're not young, you're not gifted... all of this is just a cop-out. If you practice defeatist thinking, don't be surprised when you feel defeated.

Of course training can be hard. It is taxing mentally, spiritually, and physically. But being a good student is easy. Being an EXCELLENT student is easy. Here's how:

Love. Do it because you love it. Follow the path of aiki because of deep passion and desire. Train with joy if you can, though remember that love goes deeper than pleasure and joy. Love the movement. Love the idea, and the promise of aikido. Love your teacher, love your comrades (some of them, anyway). Love yourself.

Show up. Commit to regular attendance. Once a week is better than nothing. Two times, three times a week is optimal. More may lead you to burn out, and may signify you're ignoring other important areas in your life. Train with balance. You don't need to (and you shouldn't) arrange your life around aikido. But you MUST arrange your life to include aikido. If you're not in control of your time, you're not in control of your life. Don't expect to be successful in any discipline until you have sufficient self control.

Open. Once you've found a teacher and a school you can trust, open your mind to whatever is being offered. While on the mat, do not judge, do not criticize, do not question the value of the lesson at hand. Train the whole time as if under attack. There is not time judge an attack, only time to assess and act. Your time spent on the mat should be for cultivating a total state of calm alertness.

Project the best. Go beyond an open mind. Train as if your sensei and your partners are doing exactly the right thing at the right time for your own, personal, optimal development. It can't possibly be true, of course, but training AS IF it were true fosters the state of eager awareness that is our goal. Train for life and death. Train as if the devil is on your tail, and just in reach is the Holy Grail.

Evaluate. Now, once off the mat, question everything. Tear the lessons apart. Criticize them, analyze them, personalize them. No matter the quality of training, there is ALWAYS a better way. How can you do this better? How could this be taught better? How can we learn more efficiently? You alone must find these answers.

Take responsibility. This is not Disney World. There are no passengers, there are no spectators. You are responsible for your own experience. It is no one else's job to inspire you, to motivate you, or to compensate for your shortcomings. Set boundaries. Be unafraid of power and control -- this is what you're here for! You can't be responsible if you're not in control. But remember also that aikido is about sharing control, and learning to use it wisely and compassionately.

Serve. Pay your dues on time. Understand too that your obligation to the dojo is more than financial. Support one dojo and one teacher. Let your dojo be your aiki home. Take an active interest in its vitality. Recruit new members. Help advertise. Radiate aikido to the world around you. Be attractive.

Get out! If you're lucky, your home dojo will encourage you to play well with others. Seek seminars, visit other dojo, cross-train in some other arts once in a while. Be humble. Take an active interest in their well being. Practice this everywhere with everyone, all the time. Explore adventurously, and always respectfully.

Rest. Really. Take some time off. Set a definite return date, but give yourself a break. Upset the routine once in a while (give notice to your community ahead of time, though... they care about you!). You'll be surprised how much better your aikido will be when you come back. Two weeks is a good amount of time, but a month off every few years is also justifiable. Seriously. You have my permission.

Seek. Be a seeker. Plug into the world around you. Play games of looking for the danger and the treasure. Read. Join online discussions and participate. Think. Ponder. Speculate. Act. Seek not what is over the horizon, rather, seek to connect with the seen and the unseen, the here and there, the now and then. Consume all good things.

Live it. Aikido is a way of life. Practice it every day. When I used to hear the great sensei say this, it always scared me. But now I realize they just mean that we should practice while driving, while working, while making love, while mowing the lawn or doing dishes. Small changes, rightly applied, have a huge effect. Isn't this what our techniques show? Five seconds of aiki movement, of perception, repeated hundreds of times a day -- this is our practice! How wonderful life is!

Love. Aikido is the discipline of love. You may not think so, but it is unavoidable. Even if you only want to do self defense, you must ask yourself why you want to live. Underneath your fear, your desire for control, your ambition, and even your anger is only love. You love life. You love your family, friends, and property. Love is always the motive, however we may mask it. Bring it out of the depths and into the light, and suddenly everything is more whole. Find your center, and you will find love. Find love, and you will find your center. Having a center, you have balance. Having balance, you have freedom.

Having freedom, you have everything.

Ross Robertson
Still Point Aikido Center
Austin, TX, USA

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