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I suppose I should be gratified, and I am. But faintly disturbed as well.
I have two fairly senior students. Both are dedicated practitioners of Aikido. The other day I had them doing a Jiyu Waza in which my instructions were to not think of each other as uke or nage, but simply do their best to throw each other. I was looking for them to challenge each other and do so without getting into the spirit of competition.
They were really good! I watched, they did the Jiyu Waza. They challenged each other. The pushed their own limits. They threw each other around. They smiled the whole time. The achieved a level that I knew I was incapable of.
I can't do what they just did.
It is, in fact, a limitation in my Aikido which has been bugging me for almost a year now. I've been working on it, but I've also been nursing a knee injury which has prevented me from working on much of anything.
They did that better than I could.
Certainly, there are some things about Aikido - a lot of them - that I understand and can do better than either of them. But in this one area, they've both surpassed me. And I taught them how to do that.
How'd I do that?
I minded of an old expression whose attribution I've long since forgotten:
"The faults we recognize in others are often a reflection of our own self-knowledge".
I wonder if this is why these two are so good at something that I'm struggling with. Because I can spot when they are strug
I got a call from a prospective student yesterday. I wouldn't like to give the impression that this guy was being difficult, he wasn't. But he asked a question I get all too often:
"Is this one of those soft art schools? I want something real."
This question always causes me grief. The definition of "real" is slippery at best.
I have students who've defended themselves using Aikido. I've defended myself using Aikido. I've been in situations where my attitude caused people not to attack me and I attribute this to my Aikido training.
Is that real?
Didn't I talk about this before? Maybe, but here it is again.
Aikido isn't about fighting. At best it's about resolving the conflict so that everybody walks away friends. That isn't always possible, but at least it's possible that everyone walks away alive and relatively unhurt. The other guy may be fighting, but I'm not.
Is that real?
Competitions are set up to follow certain rules and last for a certain amount of time either determined by chronology or points or some other arbitrary measurement. The competitive mindset screws up any chance of using Aikido effectively, at least for me.
So, competition, is that real?
Real life on the mat
Can you duplicate real life conflict on the mat? I don't think so. People would get hurt or killed. You lose more students that way.
So how does this prepare you for "real life" conflict? Does
I teach in a community where religion plays a major role in the lives of many of its residents. As a result, I've been forced to consider the relationship between religion and Aikido on a level where I'd rather not have had to go. Still, it's been an interesting journey.
I left a dojo years ago partly because of the emphasis they placed on Zen training. A lot of people argue about whether Zen is religion, but Zen is rooted in Buddhism and Buddhism is religion even if it isn't in the same vain as some other religions. It isn't that I have a problem with Zen, but I don't subscribe to it and it isn't what Aikido is about to me.
Later, in a discussion on Aikido-L I discovered I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the whole Zen-Aikido connection some people feel compelled to make.
In addition, there have been way too many discussions on the forums here about Aikido and religion. So I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. More than I wanted to.
So, the issue comes down to two things in my experience:
1) Is Aikido Religion. This one is easy for me to answer. No. But the issue of the spirituality of Aikido eventually surfaces. To me, the short answer is that your faith must be a factor in your training, but I, as a teacher, cannot impose my faith on you. If I had established the dojo as a faith-based dojo things would be different. But it's a secular dojo, so your religion is your business as far as I'm concerned.
I wrote the following in private blog I maintain and realized it's as good a place as any to start an Aikido blog. Entries here are likely to be infrequent and mostly of the me-on-my-soapbox nature. I hope someone gets something worthwhile out of them besides me. Mostly, though, I just feel the need to say it.
So, this is the first pontification:
A big part of my reason for training in Aikido - as opposed to other arts - is the non-violence that is inherent in its foundations.
First of all, I am not naturally a violent person. But I learned to be violent in a way which is pretty appalling on sober reflection. As a result it's very easy for me to become violent very quickly. But, because my nature doesn't support it, it's very hard for me to live with later.
So, Aikido has given me tools to work against the violence I've learned.
But, that's just me.
I frequently run into people who not only don't understand the value of non-violence, the actively oppose it. They truly believe that the way to a better world is by perpetuating a level of violent confrontation that is difficult for me to even understand. They teach this to their children. They get very angry when I point out the problems with this approach.
Teaching our children to fight
I have a co-worker who was talking about teaching his daughter to hit hard in defending herself. I pointed out that I have students and former students who have defended themselves and not gotten i