True Power of Faith in Aikido
I guess I will keep adding little bits here with the hope that more people will begin to participate. I am also hoping to re-connect with some old friends here with whom I have lost contact with after so many years.
In between practice at Hombu, I used to help in the office when I was not cleaning this or that or trying to sneak in a little nap. At the end of the genkan or lobby of Hombu Dojo you now see a beautiful memorial plaque to O'Sensei but, in the old days, an old soda-pop machine used to stand there in its place. During the summer months, everyone would buy soda from it on their way out after practice and during the very hot, humid days, the coin box would fill up right away. One of my jobs was to empty the coin box and count the monies and prepare it for deposit to the bank. We used to go the bank almost every day or every other day in those days.
Every once in a while, I would find a slug instead of coin in this coin box but there was a period when someone was using many, many slugs to get the soda. It became a very serious problem so I mentioned it to Doshu.
"Sensei, look at this, someone at Hombu after practice is using these slugs to steal the soda from the soda machine!" I said.
Doshu looked at me very angrily and reprimanded me, saying: "I cannot believe that anyone practicing Aikido here would use a slug to get soda from our machine. Obviously, it is someone from outside who doesn't practice Aikido who comes in and does such bad things. All Aikido people are good people and don't do such things."
When he said this, I was so mad inside. How could he think such a naive thing? Who would walk into Hombu Dojo to use our soda machine when there are plenty of machines on the street outside? I thought to myself. This is ridiculous to say such a thing! Well, I didn't argue with Doshu but inside, I was very upset when I knew I was so right.
Some time later, I realized that Doshu was teaching me a very valuable lesson. If we practice Aikido, we must have faith in our fellow humans, good or bad. Doshu had such a strong faith and love for all of his students and I think this is what made him such a great teacher in his own quiet way. I learned a lot on the mats but Doshu continually taught me so many great lessons like this off the mat as well. This is one episode I always think about each day when I am teaching Aikido to my students, even today.
Today, we rely on our intellect so much and we are so smart (like I was in my younger days!) and sometimes we leave no room for the power of love and faith in our Aikido practice. This lesson always reminds me not to make such a big mistake in our training. . . . . .
I once attended a meeting of high ranking black belts during a winter camp. These meetings were meant for us to get together with Sensei in an intimate atmosphere and exchange thoughts and ideas. Mostly though Sensei talked and we listened. When Sensei finished, he would go around the room and have each of us speak. Sometimes he would choose the topic, sometimes he would just ask us how things were going. I remember a story told by one of the attendees. It went something like this (paraphrased):
"I recently had a shodan from another school attend one of my classes. I named a technique and had him try to throw one of my fifth kyu students. I told my student to resist. This shodan student from another school couldn't throw my student. I then had them change roles. My fifth kyu student had no trouble throwing him. I then told my class that this high ranking students Aikido would never work...."
Everyone at the meeting, with one or two exceptions, seemed to derive great pleasure from this story. Sensei said nothing and the meeting continued. I remember wondering if the shodan student ever returned to this persons dojo. I vowed that I would never humiliate a student that way. I have had many students visit my dojo over the years and always treated them with respect and courtesy.
I have come to realize that Aikido is different for everyone. It is an art that comes from within. I tell my students that my job as their teacher is to help them give birth to their Aikido; for it's there inside them just waiting to come out.
Guests from other dojos should always be treated with utmost respect. As is often the case, students look for training elsewhere to further their learning experience, not to made aware that they are not getting adequate or competent instruction. Sometimes, it just cannot be helped. I often get students who come from areas where training is difficult to find and competent teachers are a rare commodity. It is the reason they are seeking me out, why should I treat them badly or make them feel inferior?
I usually prefer to not correct them on their first visit. Some students are here just to get a work-out while they are away from home. Those who come for actual instruction will usually stay. It is easy to correct another student from another dojo but if you inadvertently contradict what his own teacher says, you may cause confusion and hardship for the student himself. This doesn't do anyone any good at all.
I am only disturbed by students who come with an arrogant or "know it all" attitude or come into the dojo with a chip on their shoulders or trying to challenge our practice. These students are welcome to practice with my students as hard as they like. I have strong confidence in my students. But this competitive attitude is not good and I lose respect for this person and his teacher. . . . .
I think that when students visit other dojos, they should always be aware that they not only represent themselves but their teacher, class- mates and their dojo. If I ever hear that my student was rude or acted unseemingly in another dojo, I would severely reprimand him. All martial arts begins and ends with respect - this is the uncompromised and unchanging rule in martial arts.
