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The most common understanding of "mastery" is having reached a high level of skill or accomplishment. A master painter or electrician, for instance. An expert. Someone who has solid, deep understanding of a subject.
Another interpretation of "mastery" is more ongoing. In this sense mastery is a continuous process of development and improvement. Mastery is more an attitude and a habit than a state to be achieved. We don't become a master, but practice mastery.
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"I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is." ~ Chef Jiro Ono
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (documentary)
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In the pursuit of mastery we are striving not to become someone who "already knows," but to be continuously paying attention, learning, and often helping others on the journey along with us.
In striving for mastery we move beyond simply accumulating knowledge and repeating skills by rote. We begin to make the thing our own. In any art -- dance, painting, music -- this means building on what our teachers have conveyed. We develop our own expression and style, while still remaining true to the principles.
In Aikido this might mean one student's technique exhibits a soft, flowing grace, while another's is sharp and authoritative. And both can have integrity.
Mastery also means living the art. We don't stop practicing just because the dojo door clicked shut behind us after class. We try in our daily lives to embody the lessons we learned on the mat. As best we can, we walk the walk.
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"Perhaps we'll never know how far the path can go, how much a human being can truly achieve, until we realize that the ultimate reward is not a gold medal but the path itself." ~ George Leonard, Writer and Aikido Sensei
Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
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There is no end to this path. We do not achieve the a high rank, frame our certificate, hang up our belt, and say we have arrived. In Aikido, the pursuit of mastery isn't a way to get to the goal, it is the goal.
Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means "beginning rank."