Breathe in, an invitation
Breathe out, participation
I think it's somewhat human nature as a social being to want to be accepted and belong. Maslow's hierarchy of human needs supports this observation. After we get our basic survival needs met, we tend to want to group together, to belong. We tend to want to be seen, heard, accepted, validated, and appreciated. While I have never played well with others and have always been somewhat socially awkward, I did want a place with kindred spirits to let me know I was not alone, that I didn't always have to explain myself, as well as a place for my simple thoughts and skills. That place had often eluded me throughout my personal and professional life. Now I have found where I belong in both.
Do you remember the first time you entered a Dojo? I do. I had some interest in what I thought was martial arts but had never really seen any. From that curiosity I guess I was open to the idea. It was at Central Michigan University. I was a freshman and we were required to take an activity class in physical education. The two that caught my interest and curiosity was Judo and Isshin-ryu (Okinawan karate). So I signed up and showed up. The instructor invited us onto the mat. We bowed to his invitation, stepped onto the mat and become participants not spectators to the art. In many ways I have never bowed out or left the Dojo. I was hooked, I was home, and I belonged.
Years later, I was at a local martial arts supply store. I had heard about Aikido and seen the moves of magic in books and articles. A local school had morning classes. I was curious and available. Another invitation to stop being a spectator and start being a participant. To sign up, show up, and learn. That was the Westminster Aikikai Dojo of the Tenshinkai Aikido Federation under Aikikai Rokyudan Sensei Dang Thong Phong in California. I trained there for many years.
In 2006, I walked into Roswell Budokan (a branch of the Aikido World Alliance under Rokyudan Andrew Sato) in Georgia. I entered and bowed. Quietly I wanted to simply sit and observe. I wanted to be a spectator. One of the top black belts bowed, exited the mat interrupting his work out to offer me a greeting. I watched. I liked the way they moved not only in their techniques but also with each other. They trained hard and seriously but were also having a good time. I accepted their kind invitation to get off the bleachers and onto the mat.
In practicing Aikido I am often kidded about my entering moves. It seems that I translate entering as initiating, intercepting, and taking balance by illustrating why two objects cannot occupy the same space at once. I invite them to participate in my practice. They invite me to participate in their work out and their personal space. They did not come here to simply be spectators. Neither did I. We enter, we connect, and for a brief moment we become a "we" and we are no longer alone. We belong in this time and space, in this dance together.
As a couple's therapist, I find the same thing. All too often I hear a lot of "I", but no "we". I hear a lot of speaking, but no listening. I see a lot of space, but no joining. Language is telling about how one actually organizes their world. Everyone is a lonely spectator to each other and often their own life. How sad. When what we all want to hear is an invitation to participate in other lives while we invite them to participate in ours. We all want to belong (pride, not possession).
In the dojo I see many people who pay their dues, show up, and practice. They are people who study martial arts but have not yet decided to accept the invitation to become martial artists. Even in doing, they still are spectators. Hopefully, in time, they will hear and heed the invitation to shift their identity from what they do to who they are. It is the shift from simply participating to actually belonging.
I often struggle with the Groucho Marx syndrome. Groucho once said that he would never belong to any organization that would have him for a member. So what was wrong with all these people who offer me an invitation to participate, to belong? I don't know, but I know it's their problem now because after 40 years I am here to stay.
Breathe in, an invitation
Breathe out, participation
Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Dang Thong Phong at the Westminster Aikikai Dojo in Southern California. He is the co-author, with Phong Sensei, of Aikido Basics (2003), Advanced Aikido (2006), and Aikido Weapons Techniques (2006) for Tuttle Publishing. His martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders and victims of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains at Roswell Budokan.