Another Training Dilemma: A "The Mirror" Conversation by "The Mirror"
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This article was written by Pauliina Lievonen.
Why have I been writing so little lately?
In general I notice that I don't tend to think quite as much about
aikido as I used to outside of class. I used to think about it a lot,
sitting in the train, or doing stuff at home; I'd keep mulling things
I don't think the real reason this is happening is that I'm losing
interest in aikido or getting more comfortable with it or less
obsessed or anything. I think the real reason is that I'm avoiding one
specific issue I have with my own training right now.
I think the wall I keep bumping against is... last February, I went to
this seminar with a Japanese fellow called Akuzawa, and a student of
his, Rob John. The purpose of the seminar was to show some exercises
that could be used to build a form of internal strength.
You know how sometimes you only need to grab someone to know that
you're not going to be able to resist what they are going to do -- or
to be grabbed only to realize that "uke" has got you and there's no
way your technique is going to work. Well that's how they both felt
like. And they were happy to show how they were doing it, and how to
practice it, in very useful detail. I've never come across that
Whether or not other people believe I came across something very
special and extraordinary isn't really important to me right
now. What's important is that I believe so. But that poses me with a
problem. Because as impressive as the results were, I absolutely hated
If I choose not to do this training, I know there's something missing
in my aikido. Again, other people might disagree but that doesn't
matter, if I believe it myself. And if there's something missing in my
aikido, and more importantly, if there's a very fundamental flaw in my
aikido, then do I want to continue doing it?
One thing I've always disliked is things that aren't...true?
...right?...well founded? I can't find the right word for it but let
me give an example: Some amateur musicians like to play repertoire
that is way too difficult technically, so they fake their way through
it. They might not be playing in tune, their articulation is unclear,
they make fingering mistakes, but they want to be discussing the finer
points of ornamentation in their lesson. I don't care if all one plays
is "Mary Had A Little Lamb", if it's played with good rythm, good
articulation, good sound and all the rest of it. In other words, good
For me, the most basic of basics in doing aikido is how I use my
body. The exercises I learned at that seminar are a way to build a
much more solid way of using one's body than I've come across
before. So to ignore it to me would mean that all my practice becomes
just a silly pretend game.
I've been struggling with my own training motivation recently. Though
my reasons are different, I think we may both be struggling with a
kind of "mid-life crisis," and I think it's something that lots of
people run into around shodan.
Once you get to shodan, opportunities to test are much further apart,
and testing criteria are in general less clear cut. So external
motivation largely goes away, at the same time that people are (in my
experience) trying to figure out what "else" they should be studying,
now that they've mostly got the techniques under control.
At the same time, by the time people get to shodan, they are usually
pretty realistic about how much effort is involved in, say, becoming a
shihan or founding a dojo. If they aren't willing to put in that much
effort (and most people aren't), then they may start to wonder why
they bother at all.
Lots of other pursuits have the same struggle: most musicians won't
ever play at Carnegie Hall, and most athletes won't ever reach the
Olympics. Once they realize that, the challenge is to find internal
reasons to continue anyway. Many don't.
My answer has been to remember all the reasons why I enjoy aikido and
the dojo community for their own sake, and to realize that I enjoy
both more the more consistently I train. The fact that I also make
more progress the more consistently I train is a bonus, but no longer
enough reason in itself.
Your situation may be more difficult, though, since you're also having
a crisis in your understanding of aikido itself. In your place, I
might try to find people who are also interested in pursuing the
exercises you mentioned -- any unpleasant task is easier when done
with a group. I might also figure that there is probably more than one
path up that particular mountain -- plenty of traditions try to
develop inner strength -- and go looking for a less tedious path. Or I
might decide that any little bit I can do is better than nothing, and
I was never planning to become a shihan anyway, so I'm not going to
worry about whether I'm doing enough to become world class or not.
"I think the real reason is that I'm avoiding one specific issue I
have with my own training right now."
And I wrote:
That may be so...but you also may be ready to concentrate on the
larger picture of your life now that you've defined your aikido to a
I've cut back on aikido. I'm not willing anymore to force myself to
train when I don't desire to. It's not laziness...I just recognize
that my life is expanding and it's normal to have other interests and
make room for them. I still apply what I've learned in my life
outside the dojo, and my training hasn't really suffered by my only
going once a week instead of the 4-6 times I used to.
If you hate the type of training you'd have to do to gain this
new/better basis for your aikido, listen to what your insides are
telling you. It may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it
may not be what you really need, neh?
You can just do aikido -- the aikido you're most comfortable
with -- because you ENJOY doing it. Don't throw the baby out with the
bathwater: there may be something missing, but that doesn't mean
everything you've learned is fatally flawed and that you must discard
You sound like you've either got external or internal pressure on you
about this. Why don't you let it rest for a month, and then after the
holidays decide if you want to add this to your repertoire?
So ask yourself why you don't do the exercises? Choose to start
them--one exercise--in January. See how it goes. If you like it, add
another the next month. If you don't like it, admit that doing
something you really hate to improve something you love is a hard way
to make your practice something you want to do.
That seminar sure threw my training assumptions inside out and upside
Katherine and Al... :D Your two posts were like a cartoon devil and
angel sitting on my two shoulders. On one hand, sure, I could just say
that my life has moved on... on the other hand, that could be an
excuse. Not that it is for you, Al, but it sure could be for me!
After-shodan mid-life crisis is also part of it, sure. In our syllabus
after shodan, testing requrements are basically "all the previous, but
better", with more weapons work added. My teacher is working on
developing a teaching plan for after shodan, but right now I do
sometimes feel a bit directionless, even apart from the "internal
You know, Pauliina, you said you'd tried doing one of the exercises
like I'd suggested? What happened with that?
I had a long holiday over Christmas, three weeks of nothing particular
to do, so I did do shiko (think like the "stomping" sumo wrestles do,
not knee walking) pretty much every day. I've been less diligent with
it after the holidays, though I've found that a good moment to do it
is in the kitchen while I'm waiting for dinner to cook. It's usually
the secret to consistency in these kind of things, isn't it, to find a
way to integrate it into your daily routine. I think I might have
found a way to do it without getting as tense as I did at first.
I'm not sure if it makes a difference in my aikido... but a surprising
side effect has been that I can get much further with the traditional
leg stretches we sometimes do in class.
As to finding other people to train with... I lead our aikido class
once every two weeks, and with sensei's permission, I'm looking at how
to stand and move by yourself, and using the techniques merely to see
how well tori manages to continue standing and moving in balance while
uke is "testing " tori with his or her attack. I'm starting to see all
kinds of little things in our warming up exercises that can be used
for the purpose of training how you move as well.
The focus on moving in balance has an effect on people's footwork I
noticed. For example in ikkyo, there's a moment where a lot of people
in our dojo seem to tend to turn slightly away from uke, exactly in
the opposite direction from where they are supposed to go in the basic
form of our "testing syllabus" ikkyo. When I reminded people to check
how they were walking at that moment, they automatically stepped in
the right direction, because that simply is the best direction for
tori to take in order to stay balanced. Interestingly, the focus we're
choosing changes how people act as uke, too. They start to continue
with their attack, because they want to keep testing tori.
What Katherine said about enjoying practice more if it's consistent
was very helpful, it's something I can remind myself of when I don't
feel like going to class. So recently I've just plain been training a
bit more again and that makes me feel better in itself, even if I
never do develop any amazing abilities of my own. And I do feel that
my practice has a bit more ...substance to it now, however modest the
results might be.
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