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.

Its OK to be a White Belt.

white beltArticle provided by Paul Fanning, 6th Kyu

Think back to a time when you learned a new martial arts technique.  Did you get it right the first time?  Probably not.  How did that make you feel?

If you were a white belt, you probably didn’t feel surprised at all, because you knew you were a beginner.  You knew it was natural to make some mistakes when starting something new.

If you were a more advanced student and didn’t pick up the new technique immediately, how did you feel?  Did you

feel stupid?  Incompetent?  Did it make you wonder if you really deserved the rank you wore?

There’s a challenge to learning in martial arts that tends to grow as we move up in rank.  The farther we move forward, the more we are tempted to feel frustrated when we don’t pick up new things instantly.  When our sensei shows us a new move and makes it look effortless and even magical, some of us think, Wow, I’m a [insert belt color] so why can’t I do it like that?

Let me suggest that the problem is that advanced students frustrate themselves because they think they should be experts right away.  My previous martial arts instructor told me that sometimes you have to give yourself permission to be a white belt.  His point was that anytime you learn something new, you’re still a white belt as far as the new material is concerned—no matter what color belt is tied around your waist.  So if you tell yourself it’s okay not to get something right the first time, you can avoid the self-doubt and frustration that come with expecting perfection.

This has been one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in martial arts.  I came to aikido less than a year ago after training for much of my life in taekwondo.  Although I hold a black belt in that style, I could not expect to do perfect aikido the first day I stepped onto the mat because most of the concepts in aikido were new to me.  As I put on

a fresh gi and a white belt for the first time in 30 years, I had to give myself permission to be a white belt.  I knew I wouldn’t do aikido like a black belt the first night or anytime soon—and that was okay.  It was more important to acknowledge I was a beginner if I was going to give myself room to learn and not grow frustrated.

This is a valuable lesson in life off the mat too.  Some people don’t try new things because they think they wouldn’t be any good at them.  Maybe they are right, but so what?  Maybe people would try new things if they would give themselves permission to be beginners.  When you take up a new hobby, start a new job or take a new class, you are a putting on a white belt in that new hobby, job or class.  Suppose you’re learning to play the piano.  Work hard, but don’t demand that you will play like a black belt in piano immediately.  Tell yourself there is no shame in not getting something right the first time.  Then you won’t get as frustrated about your mistakes and shortcomings as you polish your new skill.

Can an advanced student catch onto new material faster than a beginner?  Sometimes, because the advanced student has spent more time on the basic material that leads up to the new technique.  But even for an expert there is a first time for something new.  If the expert admits that, he is ready to learn with the open-mindedness and humility of a beginner.

Remember, no matter what rank you wear in class or what you do outside the dojo, we all have moments when it’s okay to be a white belt.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courtesy (Rei)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

” Samurai have no reason to be cruel.  They do not need to prove their strength.  A Samurai is courteous even to his enemies.  Without this outward show of respect, we are nothing more than animals. A Samurai is not only respected for his strength in battle, but also by his dealings with other men.  The true strength of a Samurai becomes apparent by showing his character during difficult times.”

My students will tell you that they receive training on courtesy and etiquette ad nauseam!  Why? Because I believe that martial arts schools are one of the last places in our society where manners, etiquette, and courtesy can be taught.  I also believe that courtesy and manners can vastly change your life, and it costs you almost nothing.  How often can you get a deal like that any more?

I learned about courtesy the hard way when traveling in Europe. My friend went up to a person and said “Where is the plaza?” The person turned their back on us, and only after several tries on different people did we understand that the proper protocol was “Hello, how are you? And your family? Excuse me please, but can you tell me where the plaza is located?” Otherwise, they would not give us the time of day. We were “Ugly Americans” because had no basic manners when greeting people.

More often than not, we demonstrate a lack of courtesy when we feel we are entitled, or when we want to badger or belittle people into doing what we want.  It’s a power struggle – we don’t feel confident that our argument will carry, so we try to intimidate others to make ourselves feel better.  The person you belittle, however, will retaliate in some petty fashion, be it a rude retort, making you wait in line as long as possible, or spitting on your hamburger.

