Don’t Confuse Niceness for Weakness

throw2A certain football coach has been at the forefront of the news lately.  The overwhelming majority label him as a “nice guy”.  However, the context and tone of the phrase leads me to believe that when they say “nice guy”, it is not actually a compliment, but almost a character defect.  It is as if the coach will not be able to perform his duties or rise to greatness because he is “nice”.  This is a cultural myth perpetuated by the media and movies; that if you are nice, then you are somehow weak, uncompetitive, and do not “have what it takes”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

This idea starts from the notion of “tough love”; common in sports and athletic endeavors.  This idea is that you have to be hard or harsh to a student for their own good – to make them take the step to the next level.  On the same thread, a student must develop a strong mental attitude to overcome the inevitable hardships and setbacks one must endure to get to the next level.  They also must have a strong mental attitude to face their competition.  Often, an opponent can mentally derail a fellow competitor with trash-talk, jibes, insults, etc. so that they do not perform their best.

Where this notion has gone wrong is the next idea that a competitor/athlete must therefore become “mean” in order to be tough enough to face the competition.  By extension, a person who is not “mean” must not be tough enough to excel in athletic endeavors.

In martial arts, courtesy is taught right alongside lethal and joint-destructive techniques.  The most terrifying people I know are the ones who will smile, say hello, and then take you out,  without so much as a hint.  These people have nothing to prove, they are confident in their own abilities, and they will not provoke or insult, because there is no need to provoke.  They have the greatest desire to excel; to become constantly better than their opponents, and themselves.

So you can then, have courtesy, and be nice without compromising your competitive spirit.  Trash-talk, insults, and being “mean” is about trying to prove something to someone else.  It has nothing to do with being an excellent competitor, improving your abilities, developing a tough mental attitude, and being strong, mentally and physically

Integrity – Its What You Do When No One Is Watching


GambatteAs an Instructor, I often move about the martial arts mat making corrections to techniques, and offering advice.  Even with Adults, I often notice that the student will adjust their technique if they think I am watching them. For most students this is an unconscious action, but even so, I still ask the question “Why”?  What are you trying to change now that you think I am watching?  If you are changing, then which is the “real” technique, when I am watching or when I am not?

Most of us are social creatures; we interact and respond to the people that are around us.  Have you ever acted differently because you knew someone was watching you?  Have you ever been singing in the car to a great tune, only to stop  when you see the guy laughing at you in the car next to you?  We are often embarrassed in social situations when we perceive others are judging us or mocking us.

However, as I tell my students, eventually you must become comfortable with yourself as a person; what you say, what you do, what you think.  The term I would use for this is Integrity.  Integrity is the steadfast dedication to the truth, be it scientific truth, historical truth, or personal truth.  There is an easier way to think about it, however.  Integrity is what you do when no one is watching you.  You sacrifice your integrity every time you change your behavior for others.  In order to take your character (and your training) to the next level, you must find a way to become a person of Integrity all the time; 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.   Find the person that you are when no one is watching, and make that person who you are in all situations.  You will be one step closer to becoming a more happy, comfortable, fulfilled person.  A person of Integrity.

A Center to Hold On To: My Relationship with Aikido

By Genevieve Ellerbee, 5th Kyu.

I discovered Aikido during a miserable year. I was sixteen, heading into my junior year of high school – a time when emotional ups and downs are routine. But I was also living in the Philippines, missing my friends, struggling through advanced classes I wasn’t really prepared for, and watching my parents’ marriage fall apart in slow motion. (A bout of chicken pox probably didn’t help matters.) I was completely at sea, but had no real idea why, or what I could do to fix it. Outwardly, I did my best to look like the dutiful eldest daughter I was supposed to be, but inside I was confused and lonely.

