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The circle- it has no beginning and no end. It just continues to be what it is- a repeating pattern. This is only the second dojo I have trained at, but I am all too familiar with what is happening. Periodically, a dojo will receive an influx of new people. My dojo is no different and we have recently acquired five new people over the last week and one other person said they were interested, but has yet to return.
Each time this influx of students appears, I hope that we will retain at least one. Sadly, the majority of the time I am let down. In fact, in the little over two years I have been training, there are only three new people who are newer then I (and two don't train regularly). Some of the people who leave discover that their grandiose idea of what aikido (or martial arts) is, was shattered. Some discover that aikido isn't quite what they want in a martial art. Others quit because they aren't picking up the moves and progressing through the ranks as quickly as they would like. Yet others, have the best of intentions and seem to like aikido, but don't find it on the top of their priority list. They have a job, a family, or decide to train for a marathon, play sports in school, travel abroad or leave for college.
Although I may be sad to see them leave, I can't help but be thankful for their brief moment in the dojo. Without even knowing or trying, they have impacted my training in a remarkable way. Beginners are a wonderful, wonderful thing. They keep me humble. They remind me of how it felt to be a beginner. They move in a way that feels natural to them. Their responses are not trained, thus you find yourself in some odd situations that you would not otherwise have the chance to experience. They might spin out of shihonage or they might spin their back towards you in sankyo because to them, that seems like a logical way to get away from the pain.
These responses seem to be how many untrained people would react. It is hard to tell a trained person, "React like a beginner will you?" I myself can recall a few times where I did not respond the way I should have as a beginner. One class I remember, my partner had a jo and I was to grab the end of it (ai hanmi). They would then pull the jo back and then move it forward again in order to have me off balance and put me into a roll. When my partner pulled back, I simply slid in, keeping the same foot forward. They tried over and over and finally, in exasperation, told me I was moving wrong.
I was confused. You pulled me. I kept my center and slid in. It was not a completely untrained response on my part. It was a trained response from my aikijitsu training. Finally, the instructor was called over and I was informed how I was supposed to move. In aikido, we are constantly being told how to move. It allows us to work on a specific technique and also allows us to protect ourselves. Not to mention, martially, it gives us options that might not be available otherwise. So, when I get my hands on a new person, although it can be frustrating, I relish in the gift that I have just been given. It is a precious gift that they unknowingly handed over to me and I know I can only have it for a relatively short amount of time. It is like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day; it will eventually melt away.
As I sit back and watch this circle repeat itself over and over again, I can't help but wonder what people thought of me when I joined. Did they think I was just a brief visitor, another one who would come and leave? Or did they think, like the circle, I would keep returning to the dojo to get my aikido fix? The thing about newbies, is that you never know who will be the one to go or who will be the one to stay. The maniac newbie who trains every day for months may very well fizzle out in the end like a fourth of july sparkler. Meanwhile, that clumsy beginner who struggles at everything may very well continue to grow and blossom as if they are a happy daffodil rising up out of dormancy to greet the spring sunshine…..