How different would life be if we were actually courteous, and got the other person on our side, because we treated them with respect? you already know the answer; pleasant conversation, getting through the line fast, and no spit on the hamburger.

As I mentioned in another article, people are so programmed nowadays to expect you to bicker, complain and whine, that they are stunned when you are courteous.  And, the next time they need or want something, who will they choose?   The guy who treated them like crap? No, the one who sticks out in their memory as being pleasant/mannered.

So would you like to increase the results of whatever you do in life? Great, just keep doing it, and add exceptional courtesy. It costs very little, but it will get you to stand out in the crowd.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courage (Yu)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Rise above the masses of people who are afraid to act.  Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all.  A Samurai must have heroic courage.  It is absolutely risky.  It is dangerous. It is living life fully, completely, wonderfully.  Heroic courage is not blind.   It is intelligent and strong.”

As I mentioned in another article, living and acting with courage does not mean that one lives without fear. Fear, in fact, is quite necessary and a very valuable tool when used correctly. Author Gavin DeBecker, in his great book The Gift of Fear – and other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence reminds us that we don’t want to eliminate fear from our lives , but the manufactured emotions of worry and panic.  The relationship between real fear and worry is analogous to the relationship between pain and suffering.  Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life (Great humanitarians, remember, have worked to end suffering, not pain).

Therefore, courage is not trying to eliminate fear, but acting without letting fear overwhelm us.  This is easier than it sounds.  While sitting in the comfort of our homes, we say to ourselves “Sure, I won’t let fear overwhelm me, I will be courageous!”, but when we are truly faced with a life-threatening situation, our fear takes over our logic, and we “talk ourselves out of ” doing what we know we should.

The Aikido student, working on his courage, tries to place himself in scary situations during his training (such as testing, free-styles, or fall training) in order to become familiar with the feeling of fear and work on acting calmly.  Notice I said scary, not dangerous, since the two are not necessarily the same.  Needlessly injuring oneself does not address fear.

Like many things in life, courage seems to be a character trait, when actually it is a skill to be learned and practiced.  No one is born courageous, but we slowly learn to master our fear, and act and do what is right with courage.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Compassion (Jin)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Through intense training the Samurai becomes quick and strong.  He is not as other men.  He developes a power that must be used for the good of all.  He has compassion.  He helps his fellow man at every opportunity.  If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.”

A vital requirement of the Aikido student is the developement of compassion, and one of the most difficult.  How can that be, you ask?  Most of us believe ourselves to be compassionate people.  After all, we love our wives and husbands, we love our children, and we care for our friends and colleagues. We are nice to people in general, but what about the people we don’t like? If we are honest with ourselves,  deep down there are always people we don’t like, for a thousand good reasons. Being compassionate to these people is the real test.

Here is my definition of compassion; the understanding that each and every person is doing the best that they can, given their temperament, environment, and experiences.

For example, many of us have turned up our nose at the rude, smelly, dirty, homeless alcoholic lying in the street and asking us for money.  Would it have made a difference how you felt, if you knew that his person grew up with alcoholic parents, was beaten and abused in childhood, and had never even seen a lifestyle that did not include alcohol?  For better or worse, people accept and live in the reality in which they are presented. If you or I had those parents, and grew up in that environment, would we be any different? Probably not.

There, but for the grace of God, go I . . .

So, finding compassion for our enemies as well as our friends allows us to live a life without hatred.  I’m sure you will agree that hatred has produced more undesirable consequences for society than compassion.  And because you are compassionate doesn’t mean we have to embrace our enemies, nor protect ourselves, we only need to understand that even our enemies are doing the best they can, given their temperament, and experiences.

In their studies of combat, the Samurai never took life indiscriminately; they valued life.  In studying killing, life became more precious, and all life had value; even your enemies.  This is compassion.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Justice (Gi)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Believe in Justice, not from other people, but from yourself.  To the true Samurai, there are no shades of grey in the question of honesty and justice, there is only right and wrong.”

