My life as a psychologist heightens my sense of appreciation for my budo training. In my “day job,” I am confronted with the use of language as a means by which others try and hide reality from both themselves and from others. I have personally used Aikido as my form of “therapy” where I cannot hide from how it is that I address and handle conflicts and relationships with others. I started learning Aikido because I did not like who I could be when I dealt with conflicts. My history in “hard” fighting arts and sports enabled me to get in touch with the meanness that resides in all of us. It served a role in my earlier life and I wanted to be able to move beyond having to access that part of my being as often as I did.
Aikido has taught me a lot about how to be more caring and connected with others in venues outside of my professional life. I truly believe that learning from my teacher, Imaizumi Sensei, helped me to mature into a more centered and nicer person. One does not rid ones self of the potential for meanness. I simply learned that I did not have to access that part of myself as much as I once believed that I had to.
I would simply be a liar to not acknowledge Ellis Amdur’s observation about many people misusing their Aikido as a venue to express anger in a passive-aggressive manner. However, I have found that the people who have moved to Aikido from backgrounds in more combative arts, do not seem to have that same need to use their Aikido as a playground for passive-aggressive behaviors (generally speaking). No matter how one chooses to express one’s Aikido in a dojo, the dojo environment is a crucible in which these forms of expressions become apparent to all.
Training in a dojo is an opportunity to put one’s sense of self to the test. The crucible of controlled violence brings out a person’s interpersonal/psychological issues. It is obvious when we have good days and bad days. It is obvious when our flowery rhetoric does not sustain the heat of a genuine attack. It is obvious when there is a clash of personalities. In other words, one’s actions speaks a lot louder than words.
It is not easy for a teacher to manage this crucible. We have to allow ourselves and our students to thrive and grow in this most difficult of environments. All of us make mistakes and the important thing is being given an opportunity to learn from these mistakes and in doing so, mature into more caring and connecting people. These last couple of weeks have really highlighted this topic for me. I have experienced helping a student come in touch with past issues of violence, allowing this person to use the dojo as a genuine growth experience. I have “nicked” a student with a bokken because I did not have enough control to fully pull back when a student was not able to control the path of a tsuki. I have allowed myself to be slightly injured by someone at a seminar who without forewarning, engaged in “Neanderthal Aikido.” I managed to turn this incident into a positive learning experience for that person without ever reflexively feeling the need for angry retribution. I had to directly confront a student’s passive-aggressive behaviors that began to jeopardize the safety of some students and challenge the appropriate social hierarchy of a dojo environment. Unfortunately, this person did not turn this into a learning experience and simply withdrew from the school, despite my many, many hours of practice and the wonderful relationships that this person developed with myself and the other students. These events ended with a humbling, enriching and outstanding learning experience that myself, my wife and my son had thanks to the truly generous teachings of Dan Harden and some of his students. I really like to always see how much further I need to develop. I like it even more so, when I can be guided as skillfully as I was when I was working with Dan and his students.
So many different types of events in a relatively short period of time. All of those events continue to highlight how important those first steps onto the mat are when I begin my training and/or teaching. The dojo environment is a crucible for honesty with little room for deceit (unless you train in a dojo where this type of atmosphere is allowed to thrive). I hope that I can only improve in my ability to create and sustain this atmosphere for all of my students so that we call can learn and better ourselves in a safe, caring environment.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here