What is the Ideal Aikido Student? #LNK

What is the Ideal Student?Some visitors who came in to observe an Aikido class one night, noted the adult students starting to clean the dojo, like they always do after class.  “Why do you make them clean the dojo?”  the visitor asked.  I answered, ” I don’t make them clean the dojo.  They are free to leave at anytime.”  The visitor looked at me like “Yeah, right.”, but didn’t say anything.  The visitor was correct in thinking that I did have something to do with the students cleaning up after class.  But the visitor obviously considered cleaning as a punishment, or “beneath” the students.  This misunderstanding is common, and begs the question; what is the role of an “ideal” student?

As a new student, I must understand that, in terms of the martial art, I know nothing, and accepting this is difficult for Americans.  All of us want to feel “competent” in whatever we are doing, even when we are just starting out.  But this is the very first step in learning how to extinguish our ego; our arrogance that we “know something”.  Once we accept that we know nothing, it becomes liberating.  We stop worrying about how we are perceived by others, and concentrate on learing what we are excited to learn.

But even this is not the primary requirement to becoming an “ideal” student.  What makes the ideal student is; the student is willing to learn whatever is required  in order to become a better person.  For example, when the student cleans the dojo, the student is learning to respect and appreciation for the surroundings that allow them to become a better person.   When the student says “thank you” to their partner each time, they are learning that their partner is assisting in their own self-improvement, and this must be recognized.

This willingness to learn whatever is required is not easy.  It requires great trust in the instructor to guide the student in their self-development.  It requires the student to give up their ego, and their own control, and allow others to help them.  However, the benefits from this mentality becomes priceless.  The student starts to excel past his peers, and become a person of power and integrity.

So, at least during class, give up your control, and allow others to help you become a person of power and integrity.  Become the ideal student.

Self Defense Concepts #78 – Read Your Opponent

Have you ever wondered how warriors and Martial Artists develop that “sixth sense” that allows them to anticipate movements of their attackers, and choreograph strikes and techniques with 4 or 5  attackers?  I’ll let you in on a little secret.

It’s not magic.

They just pay attention more than you do.

“Reading” people is a time-honored skill, and is useful in all types of endeavors, from poker, to business, to martial arts.  What does “reading” someone mean?  It means that you pay attention to all the information coming to you from that person; how they hold their posture, their facial expression, how their weight is placed, where they focus their eyes, how they are reacting to you and the people around them, etc.

Seriously,  when was the last time you noticed which way someone’s toes were pointed?  Good Martial Artists notice those things.  It tells them which way your adversary might move or strike, whether the will use their feet, hands or with a weapon.

Like anything else, learning to read people is not a skill most of us were blessed with;  it requires patience and practice to master.  As you become more attuned to reading opponents, you will find yourself evaluating people as they walk down the street toward you.  Hone that skill.  It will serve you well in all aspects of life, from music concerts to business meetings.  The more you can learn to read people, the more successful you can become in your own endeavors.

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.

The Only 3 People You Can Ever Be

Sensei Roberts adressing class

Students often get frustrated when training at the dojo.  After making their arms and legs do what they want to for years, they suddenly have no coordination.  I say to them “No, your other right foot, your other right foot!” over and over.  Some even quit training because “I’m not progressing like I thought I would”, or “I can’t do this”.  What did they expect?  Although I believe there are many reasons, bruising of the student’s Ego is a significant factor in a student’s frustration.

As my instructor would remind me at this time, there is really only 1 of 3 people that you can be: 1) the person you project to others, 2) the person that you project to yourself, and 3) the person you truly are.

We all want to “look good” in front of others.  This is where 1) comes in.  We often change the way we act and what we say to accommodate others.  While this is socially acceptable, it becomes dangerous as we start to believe the illusion of ourselves.  Thus 1) can start to become 2) – the person we project to ourselves.  2) is the dangerous person.  We start to believe in our own lies, and thus start the path of arrogance, and self-destruction.

With introspection and hard work, we can become 3) – the person we truly are.  However, the Ego must be put in check in order for this to happen.  You must take yourself down a couple of notches, and accept yourself as the flawed-but-trying person that you are.  Don’t beat yourself up – that is your Ego trying to talk you into becoming person No.2. 

Become person No. 3 instead.

Giri – What is Your Obligation? #LNK

Garden Bridge

OK, I admit it.  I love my smartphone way too much.  I use it for everything; finances, video, weather, investments, music, books – you name it.  I have reduced my home computer use by about 90%.  And because I have an Android phone, many if not most of the Apps I use are free. Really, aside from the “cool” factor, my smartphone has improved and streamlined my life.  But, have you ever thought about those guys who make the Apps?  Do they deserve something, even though they gave me the App for free?  The answer that I tell my students all the time is “Yes, if you use someone’s App for your benefit, you are obligated to that person.” Huh?

Sound’s weird doesn’t it?  Being obligated to someone I don’t even know?  The Japanese concept is called “Giri”.  Giri is strictly translated as “right reason”, but more loosely means duty or obligation.  The idea is simple – we live in a society in which we were all completely dependant on each other.  If someone does a service to you, you assume an obligation to repay that person commensurate to what they did for you – whether they ask for it or not.

A Web-designer friend of mine always allows me to pick his brain for free – something for which he would normally charge others.  I always ask him to send a bill to me, but he is too nice to do it.  What he does not understand is that no matter how nice he is to me, he is providing a valuable service to me, and I am obligated to him regardless.  He cannot relieve me of that obligation.  That is my Giri.

The concept of Giri can be perverted as well.  Doing something only to get something in return can turn into an ugly, mafia-style act that has no honor or justice (think the Godfather saying “You owe me a favor”).  No fulfilled obligation is honorable if the act of fulfilling it creates an injustice.

Therefore, I will start making a list of the App makers for my smartphone, and sending them donations, to repay the service they have provided me.  That is my Giri.

What is your Giri?

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