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08-06-2009 08:58 PM
It's that time of year again. But I don't think it ever got quite this bad back when we had our own permanent dojo space. Summer really sucks the life out of training, or so it would seem...moreso these days.
It hasn't helped that for a large part of the late spring-early summer I found myself suffering from a number of symptoms of overtraining: headaches, insomnia, decreased immunity, even a decrease in enthusiasm for training (if that can be believed). It ended up being a vicious cycle, really, that I'm now certain was caused by lack of sleep and trying to maintain a demanding training regimen without enough recovery time. But I digress.
Since this post is primarily a rant I will at the very least take the time to say a couple of positive observations about training lately, which is that I've been transitioning more and more from learning technique primarily through seeing towards understanding the principles behind it by learning through feeling. I know it sounds really wishy-washy and esoteric, but it has to do with feeling the energy of an attack and understanding where it's going (thereby knowing what to do with it). It's meant that I've been doing a lot more to catch timing and blend - but making a point of moving with an attack earlier on that I originally would have...as a result the connections have been feeling much smoother. Being Sensei's primary demo uke over the summer while others have been away has meant that in a way I've had no choice but to learn mostly by feel (since the visual aspect is somewhat taken away by the responsibility that comes with having to concentrate on taking ukemi).
I've also been *drum roll, please* working on power by making a point of engaging my centre more to originate my actions during certain power movements in techniques. You know what's really helped? Feeling my way through starting the power movements like I'm having to move a kettlebell. Surprise, surprise.
Okay, enough boring fun stuff. On to the complaining.
So many people gone for the holidays for fairly lengthy stretches of time have meant that the base group of folks on the mats has dwindled quite a bit. I know it'll pick up as we approach the fall as people get back into town but I wonder how much they realize what an impact it makes on the energy of the club.
We had to cancel the demonstration portion of our workshop at Ai-Kon this year due to lack of interest/commitment and I can't help but think back about the lack of enthusiasm folks seemed to have regarding the possibility of a Gasshuku in June. Hardly anyone would have been around for it anyway. We didn't even have our New Year's Shugyo this year due to lack of people. It used to be that folks understood that these events were highly significant to the life of the dojo. Once upon a time, it was generally understood that making sure you could attend was an obligatory part of being a member of the club. But then, once upon a time it also used to be that if you couldn't commit to attending class at least three times a week, you weren't allowed to be a member in the first place.
I've wondered about the impact this has made on the club over time. On the one hand I understand that Sensei has decided that he doesn't want to deter people from learning Aikido due to situations beyond their control that constrict their availability. On the other hand, I also understand that originally he wanted to ensure that his efforts were well-spent. You would think that "broadening admissions standards" - as the local university I work for has diplomatically termed it - would have then resulted in there being more students on the mats. Ironically enough, while there have been more new students (or does it just feel that way?) very few have really stuck it out in the long run or those that do stay attend so infrequently as to make very little impact on the dojo (or their skill in Aikido, for that matter). In the end, the number of core students has stayed pretty much the same. The usual suspects.
When it boils down to it, whether they realize it or not, folks do have an impact. By their very absence, by their sporadic attendance. After considering the past couple of years in the life of the dojo, I wonder if it gives others the impression that it's okay to take training so lightly.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking to point the finger at folks who seriously have other important commitments that take them away from training. That can't be helped. That's just life. On the one hand, I have a great deal of respect for the person who knows they can't commit much time to the art and at the same time hold no illusions about their skill or lack thereof - they know inherently that in the end, they'll get out of their training what they put into it. Kudos to them for still trying and sticking it out.
But what gets my goat is that so many folks actually buy into the lies they tell themselves about their training and - ignoring the fact that they train so little - still have a strong sense of entitlement about what little they have done. You reap what you sow. If you don't dedicate a lot of time to learning something, is it really a big surprise if you don't progress quickly? And do you really have a right to correct others who have been training much longer and harder than you have?
It kind of reminds me of the black belt who proudly says, "I've been training for nine years!" but in actuality, during a significant portion of that time they trained maybe once or twice a week. It may sound impressive to strangers but the reality of it is that it makes a big difference to one's skill in the long run.
I've often spoken to Sensei about the sense of apathy people seem to have in the dojo with regard to maintaining club solidarity and promoting the art. (This is where I feel so steamed about having to cancel the Ai-Kon demo.) Even in a social sense, it feels like pulling teeth trying to suggest that we get together here and there as a group to hang out after class...I guess folks pretty much just want to "do their time" and go. Yes, the prison sentence metaphor was intentional. I wish it weren't.
I know, I know: people have their own lives and have alloted just that two hour block on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday to Aikido and no more, no less. Fair enough. Is it really too much to ask that people care more about their commitment and flex on this once in a while for the sake of the dojo?
But then to make matters worse, even during the short period of time that they do train, some folks can't focus on putting martial intent behind what they're doing. I really don't know what more I can do as a senior student without harping on them and sounding nasty. The most I can do is emulate Sensei and try to be the best example possible; every now and then where appropriate, I try to encourage the newbies to not be afraid of taking chances with their training, especially in the area of ukemi.
Like when I see the soon to be 60-year-old Garry giving it his all taking breakfalls and one of the 20-something guys breathless and wimping out, I can't help but call them on it: "he's putting you youngins to shame!" Part of me wishes Sempai Jeff and JE were still around to tell folks to "Suck it up!" While the hard-nosed line has never been my personal style, considering how things are going these days, I'm seriously considering making it my own.
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