Rebecca Montange wrote:
I found this article extremely interesting. It resonated with me at a variety of levels and made me give my own training a hard look.
People lie to themselves. They do it all the time. Some do it more than others, but most, if not everyone, involved in this thread has been guilty of it. Ledyard Sensei's article addresses the lies in aikido, but the problem goes well beyond that. I've seen it happen among climbers, I've seen it in karateka, I saw it all over the place among volunteer EMTs when I rode ambulances. I saw it in some of my students when I was a chemistry TA, especially among pre-meds but also among the science majors. One of my ex-boyfriends tried to build his life around the lies he told himself. That's like building a house of vapor, and when the cold wind came he was left with nothing. He hadn't even tried to sample things beyond his lies, to find out what it truly is that he's good at and wants to do. I have a sister who is similarily lost, though I think she'll find her way in time. I see it in my fellow grad students as well. We lie about our motivations, we lie about our skill, we lie about our goals, we lie about our commitment and so on. One of my labmates is working hard that week if he puts in 35 hours but to hear him talk he's in the lab all the time. It's almost as if the people who talk the most are the ones who do the least. Maybe the talking is to reinforce the lies. Maybe it's rooted in insecurity about what others expect of us or what we expect of ourselves.
The blame for the lies a person tells themself never lies with their teacher. It's not the teacher's job to keep you honest. Give you a wake-up call maybe, but your commitment and your honesty come from within. A teacher can show you knowledge and guide you towards it, but he or she can't hand it to you on a plate and say "eat up". Talk is cheap. Learning is hard. Maybe that's another place the lies come from.
Theres something else being touched on here that I can't resist sounding off on. In any endeavour, you're going to hit a point where to reach the next level you're going to have to make sacrifice. The step from fifth to fourth kyu is easy. The step from shodan to nidan is not so easy. To break into and climb up through the yudansha ranks you have to put a huge amount of time and effort into your training, both on and off the mat. The same goes for getting a degree of any kind, and the more advanced the degree the more time and energy it takes. I use this example because it comes out of my own life. I got out of high school with a shodan. I am now half way through my third year of a doctoral program in biochemistry. It wasn't hard to get in - I had a freakishly long research record when i got out of college. I'm doing very well in grad school. I've passed my qualifiers. I somehow landed on one profile paper that came out in late 2004 and I've got a couple more papers(that I actually deserve to have my name on) in the hopper for early next year. As far as progress goes, I'm in roughly the same place the fourth year students are in. But this success did not come without a huge cost. I don't have much of a life. There's things, like volunteering, I used to love to do but don't have time for. I can't climb anywhere near as much as I'd like. My snowboarding skills are stagnant. I've let playing the viola slide off the edge. And because of choices I made in my pursuit of science, from where I went to college to what I decided to do with my free time in college to where I decied to go to grad school to how much time I dedicate to my labwork I didn't get my nidan until a couple weeks ago. In that space of time my brother acquired his shodan and nidan, and my dad got his nidan and sandan. Thing is, with both science and aikido, I'd hit the point where I had to choose where my energy would go. And, much as I love aikido, I love science more. So I made the choice. My aikido has suffered for it. Maybe one day I'll change my mind. But right now I don't want to.
Thanks for talking about your own experience because it relates exactly to what I have been trying to get across. Everything is about trade offs. Very few people have the talent to do multiple things really well, at least not simultaneously... so we decide how to spend our time and energy. If we put that time into one thing we don't have it to spend on something else. The fact that you could even do grad school and still train hard enough to get your Nidan is a major achievement all by itself. Congratulations!
It's not about some objective standard that everyone is supposed to meet. For some people apsects of the art come easily and for others those same aspects come hard. Who is doing the hard training? The one who comes in and picks the stuff up relatively easily? Or the one who comes in and fights to gain his understanding night after night? Whose knowledge will be deeper when it is finally attained?
You could have some young Aikido fanatic who has no partner, no kids, a job which is designed to do nothing but support his training, who trains every day. While his technical progress will certainly be rapid simply due to more practice, is he really putting as much of himself into his training as you are? You've managed to work towards your graduate degree and still train and train seriously enough to get your Nidan! With all of your responsibilities it would be far harder for you to keep your training going than the person who has nothing interfering with his commitment. You are clearly a serious student of Aikido. It's just that your ultimate goal is to be a scientist who does Aikido. If your goal was to be an Aikido Shihan, then i'd say your priorities would need to change but it seems that you are quite clear about what you are doing. Aikido fits into the space left after you do what you have set out to do. In my book that is still being a serious student.
One of Saotome Sensei's first students in Florida in the early seventies was a guy who was the first member of his family to attend college. Although he was very serious about his Aikido he hit the crossroads point where he had to decide what to do, either go to medical school or become a professional Aikido teacher. He and Sensei together decided that it was really his Path to become a doctor. Not only did he do this but he became a heart surgeon! He was known amongst his peers as the "Zen Surgeon" because he treated surgery like a form of randori in which he basically went in to a meditative state while he worked. He could do an operation in a time hours shorter than his collegues because he never stopped moving, never got distracted by anything. I talked to him about how he did this and he credited his Aikido training for this ability. He quite consciously treated his surgery as a form of randori. So despite the fact that he hasn't been on the mat much over the years, whose practice went deeeper, my friend doing surgery randori or some fellow perfecting his Nikkyo? One isn't better than the other. Both have trained seriously when they were training. One has taken the Path of Mastery of the Art of Aikido itself, while the other took the principles of the art as he had learned them from his brief but very intense practice and applied them to attain mastery of a different art.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig talks about conducting a college class in which he set the class to defining what was meant by "Quality". Of course the whole thing made the class crazy and ended up putting Pirsig completely off the deep end. But on some level I am trying to spark the same discussion... What is a "quality" practice? What is "quality" Aikido? What is a "quality" teacher? Each person has to come up with his own answer, and unlike in Zen when your answer isn't on target, there is no whack with a stick or ringing of a bell to tell you that you're missing the mark. Only your own continuous work will give you the "right" answer and that answer will not be anyone else's answer, just your own.