In earlier times in Japan, it was believed that guests were always treated with great respect because they might be gods or demons in disguise to test your goodness. . . . It is only a funny superstition, of course, but it makes a nice reason to always be nice to your guests.
Very recently, I received a note from someone who had visited my dojo over 13 years ago. He was only a novice black belt then but I had asked him to teach part of the class as a guest instructor. I had forgotten about this incident completely but I received a message the other day stating that he had felt greatly honored and undeserving at the time but, after all these years, still remembered this experience and wanted to send his own students to visit my dojo and to join our practice.
I often like to invite black belts from other dojos to teach a class or part of a class in my dojo even though they may be much lower rank than myself or even my students. I am interested to see waht they are learning in other dojos, what is emphasized in their training and how they are understanding Aikido. Sometimes it is good and sometimes, not so good, but this is not the point, is it? It is just another point of view to see and appreciate.
Many times, it is all karma. What comes around, goes around. It is the same energy and effort to treat a student badly or in a good way. . . . . Aikido teaches that we always work towards goodness. . . . Although, it can be a form of "tough love' at times, as one of my senior students likes to say, 2nd Doshu always taught us to treat people with great respect.
To not blame anyone for slugs in the soda machine at Hombu Dojo is the kind of generous love and compassion 2nd Doshu demonstrated in his life and in his Aikido in his own quiet way. After all these years, I am still trying to understand this great lessson. . . . .
A good friend who has a dojo not too far from me wrote me the following letter yesterday. They came from an oppressive, war-torn country where they were not even permitted to bow to O'Sensei's photo in practice. They have struggled so much with so little and now finally they have made it to this country where they can practice Aikido freely as they like in this land of opportunity. . . . . .
10-30-03: Dear Sensei, I wish this letter will find you in good health and your work is still fruitful in many ways for those who are walking on the Path. On this cloudy morning, I am sitting here and try to review my Aikido in the last several years since i started to establish the Dojo .......and somehow i feel kind of depressed and not so hopeful when I look far in the future.
As you know, we all aim to cultivate Aikido and the old cultural values for our next generations to look up and more or less they can live by. But so often, we feel like our work is treated badly and sadly somehow by the students these days. I often see students come and go as they please, dash in the Dojo and dash out just like a McDonald. It is so different between now and my old days when even rain or shine, dawn or dark I put my gi on my little bike and rode to dojo and there I saw alot of Aikido friends practicing on half of the mat since the other half was filled with rain water (the roof of the dojo had plenty of holes on it).
At night, we had to sew holes on our old gi since we were so poor and the gi is too old and usually got torn up during practice and we could not afford the new one or ask parents to buy for us since that request would be a burden for family's finance. It is so different today, when everything is there and ready to grasp .....but no hand reach out ....students are treated much better today with all of the democracy and courtesy from teachers, students are more well-built than we were before with all the nutritions, students can dress better with Aikido gi in good condition, they can buy almost any books about Aikido to read to enhance their knowledge, students can practice in a decent dojo with lights and at least there is no holes on the roof that the rain water can fall through ......but there is something else that most of them don't have .....how could i say this ? Spirits ? Aspirations ? Something that they could make their practice alive in every thoughts and breaths. Something that could make them come to practice days or nights, rain or shine.
I have some students that have good potential, well behavior, and they absorb Aikido pretty good, after all our efforts to teach and correct their techniques and etiquette every details at our best knowledg . Suddenly the parents pulled them home with reasons such as : My son is so busy at school now, my son has to play piano twice a week ..etc....and they simply left Dojo no matter how hard we try to explain or try to work out a schedule for them, or reduce their tuition. They just left, sometimes those things make me hate teaching so much, sometimes i just want to retire and ride a bike with my gi on it to a certain dojo and there I will be a lowly student under a Sensei like the old days, what I learn, what I value, what I appreciate will always be mine and I will keep them to my heart and soul until I bring them down to dirt. Or even somehow I just want to teach with an attitude " Ignore them, who wants something, try to get it " but as you know, we are human and we have to struggle to do our best when we learn or we teach .....I thought the way of Aikido should be calmness in our minds and bring peace to our souls but sometimes walking on this Path our minds are full of strugglings. . . . .