When you are about to die on the battlefield, things become very simple.  There is no pondering, and agonizing over which choice to make; if you happen to choose wrong you never know it anyway.

Justice is actually a simple concept.  Justice is understanding the difference between right and wrong, and doing right.

However, in the modern world, things become more complicated.  We have developed into a society that decides justice in the courtroom. I recall a line from Tom Cruise in the wonderful movie A Few Good Men  “It doesn’t matter what I believe, it only matters what I can prove . . . “.  For better or worse, we have adopted this mentality, and justice in our society has become “fuzzy”. For many, they will only acknowledge that they have done something wrong if you can somehow prove it to them, and will continue to do morally questionable acts with no remorse.

It’s time to take justice back into our own lives, and make it personal again. Like the above quote says, you must first decide right and wrong in you own mind and own life.  Only then can you dispense your obligations with honor.  Justice is our moral compass that guides us through life.  Some decisions are not clear as to whether they are “right” or “wrong”.  We must weigh all the factors and alternatives, and choose the course that is the most “right”.

Finally, personal justice has no meaning if our actions ultimately create an injustice.  For example, the mafia and the Yakuza have very strict codes of conduct for its members.  They dispense their obligations, they take care of each other, they obey, support and protect their leaders.  This sounds honorable, until we recognize the central theme of the organizations; to raise money through crime.

Don’t allow justice to be decided by someone else; it is your moral compass, and the only means by which you can make good decisions in life.  Justice is too important to let your lawyer, the courts, or society decide for you.

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.

Balance Revisted – Its Time To Get Back To Class!

Newton’s first law of motion is one we have all heard; ” A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force”.  We human beings, being of the natural world, obey this law as well.  The momentum of our lives carries us forward, regardless if we truly want to go in that direction.  As the New Year begins again, we reflect on our choices, and build up our “outside force” to get ourselves moving in the direction we want to go.

An amendment to Newton’s rule I would like to propose is; ” A body in Aikido tends to stay in Aikido, unless acted upon by a life circumstance”.  What does this mean?  It means that the time you took off for family and friends over the holidays, makes it that much harder to get moving, to get going back to class.  It means the longer you stay away from class (“I’ll go next week”), the more likely you are to never come back.  It’s not good, bad, or indifferent.  It’s just Physics.

Most of us got into Aikido for the healthy benefits to our lives; the stress relief, the physical activity, the mental clarity, the spiritual cleansing.  Even though these excellent reasons, we still get “distracted”, and we let more urgent (and less important) life events get in the way.  With the best of intentions, we promise ourselves that we will get back to class.  Then a day becomes a week, becomes a month, becomes a year . . . .

Now here is the good news.  You can also use Newtons law to your advantage!  Build up your “outside force”, and go to class until it becomes routine.  Once it has become routine, you will stop fretting over whether you “need” to go.   Do you think about not brushing your teeth or making coffee in the morning, because you got distracted?  Rarely.  These behaviors are routine.

Start the New Year off right, by continuing to do what you know is good for yourself.  In order to be strong for your loved ones, you must start by taking care of yourself.  If Aikido was part of your lie, and it was good for you, get back to class now!  If Aikido was something you always wanted to do as something good for yourself, get to class and plant yourself there.  You won’t regret it.

Mind Body Spirit Revisited

A prospective student came in one night and was observing class.  I asked him if he had any questions. He asked “what kind of mind-body-spirit improvement will I get if I train here?  What specifically do you do that improves mind-body-spirit?”  What a wonderful and complicated question.  I believe the student was right to ask such an important question, but I also believe he was looking for a one-sentence answer.  Silly Student.

Most martial arts schools pay lip service to the mind-body-spirit idea, but many do not deliver.  For many the concept is too esoteric, and it is left up to the student to “find” it within his/her training.  Actually I believe it boils down to a relatively simple concept – if you want to strive for mind/body/spirit improvement in your life, you must strive to become perfect at your chosen endeavor.

