This month's column was written by Pauliina Lievonen.
What's the difference between an amateur and a professional? Is it whether you make a living doing what you do? Or is it just a question of priority; a hobby is not one's first priority, but one's work might be?
Experience is counted in hours, not in years. Putting ten thousand hours under your belt will take 32 years if you practice six hours a week, every week. If you practice six hours a day, it will take 4,5 years, and after 32 years, you will have almost 70 thousand hours under your belt. Those numbers, to me, give an idea of the difference. Where exactly the cutting point would be, I don't know.
Would I like to practice aikido six hours a day year in year out? No.
Would I like to be treated as a professional? In my dreams and fantasies, of course I would. I'd like to be seen as knowledgeable and skillful and all kinds of impressive. Sometimes, leading the beginners' classes at our dojo, the fantasy even seems true.
I'm sure most aikido amateurs are sensible adults who have no trouble seeing their small part in the big picture. So maybe this column is for those who like me have trouble letting go of their childish fantasies of superpowers and great achievements.
But wait, someone is bound to say, we're supposed to have dreams! You can achieve anything if you just believe in yourself!
Yes, but in addition to believing in yourself you do have to actually put in the hours, too.
So having established that I'm never going to be a master of aikido, because I'm not willing to put in the hours, why bother at all? Because it's fun?
And if it's fun I'm after, why not just pretend? Pretend to be powerful, and at the same time flowing, and harmonious and wise; invincible is maybe going a bit too far, oh well, why not!
Now here's something I can write with authority about, having been there and done that. The reason why not is that reality has this annoying habit of trying to get your attention at inconvenient moments. An unknown uke at a seminar doesn't know their role in your play acting, or someone on a discussion forum doesn't appreciate the wisdom of your words. You get ignored by a teacher who prefers to give attention to the more serious students. How mean of them.
(At this point I feel a great urge to ask for testimonials from friends and dojomates to assure my readers that I'm really not such a sad case as all thatů)
In short, pretending to be someone you're not means some day you might be found out. The rest of the world won't care, but it will be painful for yourself. And that isn't fun. So paradoxically, it's more fun to be honest about who you are, and what you can and can't do.
Once you get your head back down from the clouds you might find that there are quite a lot of little things to be enjoyed at ground level. You'll find out that there really isn't a secret of aikido that sensei just forgot to reveal to you. It really is about all those niggly little details. And paying attention to details can make practice more interesting. Which is more fun.
Those awkward ukes aren't such a problem after all. You're not an aikido master, so it's to be expected that practicing with someone new will be awkward. And maybe if you ask them they'll tell you what you can improve.
If you get sick, or your family needs extra attention, you won't despair, because you're not trying to get six hours of practice every day year in year out anyway. So you take care of the things that need taking care of and then return to practice.
And if more experienced people happen to ignore you sometimes, well, they've put in the hours, and just maybe they do have things to discuss among themelves that you just can't contribute much to. You know where you are in your progress, and they are somewhere else.
Even if you do only attend a couple classes a week, if you keep consistently attending the couple of classes that you've decided to attend, you'll progress. No, you still won't become an aikido master. But after a while you'll notice that you've gotten better at some of the little things. And you've earned that progress, you know how you got there. You won't need anybody else telling you. You'll know where you are, and how you got there, and maybe where you want to be going next.
"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.