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Home > Training > On Stopping, Starting, Persevering and Growing
by Mike Collins - June 18, 2003

In my time involved with Aikido, I bet I've seen, met, known and/or been friends with about 5-600 people who started, got a bit of rank and quit. Probably another 5-600 who signed up for three months (and paid for the full three months??!!) then went to one class, maybe two, and quit. I'm so cheap, I only stayed because I'd paid for the whole three months to get a deal, and I wasn't about to give up all that dough without staying the whole time. I was so disillusioned the first few weeks, I would have certainly quit if not for my inate cheapness.

I've also known a sizeable cadre of folks who have stuck it out to Shodan or Nidan, and who, because life's pressures required it, have stopped training for a time, and will probably end up training again at a more relaxed time in their lives. Most of those folks started in Aikido while in College, because our dojo had at one time a natural feeder class into the dojo. They started to train at a time when there was virtually no pressure on them to support themselves or anyone else, and by the time they'd made Shodan or Nidan, they were beginning to get some real pressure to start to fend for themselves and or their wives/husbands (many met on the mat). I stay in touch with a lot of these folks, we occasionally socialize together, and they're pretty much all successful folks, doing what people their ages should be doing, working, staying fit by exercising and/or biking, rock climbing etcetera. I ended up in Aikido at the time in life that I did, purely by chance. I'd screwed up the order of a lot of things in my life by living as an "outsider" to life for the first part of my life, when I should have been in school and doing Aikido. By the time I started, it was important to me not as a diversion from other things, or as an adventure in accomplishment, it was a vital part of getting to and maintaining a balance in my life, and in a way it saved me from myself.

I've thought several times about bailing out on Aikido because of some pretty varied issues, ranging from pain to politics to honesty with myself. As I consider what's kept me going this far, I still have no idea what it is that motivates me to continue, except that I'm someone who needs to be constantly aware that I don't know stuff. During those brief periods where I start to feel that I understand what makes Aikido work, I find myself getting bored and restless, so I inevitably end up going to train with someone higher up the ladder than me, besides my teacher (who I'd also bet finds himself in the occasional rut), and I get yet again amazed that such seemingly magical stuff is possible, let alone possible for me to do.

I've done stuff like whining to friends about the state of politics, I've whined to virtual strangers, and it was to no avail. The only thing that ever made me want to keep going was to see or read the example of someone else who'd plodded through some of his/her own stuff. I have some good friends who trained through divorce, death in their families (I've had a share of those in my time on the mat), coming to terms with deep personal issues (and in some cases, I wish some would). It seems to me that those who stay and keep training do so because it does something very personal for them. This art is not for everybody at every time in their life. There are some who stay with it as an exercise of will, and in some of those cases, maybe they should quit. I'd prefer to be around those who stay because it affects their heart in a positive way. The deal is, for some, staying as an exercise of will may well lead to a positive change in their hearts, so I've gotta make room for them too.

Like any worthwhile endeavour, Aikido is a poor subject for evangelization, but excellent for attraction rather than promotion. You (okay, most of us- this does not allow for the occasional used car salesman) can't talk someone into doing anything, but if you show them what's possible you'll attract those with an affinity for what you're showing.

I feel a responsibility to those who started after me to train as if I'm enjoying it, and to train with them in such a way that they have a great time and want to keep training. I try to show them what I can technically, but ultimtely I kind of think we mostly teach ourselves based on what we see a teacher doing rather than somehow getting information downloaded into us, so it's more important that training be pleasant than that it be charged with good information. The only download that seems to be effective is what we can make our partner feel both as uke and nage, so mindfulness while having a good time seems to be the right mix for me, at least for now.

I have a friend who'd been training twenty years when he stopped going to the dojo. He made the choice to spend most of his free time watching his kids grow up, being acvtive in their schooling and sports and I admire him for that. I needed to start doing Aikido after my kids were born to help make me more available to them when I was with them. I have changed as a result of Aikido, but I don't really see the change, primarily because as a result of whatever change has taken place, I realize more than ever my own shortcomings, and see the shortcomings far more clearly than the growth. But when I consider it, I realize that the growth has happened. At some point, I may make the growth my aim, and see some real progress, but I'd be lieing if I said I'd worked all that hard at perfecting myself to date. I've been too busy doing and gaining stuff to work as hard as I need to at discarding stuff, a process I've just recently begun.


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