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Pauliina Lievonen 10-27-2009 09:51 AM

How To Be An Amateur
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This month's column was written by Pauliina Lievonen.
What's the difference between an amateur and a professional? Is it whether you make a living doing what you do? Or is it just a question of priority; a hobby is not one's first priority, but one's work might be?

Experience is counted in hours, not in years. Putting ten thousand hours under your belt will take 32 years if you practice six hours a week, every week. If you practice six hours a day, it will take 4,5 years, and after 32 years, you will have almost 70 thousand hours under your belt. Those numbers, to me, give an idea of the difference. Where exactly the cutting point would be, I don't know.

Would I like to practice aikido six hours a day year in year out? No.

Would I like to be treated as a professional? In my dreams and fantasies, of course I would. I'd like to be seen as knowledgeable and skillful and all kinds of impressive. Sometimes, leading the beginners' classes at our dojo, the fantasy even seems true.

I'm sure most aikido amateurs are sensible adults who have no trouble seeing their small part in the big picture. So maybe this column is for those who like me have trouble letting go of their childish fantasies of superpowers and great achievements.

But wait, someone is bound to say, we're supposed to have dreams! You can achieve anything if you just believe in yourself!

Yes, but in addition to believing in yourself you do have to actually put in the hours, too.

So having established that I'm never going to be a master of aikido, because I'm not willing to put in the hours, why bother at all? Because it's fun?

And if it's fun I'm after, why not just pretend? Pretend to be powerful, and at the same time flowing, and harmonious and wise; invincible is maybe going a bit too far, oh well, why not!

Now here's something I can write with authority about, having been there and done that. The reason why not is that reality has this annoying habit of trying to get your attention at inconvenient moments. An unknown uke at a seminar doesn't know their role in your play acting, or someone on a discussion forum doesn't appreciate the wisdom of your words. You get ignored by a teacher who prefers to give attention to the more serious students. How mean of them.

(At this point I feel a great urge to ask for testimonials from friends and dojomates to assure my readers that I'm really not such a sad case as all thatů)

In short, pretending to be someone you're not means some day you might be found out. The rest of the world won't care, but it will be painful for yourself. And that isn't fun. So paradoxically, it's more fun to be honest about who you are, and what you can and can't do.

Once you get your head back down from the clouds you might find that there are quite a lot of little things to be enjoyed at ground level. You'll find out that there really isn't a secret of aikido that sensei just forgot to reveal to you. It really is about all those niggly little details. And paying attention to details can make practice more interesting. Which is more fun.
Those awkward ukes aren't such a problem after all. You're not an aikido master, so it's to be expected that practicing with someone new will be awkward. And maybe if you ask them they'll tell you what you can improve.

If you get sick, or your family needs extra attention, you won't despair, because you're not trying to get six hours of practice every day year in year out anyway. So you take care of the things that need taking care of and then return to practice.

And if more experienced people happen to ignore you sometimes, well, they've put in the hours, and just maybe they do have things to discuss among themelves that you just can't contribute much to. You know where you are in your progress, and they are somewhere else.

Even if you do only attend a couple classes a week, if you keep consistently attending the couple of classes that you've decided to attend, you'll progress. No, you still won't become an aikido master. But after a while you'll notice that you've gotten better at some of the little things. And you've earned that progress, you know how you got there. You won't need anybody else telling you. You'll know where you are, and how you got there, and maybe where you want to be going next.
"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

Abasan 10-27-2009 11:25 AM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Nice... :)

Kevin Leavitt 10-27-2009 11:50 AM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Thanks for sharing that!

thisisnotreal 10-27-2009 01:26 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
That was great! Thank you.

SeiserL 10-27-2009 03:09 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
I am an amateur.
I am a hobbyist.
I pay for the privilege and the pleasure of training.

Well said. Compliments.

Shadowfax 10-29-2009 12:13 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Very nice. Honest and straightforward reminder to just be what you are and enjoy it. Something we all need to remember.

Janet Rosen 10-29-2009 02:01 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Pauliina, this is such a great and natural follow up to my "modest goals" essay - I just love it!

Linda Eskin 10-29-2009 11:18 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Well said.

The path from Point A to Point B is no less interesting and rewarding than the path from Point U to Point V. Just hold your heading and enjoy the journey.

tlk52 10-30-2009 09:29 AM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
I really like this

Voitokas 10-30-2009 12:11 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Great column!

Susan Dalton 10-31-2009 03:49 AM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
I really like this too.

Pauliina Lievonen 11-04-2009 12:59 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Thank you for reading, and for the kind words!


senshincenter 11-05-2009 09:17 AM

Re: How To Be An Amateur

R.A. Robertson 11-20-2009 03:41 PM

Re: How To Be An Amateur
Hi Pauliina,

I really like that you're wrestling with these issues.

Being a professional is more than just an accumulation of hours in an activity. Many people spend more than six hours a day watching television, but they are not professional TV watchers.

Some parents are able to spend more than six hours with their kids every day, but whether we view parenting as a profession will often be wrapped inside certain financial arrangements and considerations.

Once there were only three vocations that could be considered professions. Now pretty much anyone can be considered a professional if they make their living doing something.

Sadly, this may mean that skill is a secondary consideration to the simple fact of income. A person can run a commercial McDojo very unprofessionally, yet that is their profession. By the same token, an all-volunteer dojo could run an extremely professional dojo committed to service and excellence. Yet volunteers are not professionals (except of course, that professionals can volunteer their services).

The teaching and promoting of aikido is intrinsically connected with economic realities. Solutions are many and varied, from patronage, non-profit, for-profit, private home study, and so on. Somebody somewhere is paying for facilities and utilities, individually or collectively.

As with sports and arts, most who participate are not professionals, no matter their skill, dedication, or time. Those whose primary income is derived from the activity, are.

Aikido people can, theoretically, make a living through teaching, writing, filming, consulting, counseling, advising, etc. Right now this is often very difficult, and seldom lucrative. But I believe our art will be more mature when there is better infrastructure available to those who would like to pursue aikido as a livelihood. In my opinion, both aikido and the world at large will be better for it.

Naturally there will also be the same problems that plague professional sports and arts. Yet I think all our lives would be diminished if there were not people who were rewarded for their full time devotion and commitment to these things that we value.

Great topic.


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