My reply: I really understand your feelings completely and I wish I can say that it gets better as you continue to struggle in your Aikido and keeping your dojo going but I must admit, from my own experience, even after many decades and years, the struggle still remains the same. I experience what you experience in my dojo every day. People are always coming and going and it seems that people do not have the same patience, perserverence and committment as they did years ago. I know in your home country, these are highly valued and treasured ideals of a human being. However, in this society today, it seems that it is all about "me, me, me!" and it is so hard to reconcile and accept this. Coming from a country where it was so difficult to a country where we seem to have "everything," no - "too much of everything," only seems to bring on a different set of problems. I can understand this. . .
I hope you don't mind that I publish your very beautiful and touching letter here so others can read and learn. I know that there are many veterans of Aikido and teachers who feel exactly as you do,and I am sure that they would want to reach out to you and support your feelings, just as I do. Please know that you are not alone by any means. I also print your letter here to hopefully help the new, younger generation of Aikidoists to know how some of us feel in our hearts.
Japanese today do not talk about their wartime experiences too much but one day Doshu began to relate to me some of his experiences during such difficult times. He recalled that the army had taken many young students away in the draft and he never saw any of them ever return home. Only a very few survived and returned to Hombu Dojo after the war. He said that Tokyo was burned and bombed out and there were hardly any walls and no roof. Not many students around at all, each time he took ukemi, he could see the stars in the sky through the openings in the ceiling. Always hungry with not enough food, they continued to practice everyday whether students came or not. When it rained, he said the mats were covered with water and when it snowed, the ice on the mats cut into their skin. He said it was so difficult and hard in those days but they continued to keep up the dojo no matter what. O'Sensei had retired to the countryside during this time so 2nd Doshu kept up everything by himself and a few students. When you see Hombu Dojo today, you can hardly believe that such a time ever existed at all. Although it is so tough for you, I hope that you can be so "proud" that you suffer the same hardships and difficulties that 2nd Doshu and the great masters of that age did many years ago.
I am getting old and tired too, it is still a struggle each day in the dojo but somehow, I feel so grateful and blessed to have a few students around me practicing very hard and doing very well. Whenever I feel down, I think about what O'Sensei and 2nd Doshu and many, many others went through before us. . . . Please keep up your struggle and endure all hardships, I have great faith in you. . . . . In the old days, the proper attitude for a teacher in our art such as ours is, "if they come, they come; if they go they go." Whenever you need to vent your thoughts or let off some steam, write to me anytime. . . . . .Always and faithfully, and many thanks,
This episode is not directly related to Aikido at all but I thought I would recount it here in light of all the numerous discussions about Aikido against another martial art or against boxing or how effective Aikido is in this situation or that. In my younger days, we used to discuss in this in the same way so I can't criticize it too much. I think that as the years pass and you gain more experience in Aikido and your skills develop to higher levels, this type of discussion gradually disappears.
This story is about my late grandfather and it is a story he told me many years ago as a child. I have always felt that he had some odd and very strange karma to O'Sensei, if I dare to say such a disrespectful thing. I say this because he shared the same rather unusual name as O'Sensei - his birth name was Morihei, with the same kanji characters. In addtion to this coincidence, he passed away at the same age as O'Sensei and exactly on the very same day, April 26th. This has always struck me as an odd coincidence.
Going on, when my grandfather was very young, he wanted to study swordsmanship very badly. However many times he asked the teacher, the teacher bluntly refused to teach him. My grandfather was very persistent and continued to beg him for instruction many times over. Finally, the teacher confessed: "In all my years in sword, it has only saved my life twice. This is hardly worth a lifetime of study! Better not study sword, give it up!"
My grandfather started anyways, but a few years later, he immigrated to the United States. This was in 1919.
Years later, my father met this teacher in the village when he was very young and used to live in Japan. He told me that he was very old by that time and often would wear two swords out on the streets. This was illegal for a long time by then so all the neighbors thought he was very senile. The local policeman would always have to escort him back to his house very politely and gently. My father and the other kids used to think this was so strange so they all used to climb the wall of this old teacher's house and call him bad names and make fun of him. My father said that one day when they were calling him names, he turned and looked at them and then took two of the shoji doors and brought them very close together with only a tiny space apart. The old teacher drew his sword and cut in between the small space of the doors and instantly returned the blade to the saya. My father remembers that the cut was so spine-tingling and frightening and they never bothered him again and whenever they saw him walking around the streets, still wearing his two swords, they always politely bowed to him . . . .
How many times will we encounter and fight another martial artist or boxer in a real fight? We can also worry about bombs, snipers and poisonous gas in our lives. . . . Sometimes, we just have to go on with our lives and not worry about such things. Anyways, I thought this story from my distant past might interest you. Still remember this story to this day. . . Thanks!
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