This column was written by A.J. Garcia.
There are some things I learned from Aikido that I've applied to my present Iaido practice, but which can be equally applied to any Budo. These are in no particular order:
Complete the motion before beginning a new one. Fully concentrate on what you're doing now--then concentrate on what you're doing next, when that moment comes. Don't take sloppy shortcuts--they leave you unbalanced (aikido) or open to attack (iaido). Oh, yes, they also cause most of the martial arts injuries, too (the knee, for example, is a hinge, not a ball joint; turn, don't twist).
Pay attention to your surroundings--just like you don't fling Uke off into the path of another student, you need to be aware of your, and others', three-foot razor blades, etc., and where they're going. Refine your awareness of everything that is happening around you, where everything is, and what fellow student you're most likely to decapitate next (whether with an atemi, bokken or iaito). If you damage uke (or your sempai), who will you have to practice with? And, if this was a real battle, wouldn't you want to know where the armed enemy was?
Be polite. Say thank you when someone helps you--and pay attention and apply the lesson. Gratitude is always acceptable, and appreciated. The sincerest gift someone can give you is of themself; show that you value it.
Footwork DOES matter. Be aware of where yours are and how you're moving them. Proper motion makes a big difference. Don't slide when you should step and vice versa, don't substitute one step for two, and recover your foot (bring it back next to the other foot) where required.
Rhythm matters. Learn the rhythm of the art you're practicing. Work on eliminating jerky movements, the "ah-one and ah-two" stuff. This isn't Aiki-dancing; it's refining your motion until it's seamless, until you actually are moving before you appear to be. That half-second where your opponent (or practice partner) isn't aware of your motion is often all you need to take the lead/gain the advantage.
All arts change, even if in subtle ways. We just got kata changes that have taken 20 years to iron out and be decided on. Go with the flow. You're never too old to learn how to do something new, and it just might be (really!) a better move/stroke. You still know how to do it the "old" way--you'll never lose that--so now you have two ways to do it.
Senseis are human. They smoke, drink, tell jokes, have tempers, get sick, get divorced, etc. Some are on a mission for their art, some just love to teach it, some are very spiritual, some are sharp business people, and some are not. They are people, not demi-gods. That said, choose an ethical teacher, and show your teacher respect by learning what is taught to the best of your ability. S/he may die, you may move away...make the most of the time you have to learn what you can.
Be calm. Be graceful. Be deadly effective. Stay focused and move always with intent.
Learn your motions slowly at first; going slow shows you your weak areas, where you wobble or don't quite align. The time for speed is once you've mastered the movement. Don't be overly impatient for mastery; it will come, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. And, there will always be one kata you never feel you master, no matter how hard you try.
Give back to your practice community: refinish, mend, or maintain something (like a website, for example); help clean the dojo; pass on equipment/hakama you don't need; help plan and participate in potlucks and social events; go on group outings; participate in public demonstrations of your art, and so on. Build the community up, instead of letting it crumble from neglect. Maybe you can't do a lot, but do what you can.
If you work with weapons, keep them in good shape. Oil the wood, keep the blades clean, house them in proper protective carriers, and treat them with respect. And, since you always are working with other people, do your best to keep your gi, hakama, and yourself clean, too.
Finally, there should always be an element of play in whatever art you practice. You should enjoy it, even when learning is tough at times. Take it seriously, but not too seriously. Laughter is appropriate.
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"The Mirror" is a collaborative column written by a group of women who describe themselves as:
We comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from 30s through 50s, we are kyu ranked and yudansha and from various parts of the United States and styles of aikido. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.