It was my math teacher who suggested I try Aikido. I hadn’t heard of it before, but he was encouraging, and it was probably partly the crush I had on him which made me agree to give it a try.  The dojo was in an athletic club near my house, so I bought my gi, tied my belt on (incorrectly) and was dropped off to start my first class.  I remember standing outside the door to the dojo, dodging the exiting kendo students who used the space first, and wondering whether this was going to work. I had studied Taekwondo as a little kid, but aside from a few photos of my six-year-old self throwing determined punches, I hadn’t retained anything from my first foray into martial arts.

What I found was a space where I could be reassured by an orderly world, which then permitted me to feel safe about attempting more and more. I had never been any sort of athlete, or attempted to discover what my body could do when I pushed myself. The formal courtesies and expectations of the dojo gave me an anchor, and feeling secure gave me the confidence to try doing things that I had no notion I could ever accomplish. My fellow students were kind and supportive, and although I rarely saw them outside of the dojo, there was a strong sense of fellowship. My sensei was a blend of gravitas and good cheer, which meant that I tried to do my best but wasn’t locking up at the possibility of failure. And the feeling I got when I did a technique correctly, when I felt how it was all supposed to work, when class was over and I was tired and sweaty and happy – it was incredible. It made me feel alive in a way I didn’t expect, and it gave me a center to hold on to.

It didn’t last very long, unfortunately. Our family returned to the US after a year, and I was soon caught up in my senior year of high school, applications to colleges, reconnecting with friends. I attempted to find another dojo that gave me what I had to leave behind, and couldn’t. None of them had that feeling of fellowship, and it seemed like Aikido was one of a dozen martial arts offered, salad bar style. Many of them had cultivated a weird machismo that made me uncomfortable, especially since there didn’t seem to be any women around. The dojo that came closest to what I wanted was too far away for me to get to classes on time. Eventually, I gave up looking. I made sure that my gi and weapons were always safely stored, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the chance to use them again.

Nearly twenty years later, I finally managed it. I was in my thirties, married, living in the Midwest. At some point, I noticed that there were several dojos in the area, and it occurred to me that if I wanted to study Aikido again, I could make it happen. I picked a dojo more or less at random, telling myself that if this was the wrong place, I could move on. Squashing down my nerves and clutching my weapons awkwardly against me, I walked in and asked if I could start training. By the end of the first lesson, I knew that I had found the right dojo.

Training as a 36-year old is, unsurprisingly, quite different from training as a 16-year old. My body creaks a lot more, and my knees ache, and there’s a lot more huffing and puffing. But the important things still remain. I have the good companionship of my fellow students, who keep me going forward. I have a sensei who guides the dojo with humor, calmness, and expertise, who helps me when I struggle and tells me when I’ve succeeded. And I have a space where I can enter, shed some of my preoccupations, and focus down on my self, my body, and my mind, hopefully learning something and carrying it with me when I leave, tired, and sweaty, and happy.

Dojo Update 9/24/09 – Gettin’ the Word Out

The Gambatte Dojo at Aikido of Nebraska is now in its third week of classes.  Without any advertising, we managed to bring in some quality students for our first weeks of class.  All of us have had to do some figuring-out of expectations, but it has been a fun 3 weeks for all, and we are getting into the enjoyable routine of challenging and beneficial training.

The difficult task before us now is; how do we get the word out?  The students know we have a valuable service to the community, and that many would benefit from this type of training, whether you are looking for fitness, mind-body connection, self-defense, or just to get away from the rest of life for 2 hours.  When people see the benefits firsthand, they don’t have to be “sold”, they join.  So, how do we let people know there is a valuable service in their community that they would want to participate in?

Of course there is the standard types of advertising; direct marketing, print media, radio, TV, and the internet. The trouble with these avenues is people are so inundated with “commercials” that they tend to tune them out, beneficial or not. At Aikido of Nebraska, we want to rely on the best type of advertising; word-of-mouth. So, we leave it to you – get the word out!  Let your friends and family know about something they might be interested in.  Let your co-workers know – you might even develop a better relationship with them.  Help us get the word out.  It would be a crime to have a service that someone wanted/needed, and they never knew it was just around the corner.


Todd Roberts