I had the privilege of watching the “Yamato” taiko drummers give a performance in Lincoln last weekend.  It was phenomenal.  They received multiple standing ovations.  The audience could tell at once that is was more than just a good drum performance.  It was athletic.  It was graceful.  It was transcendent. It was beautiful.  I read that the drummers all live together on the road, so they can pick up the nuances of each other.  Their daily routine consists of a 10K run, followed by weight lifting ( which was definitely required judging from their performance) until noon.  They practice drumming together in the afternoon, and individual practice continues until they go to bed at night.  They are on the road 10 months a year in foreign countries, and either prepare, perform, clear, or travel from their performances.

The Yamato drummers are a clear example of striving for perfection, and the mind-body-spirit is manifest in their performance. “Wait,” you say, “my mom used to say nobody’s perfect”.  That may be true.  But that does not mean you cannot strive to become perfect.  The struggle is what is important.

Do you want to find the mind-body-spirit connection in your Aikido training?  Excellent.  Strive with every fiber of your being to execute your techniques perfectly.  Strive to develop perfect awareness.  Become perfectly calm in your mind.  Will you ever become perfect?  Maybe not, but your training and your life will be taken to a whole new level.  The level of mind-body-spirit.

Do What is Important; Not What is Urgent #LNK

Students often get sidetracked in their training.  They stop going to class because “life gets in the way”.  They stop going because of pressure from work, problems with family members, or they are just “tired”.  Sometimes new students stop coming because the initial excitement and “newness” are over, and going to class seems more “routine”.  These are the same students that tell me they joined the school because they needed to improve their health, manage their stress, improve their well-being, protect themselves, etc.  Where is the disconnect, then?  It is because we are programmed to take care of the problem right in front of us, without regard to its long-term consequences.  We do what is urgent, not what is important.

Have you ever been in a very important face-to-face conversation with a loved-one or friend, only to answer your cell-phone when it rings?  Why?  Because you are programmed to do what’s urgent (answer the phone), instead of what’s important (talk with your loved one).  We all do that from time to time.  But it is important to remember that as we become more and more programmed to do what is urgent, we become a person who just “puts out fires”, who solves short-term problems by sacrificing long-term goals.

We will all continue to have problems in life; this is not the question.  The question is; how do we attack those problems and still reach the goals that we set for ourselves?  By stepping back, taking a larger perspective, and solving those problems for the long-term, not the short-term.  Often this will create more work and problems in the short-term.  Nevertheless, when the problem is solved, it is solved; you will not have to revisit again down the road because you only put a “band-aid” on it the first time.

A famous speaker once said “A successful life is nothing more than a string of successful days put together.”  You do not want to look back on your life and realize that you accomplished nothing because you were someone who just “put out fires”.

Did you join the martial arts because you truly wanted to improve your life?  Great.  Come to class.  Do what is important, not just what is urgent.

The Law of Presence – You Only Really Have this Moment

Presence - Standing on Kilimanjaro

Martial Arts students often try very hard to push themselves and learn all the techniques required of them.  When it comes time to get ready for testing, many have difficulty, because it requires a new mindset.  They no longer have the luxury of analyzing their mistakes, as they are making them.  They want to “run the projector back” and rehash what went wrong.  Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever listened to a speaker in person or on the radio, and been tantalized by the speaker’s idea, only to miss the next two ideas because you were thinking about the previous one?  While this kind of mental analysis is beneficial, and aids in the learning process, there are times where you must learn to “stay in the moment”.  If this idea is explored further, you start to realize that you really only have this moment to live.

Margaret Bonnano once said “It’s only possible to live happily ever after on a moment-to-moment basis”.  Although you can project your mind in to a previous time in the past or the future, you can only live in the present, in this moment.  We “indulge” ourselves by projecting our mind into the past or future, because we are fascinated with the possibilities. Nevertheless, we can only take action right now, in this moment.

So, when confronted by an assailant, you have only now to make decisions and take action.  You cannot afford the luxury of analyzing the event as it happens.  Although horrifying, this kind of event still fascinates us.  Allowing ourselves to analyze the event can cost us our health or our life, however.

So, when testing, the students must stay in the moment, act and react.  There will be time for analysis later.  This proves to be a very difficult lesson in life, and requires patience and persistence to master.

So, avoid the “paralysis of analysis”; stay in the moment.  It is really the only place you can ever be.

What Is Your Responsibility in Your Martial Arts Training? #LNK

Reprinted from George Ledyard’s All Things Aikido Jan10, 2011

Ok, so I am attending a seminar with a teacher who decides to do a sword class. I am excited because this teacher’s sword work is extraordinary and I love sword. The teacher started out with a basic flow exercise, which as it happens, is in the first chapter of his sword video which has been around since VHS days. He demonstrated then set folks to work. Folks were pretty much mangling the exercise so he stopped them and showed it again, this time a bit slower. The same thing happened. In fact it happened four times. By the end Sensei was furious. And, I have to say, I was furious.

Of course there were a few people in the room who were not folks from our organization. These folks did little or no sword at their home dojos so one could understand why they had issues. But the majority of these folks were regulars that I see every year at these events. Sensei pointed out that, in his uchi deshi days, O-Sensei would only show them something (no explanation at all) once or at most twice and they were expected to get it. He had just showed it four times, with explanation and folks were still pretty much exploring just about every way possible not to do what he had just shown.

My own partner was a person I had seen every year at this event. He never looked any different from year to year. Even with the added explanation I gave him as I walked him through it, he still never got it. All I could think was what a huge waste of everyone’s time it was. The exercise in question was a basic drill. Sensei clearly intended for it to be the warm-up so he could build on it. Instead he spent half the class on it. He couldn’t get to the good stuff because many (not all) folks couldn’t do the most basic exercise.

I found myself asking what has happened to Aikido? It seems to have become the dumping ground for all the folks who, if they weren’t doing Aikido, wouldn’t be doing martial arts at all. They treat their training as if it is an afterthought done when everything else in their lives allows. It makes me crazy… Does anyone actually think that O-Sensei created this art as a hobby for middle class Americans to do in their spare time?

If this had been an isolated event, a bad day for whatever reason, then that would be one thing. But this happens all the time. Especially when we are talking about weapons work, which happens to be central to this teacher’s Aikido. Sensei yells at everyone, they all look chagrined, then they go home and show up next time no better than they were the last time. What is the point? Year after year of not getting it, year after year of baby beginner exercises with no ability to move beyond in to something with some real content… What is the point?

I mentioned this to another friend and we agreed that, if we had been in a position of screwing up that badly with Sensei, one thing would absolutely happen. The next he time he saw us, we would be total and complete masters of that damned exercise. Sensei would never again have to say a word about our inability to do that particular set of movements.

Yet, what I see is not that kind of seriousness. If I had thought Sensei had meant me when he was criticizing the inability of the group to get what he was doing, I would have felt like going out in the parking lot and slitting my belly from embarrassment. Sensei was treating these folks like children because they were acting like children.

Why do people do this art who don’t care enough about the art, their teacher, their fellow students, or their own training to fix things when they are broken? There are several teachers in our group who are perfectly capable of teaching these things and do so when asked. Way have I never seen any of these folks at my dojo asking for help on things like this? Why haven’t any of us been asked to come to their dojos to do a workshop specifically on these elements which our teacher thinks are important enough to try to teach but the students are so weak in their fundamentals that Sensei can’t even get them to do a simple beginner level exercise?

A few years ago I tried to help folks address their weak weapons work. I set up an event in which I invited two other 6th Dan level teachers from our organization to co teach a weapons seminar along with me. This was the A-Team of weapons teachers in our group and I was hoping to make it a yearly event with Sensei coming every fourth or` fifth year himself. Well, the event tanked. These very same folks who get yelled at by Sensei each year for their incompetence couldn’t be bothered to come train with a bunch of American teachers, who could actually explain what Sensei is doing, and perhaps take folks up a level or two. No, folks continue to feel that it is more important to show up to train with Sensei with sub standard skills and waste his time and everyone else’s than to actually go out of their way to train with a bunch of Americans who might have actually helped them to be better.

