As I sit here contemplating my upcoming second rank (5th KYU), I can’t help but reflect on my humble beginnings as an Aikido student (AIKIDO-KA) a little over a year ago. I vividly remember speaking to Sean on the phone and getting the information on the school and when and where to train. I was so inept. I even struggled to find the dojo on day one! Having just retired from the US Air Force, I needed something to keep me physically and mentally active, and Aikido was something I had contemplated for awhile, so I pulled the trigger and joined.
Never having trained in martial arts before, I was a little nervous walking in the door. I didn’t want to be a burden to any of the other students with my ineptitude. I quickly found out, however (as have you), that the dojo offers a welcome, friendly and non-intimidating environment. Everyone was very friendly and more than willing to help me struggle through the basics.
Having been a wrestler for a number of years in my youth, much of what I was learning came naturally and was very instinctive. A lot more of it, however… not so much! As with any new skill, I found that Aikido requires a LOT of work in order to attain any level of proficiency. In other words, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. I’m not saying it’s impossible to master, but you have to do your part if you want to become proficient.
I observed (and continue to observe) the more senior students in class and am continually amazed at the grace with which they execute a given technique. If any of you know me, I’m anything but graceful (I’m working on it, though!)! The only way to gain this level of proficiency and grace is repetition and the only way you get reps is to come to training and open-mat sessions. Here, again, is something I struggle with. Maybe you do, too. I’m a lazy person by nature and it’s a struggle for me, at times, to put down the remote control and jump in the truck and come to training. Once I’m in the DOJO, however, I’m so glad I came! My friends at the dojo pick my spirits up and it’s so much fun to toss each other around and figure things out together. I never fail to laugh during class!
Additionally, I suffer from some pretty miserable joint issues. If any of you have ever trained with me, you know how stiff my shoulders are and I can’t sit SEIZA for any period of time due to rotten knees. Training gets me moving and keeps me as limber as I can be. