I apologize for not putting out a blog for the month of October. The various events and circumstances during October that kept me out of town and away from writing, led me to reflect on learning. My senior students had to really step up and play the role of teacher in my absence, which helped them to understand the value of learning by teaching.
I am amazed by how many people either want to do it over again, or pretend that their understanding of things is true, rather than recognizing and reveling within one’s mistakes in order to gain some genuine wisdom. The biggest fools of all are those people who are so invested in what they believe that they not only refuse to have their positions “tested”, but find every conceivable way to justified the “rightness” of an inane position. The unwillingness to have a position “tested”, particularly in the martial arts world, strikes me as little more that cowardliness. The attempts to them “talk” away the unwillingness to stand behind one’s words, displays the glib strength that only an arm-chair warrior could muster. People like that are beyond help, until they are willing to experience a bracing dose of reality. The long-haired fool across the pond, with the golden and useless pontifications serves as a poster child for what people who want to genuinely learn should avoid. Trying to help this type of fool typically does not work. This type of fool has to get off of the over-compensated, high horse of false esteem in order to ever begin to genuinely learn how much there is to really learn.
I would rather focus on helping students to learn how to embrace our lack of knowledge, for it is our lack of knowledge that provides us with an opportunity to learn more. When we are training, we have to be fully aware of what we are doing wrong in both the role of uke and nage. It is a lot easier on our egos to focus on what we are doing right. Then again, if we are doing it right, why not focus in on the areas that we can continue to develop. It should be okay to stop in the middle of something in order to gain a deeper appreciation of what is not working. It should be okay to slow down to a speed where we can be alert and aware of what we are doing, so that we can understand what is working and what is not working. It should be okay to take advice and feedback from people junior to us in rank and experience. It should be okay to be pushed to the point of obvious failure.
During my wrestling career, I asked Dan Gable (Olympian wrestler) during a Q & A session at one of his camps if his biggest disappointed was having suffered a loss in a match. He answered that it was a hard experience to lose, but that he learned more from the loss than he did from all of his victories. He actively encouraged us to try our very best and always embrace our problems and a source for positive change. Aikido lacks competition, so it is not as easy for us to become aware of our problem areas. There is nothing quite as eye-opening as a loss in a match to help you focus in on weaknesses. The self-esteem and integrity levels need to be higher in people when they train in areas that do not have competitions, in order to become aware of what should be obvious. People become so focused on what they do well as their source for self-esteem that the interpret the focus on problem areas as a sign of insecurity and low self-esteem. I view it from the other side of the proverbial coin. If you are secure enough in yourself, you should not be worried about focusing in on your problem areas. Your ego is strong and is related to who you are as a person, as opposed to what you do as a person.
I would like us all to push ourselves this month to increase our sensitivity toward problem areas and actively embrace them as a well-spring for positive changes in our abilities. This process will test our abilities to both teach and learn in the role of uke and nage. When difficulties emerge in your training with certain partners, see how much responsibility lies within your training process and why it happens to reflect back to you with that particular partner. Train hard, smart and safe!
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here