I find this attitude incomprehensible. If someone isn’t trying to be good at this art, why do it. Quit and find something else one can be serious about. This is Budo. It is a serious pursuit. Many people take it very seriously. I think most of us are quite patient with beginners as they slowly figure stuff out… they are not the issue. I am talking about folks who have done Aikido for years and years, even decades, and still haven’t bothered to put froth the effort to master the basics so that they can move on. Perhaps they tell themselves that it’s their own practice and it’s their business how much effort they put into it. But it’s a group endeavor, not a solo practice. If it were iaido and you sucked, no one else would care. You could suck for decades and it wouldn’t really effect anyone else’s practice. But everything we do is paired. So when you get paired with someone who wants to train and you can’t even hold your sword properly, you are wasting your partner’s time. When the teacher has to address the group on issues that are simple beginner issues, it means that the teacher cannot take the class forward and do the things he or she might be capable of teaching.

Time after time I have seen Sensei start to do something really interesting and then have to change what he was intending and dumb it down for folks who never get any better, year after year. I pay the same amount to attend these events. I take the same time out of my life as these folks. Yet I can’t get what I need from the training because these folks won’t do the work.

Perhaps Sensei shouldn’t even be teaching folks like this. In music someone at his level would never be teaching anyone but advanced student via “master classes”. Less advanced student actually pay to watch these master classes. But Sensei has not chosen to do that. He still is trying to connect with the larger student population. I think that is admirable but I do not see that this same population understands that it is a privilege to train directly with someone like Sensei and that whenever you choose to get on the mat with him, you have a responsibility to work hard, take what he shows away with you, and come back better next time. That is the absolute minimum expectation. If you encounter something at a seminar that baffled you, you should make yourself crazy trying to get it. It should be gnawing at you constantly that you didn’t get it.

This whole “we have all the time in the world” attitude makes me crazy. It’s ok that I didn’t get it this time just leads to a whole series of I didn’t get it this times. Eventually, you have simply gotten into the habit of not getting it. You decide that you didn’t get it, not because you have been too lazy to tear it apart and chew on it until you have figured it out, but that Sensei is “special”, someone far beyond us mere mortals and it’s ok that we don’t get what he is doing.

This art of Aikido is amazing. It has the potential to take someone out into the unknown, to be trans-formative, to really change ones perspective on everything. perhaps change the world. But with folks treating it like a casual hobby placing it pretty much in a tertiary place of importance in their lives, or beyond, that not only won’t happen, these folks end up impeding the efforts of the folks who do want to do the work. If folks don’t want to train, they should get out of the way of those that do. I am not talking about the fact that people will make differing levels of commitment to their training. Some are striving for real mastery and other simply wish to attain a solid competency. I am talking about that group of folks who stay incompetent year after year because they will not work at it. Sure their are varying degrees of natural ability. Some folks pick some things up quicker than others. But, if you are one of the folks for whom things are difficult, you have to work harder. You don’t just accept that you aren’t any good and won’t be. You strive harder. That’s Budo.

This art requires serious people training seriously. The rest is a waste of time in my opinion.

Posted by George S Ledyard

In Self Defense, in Life, If You Get Knocked Down 6 Times, Get Up 7 #LNK

One of the sayings that I vividly remember my instructor talking about was the saying ” Get knocked down 6 times, get up 7 . . . “.  When he first said it, I thought “Yeah!  Stay tough!  Don’t give up!”, but as I look back on it, it really had so much more meaning than I was initially aware.  Many “simple” messages are like that, aren’t they?

In Aikido, one of the reasons that conditioning is required, is because we repeatedly get thrown to the ground, and must get back up and do the technique again.  On a good night, we may get thrown down 80-100 times. Doesn’t sound so bad? Come and try it, I think you will agree you will get a good workout.

