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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > July, 2006 - Everyday Training

Everyday Training by "The Mirror"

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This article was written by Pauliina Lievonen.

I don't want to try to teach anyone who reads this article, or pretend to know what they might be struggling with. So I just write about what I have been thinking lately, and hopefully it will strike a chord with someone else as well.

I don't know how it always happens, but just when I make up my mind that this is what I need to work on, life throws another question in my way. Around April, there was quite a lot of discussion here on Aikiweb about commitment and motivation in training. I was planning to start training more, and I was planning to write an article about the process later. Someone actually asked me to, if I did discover the "secret" of daily training. For a couple weeks, I did train five to six times a week, and felt proud of myself. Around that time David Valadez send me an email that discussed the same topics, off the forum, that got me thinking in a different direction, or what I thought was a different direction:

"How do we break the cycle? Answer: Faith and Humility. You asked about these terms in another letter. I will here try to discuss them in light of this first letter -- hoping that I will also define them for you (as I understand them). As you read in one Exchange, "humility" is "getting out of your own way." Let me here define "faith" for you: "Faith" is possessing a capacity to doubt yourself. I realize that this is not how these terms are often defined, but here I am trying to discuss them in their practical sense, and, in particular, how they are related to us breaking the cycles of habitually reinforcing action that have us unable to live a spiritual life (e.g. training beyond the whims of motivation and desire, etc.).

...... Faith works here to doubt what our habitual self is telling us. Faith, the doubting of oneself so as to be able to move beyond to something greater than oneself, is what allows us be skeptical of what comes to us "naturally," "right," "in our best interest," and "effortlessly."

...... One may want to ask, "Where does one get faith?" Answer: Faith is always ours. Man is special in that sense, in that Man has both a need for self-doubt and a capacity for self-doubt. While a lack of faith is cultural, a capacity for faith is natural to Man. It is ours by birth -- as is our spirit. Nevertheless, some of us have been so "cultured" in a lack of faith, some of us have been so taught not to doubt the self, that our capacity for self-doubt might as well not be an innate human trait. For this reason, humility is needed. Humility works to support faith. It does this because humility is a cultivated state. That is to say, one can be taught humility, one can develop it, and one can mature in it. As humility increases, one's capacity at practicing faith also increases. From there, the two go on to feed each other: more humility, more faith; more faith, more humility; etc., etc. Thusly, one moves on to live a spiritual life."

Faith, as a capacity to doubt oneself, I could relate to. Training as an Alexander Technique teacher isn't possible without some faith I think. The training asks of a trainee to believe that her sense of how she moves and where her body is in space is is unreliable, and to trust that the - often more uncomfortable at first -- ways of moving, sitting and standing that happen under the hands of a teacher are actually better. It's difficult to describe in words just how fundamentally wrong a movement can feel, and still at the same time better, easier, lighter -- and still WRONG. Without the ability to let go of relying on one's own inner feeling of how movement is supposed to work, the training is impossible.

It's really quite amusing how little humility I had learned after three and a half years of being reminded, in a very concrete way in my own body, that though yesterday I'd thought I had my posture and coordination figured out, today I find that I was wrong, again. So when I read what David wrote above about humility, I would have prefered to just put it away. I don't know why I didn't. What I did instead was take it with me to aikido class one night and give humility a chance.

Aikido classes offer plenty of practical ways to work on humility! For one thing, I don't always agree with my teacher on the best way to run a warm up, or execute a technique, or explain a principle. Even worse, sometimes my peers will try to tell me something! Even worse than that, sometimes my juniors have the nerve to actually correct me! And aside from all these outward pressures, there is me myself too: I get nervous with one particular sempai because he's quick and big and strong for example. And when I teach I worry about everyone having a good class, and when I flub a technique while demonstrating it in front of everyone, I get flustered, of course I do.

Let's take the example of the big strong sempai and look at it a bit closer. Now I've trained with this guy for years and he's never hurt me. He's a very nice person in fact. So what is it exactly that I get nervous about?

