Tom Newhall wrote:
Let me take a contrary position:
In my (limited) experience with Aikido, I've found that the more and more I get involved, the more my goals begin to taper off. Therefore, I believe that the highest echelon of Aikido practice is practice without goals, practice that is nothing more than practice. This terminology is derived from my study of religion, but can be directly applied to aikido.
When I first began Aikido, it was basically on a lark. A good friend at my job here on campus taught a (for credit) class, and basically, time became free in my schedule and I signed up. I never even had the experience of "wow, that is so cool... I really really want to do that." I don't even remember my first class. But now, I've taken that friend's place, and Aikido is basically eating my life alive (and I love it!) I made no conscious decision, just happened.
It seems that there is no way to control the path that Aikido takes you on. You'd just better be ready to hold on tight for the ride. Aikido naturally becomes part of your life through constant practice, that's how it works, there's nothing you need to do to integrate it into your life, except practice, practice, practice. If you're doing aikido with the intention to become the best, you'll only be focused on how to attain your goals in Aikido, rather than on Aikido. On the mat, Aikido is always there, regardless of how you practice. In other words, all practice is good practice; the first-day student is doing Aikido just as much as the 6th dan.
However, I understand that it is very important for some people to practice with a goal in mind. There's nothing wrong with the desire to be better than you are. Training in this way is good, but I think the best way to train is to truly "lose yourself on the mat." The tree of aikido feeds itself. Becoming the root is not your decision, it naturally happens as a product of training.
Furthermore, if you make some decision to make aikido an important part of your life, you're neglecting the fact that whether you like it or not, your life will change. Aikido may be the most important thing in your life when you make that decision, but what about a year from now? What about ten? What are the odds that your life can support an aikido career indefinitely? So if you want to be a root, be a root, but don't get too attached to your root-ness. Maybe someday it will fade too. So stop worrying about your rank, your place in the aikido hierarchy, or your future as the next Steven Seagal/Saotome Shihan sent by the gods to bring aikido to the masses. Leave that crap, your shoes, and your ego at the edge of the mat and just train.
I'm done, open the floodgates.
Lots of Soto Zen in this... and sure on the cosmic levl its true but on the mundane level it's not going to cut it. It's not all the same... one peron's shihonage isn't the same as another's. One person's skill isn't the same as another. Their value as human beings may be the same but their accomplishment in the doing of the art and their understanding of the art are not.
One of the issues with the application of Zen-like philosophy to our understanding of Zen or anything else is that it most often ignores the basic foundation of what makes that system of transmission work... namely, the Roshi, the Master who oversees your training. All of that stuff about the identity of Zazen and Enlightenment is True in the big sense but it doesn't in any way mean that anyone who sits down to do zazen is a Roshi. It takes twenty years of hard work to REALLY begin doing that. And there are countless pitfalls and distractions which can take one off the Path and it is the job of the Teacher to keep that from happening.
The whole idea of training without goals, being unconcerned with rank, not worrying about ideas of progress, etc is fundamentally based on the idea that one is training with a master level instructor whom you can trust enough to set aside all of your own desires, prejudices, and aspirations and allow the Teacher to direct your training. There are very few Teachers of that level available in Aikido. Most people don't get to train with them. So, if it's all the same to you, then it doesn't matter. But this is not the road to mastery.
Training without goals, training with no concern for progress is simply a recipe for mediocrity and dilletantism. This is the basic misinterpretation of Zen which the Beat Generation figures made... They all loved the idea that we are all Buddhas essentially, in the Cosmic sense. But that lead people to think it was all cool, all the same and it didn't matter. In an Cosmic sense one could say any 6th Kyu is a Buddha. True! And I am a Buddha who is an Aikido Teacher. Also , true. Cosmically we are equal... in fact Cosmically we are the same in that we are both part of the unified Great Mind. But in terms of Aikido, I am a Buddha who can do iriminage and that 6TH kyu is a Buddha who can't. Thinking that tons of repetitions done in whatever manner will yield the goods is essentially the fifty million monkeys typing approach to Shakespeare. One might get it but 49 million plus were typing gibbersh. And every one of those Monkeys was a Buddha.