Some Martial Arts students view getting knocked to the ground as a “failure”.  Aikido students view it as just another night of training.  What is the difference then?  It is the meaning assigned to the experience itself (falling).

The famous psychologist Victor Frankl  wrote a wonderful book called Man’s Search for Meaning.  In it, he described that any particular experience that one person had, was less important than the meaning that the person assigned to that experience.

For example, A woman may get raped and view it as a devistating experience, or, through being an advocate for other victims, view it as an empowering experience.  The same experience can ruin your life or empower your life.

So, when you get “knocked down” in Aikido, or life, how are you going to view it? As a failure, or a empowering experience?  We must get knocked down in order to learn how to pick ourselves up.  But the bottom line is; there are no devistating experiences, only learning experiences.  So, no matter how many times you get knocked down, get up again, and use it as a empowering experience.

Martial Arts Self Defense Open House October 9th,10th at Aikido of Nebraska #LNK

Aikido of Nebraska will be hosting an Open House on Oct. 9th, 10th, Sat-Sun afternoon. The Open House will go from 1:00pm – 4 :00pm each day, and is open to all the public.  Attendees will be able to see a traditional Martial Arts Dojo, and view the students in regular practice.   Refreshments will be provided. Please come see us! We would love to see you.

Aikido of Nebraska had an Open House in March that was wonderfully attended, and fun for all who came.  The Open House is designed to help those  people see that training in the Martial Arts is an enjoyable and beneficial endeavor.  The student at Aikido of Nebraska is allowed to progress at their own pace and safety is at the forefront.  The Open House also allows people to see the rich culture of the Martial arts in an educational venue.  Attendees are encouraged to ask questions and find out everything they always wanted to know about the Martial Arts, and Aikido.

So come join us at the Aikido of Nebraska Open House, for a few hours of fun and education.  Details below;

Aikido of Nebraska, 4209 S. 33rd St.  Lincoln, NE.  68506


Saturday, October 9th 1:00pm- 4:00pm

Sunday, October 10th 1:00pm- 4:00pm

Bujutsu – Having Fun in the Martial Arts while Training with Deadly Seriousness #LNK

While demonstrating a technique the other night, a new student said to me ” I am nervous about doing that technique, Sensei.  I am afraid I might hurt my partner”.  I replied  ” You should worry about all your techniques causing injury.  You are studying combat arts.”  While I am happy that the students are concerned with the safety of their partners, and I try to instill concern for their true attackers, sometimes the student must sit back and realize that what we do is not a game.  This is a school of combat.  This is serious.

Although many educated people might catagorize differently, Martial Arts schools could be categorized into 2 broad classifications; schools who teach Bujutsu (Martial Tactics), and those who teach Budo (Martial Way).  Schools of Bujutsu emphasize one thing; victory on the battlefield.  They learn tactics and techniques for the goal of disposing of enemy personnel .  Budo, on the other hand, teaches combat techniques for the goal of self-development, of becoming something “more”.  Most modern Martial Arts schools have chosen the Budo-type of school, as it applies to most people better.  Both schools can offer excellent training and significant mental and physical benefits to their students.  Some schools of Budo start to focus only on the self-development aspect, and consequently lose something in their training.

Here is the secret that those schools of Budo miss.  In order to become a better person mentallly-physically-spiritually, you must train with deadly seriousness – you must train as if you are on the battlefield – you must train with Bujutsu – you must train for “life or death”.  Only then will you push yourself beyond your own boundries.  Only then will you push your physical and emotional limits.  Only then can you become something “more”.  If you make it “life or death”, you will bring your training to a whole new level.

Now, training with deadly seriousness doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun and enjoy yourself.  It is OK to laugh with your partner at your mistakes, and enjoy the fellowship of the dojo.  But you also must be able to switch back into “training mode” quickly and train seriously.

So, go to your next class at the Dojo, and have fun.  And train with deadly seriousness.