Or when I worry about everyone having a good class when I lead it -- why does that actually matter?

Why should I get annoyed when someone junior to me in mat years, but otherwise an intelligent, reasonable person, makes a suggestion during practice? Our dojo is full of nice polite people who usually offer suggestions quite tactfully enough, and I might not show it, but there will be that little twinge of annoyance anyway, however politely my partner made their suggestion.

I wrote a sort of short summary for myself about it, after I'd been thinking about humility for a while:

If I approach my life with pride...

I need to do whatever I need to do in order to not lose my pride. That means I can't look at my weaknesses/faults/things I'm not perfect in, in full. That means I can't practice too much, because in the process of practice, I'd come across my weaknesses. Or I have to practice in a way that lets me turn a blind eye to my weaknesses. I'm stuck with defending my pride.

If I approach my life with humility....

There's nothing to lose. There's nothing to hold on to. The more I practice, the more I see how much I have to learn, and how much I _can_ learn. Any weakness or fault I have, is not a threat, because what would it threaten? My humility? :D Humility makes me free.

Now, what about the idea that we "need to be proud of who we are"?

If I approach training with pride, big strong training partners are a threat, even though they never hurt me. They threaten my illusion of how well I can execute technique. I worry about giving a good class because not to do so wouldn't allow me to be proud of giving a good class. Being corrected by a junior -- well that one is obvious I hope! They might be right, and it might mean that someone with less experience than me is right about something that I was wrong about, and how will my pride survive that? And even if they are wrong -- just offering me their advice, they threaten my place in the hierarchy of our dojo, my place as an advanced student that I'm so proud of.

If I approach training with humility - a more difficult training partner is a valuable help, because there's so much to learn, and since I don't have my pride to hold on to, there's nothing to lose even if not one single technique works. Giving a class becomes more about asking questions than providing answers, more about discovering what aikido is and not about how good an aikido teacher I might be. A correction is something to be grateful for, whoever it comes from, because it just might be true!

The difficult thing to believe, before you experience letting it go, is how pride really isn't at all necessary for existence. The absence of pride seems to bring a different sort of confidence, or maybe trust is a better word, with it. Just like moving in a different way felt awkward and difficult and uncomfortable at first and then mysteriously turned out to be lighter and freer and just plain better, and only faith could get me there, too, because there was no way to prove this to me short of taking the leap and having the experience.

Humility and self-doubt have something to do with the discomfort of training more as well. I can't pretend to know how to train more because I again don't. What I've started to see is that my reasons for wanting to train more weren't very good ones. I read discussions between people who train every day and seem to know what they talk about and I wanted to be one of them. And when I succeeded in training more my success wasn't based on anything that would last.

For a couple of weeks, I did train five-six times a week. Training more meant I was more tired, and I didn't have time for other things that are easier to do and offer more immediate pleasure. I couldn't manage to plan my days so that I would have time to do the things that I really do think are more important than aikido in my life, like playing music, but I'd still waste most of my day just entertaining myself and then discover I wouldn't be able to finish my work because it was time to go to class. The only reason I managed to train more was that I ignored the rest of my life and chose to only do aikido. Aikido class became somewhere to escape to. And then I got injured, and once that healed, I got sick... and here we are, back at square one. I'm training an average of three-four times a week, and often at the cost of doing other things that I also need to do, and only at times when it's convenient to train. The only reason I train even as much as I do, is that I have quite a lot of free time.

So there are the pressures during class - annoying training partners, my wish to do well etc. - and there are pressures outside of class - work, other hobbies, family - and they all work to push me away from practice. How pride works during class to get me in my own way I find easier to see, and because of that, easier to work on. Writing here now I realize that it's been tripping me up in the rest of my day, making me think that I'm somehow entitled to a leisurely morning and effortless afternoon, and that hard work and discomfort are things that I don't deserve. I also see that daily training would actually be very easy, if I decided to throw everything else out and just do aikido. The difficult thing isn't doing a lot of aikido. The difficult thing is integrating training into the rest of my life. The difficult thing is living an integrated life.

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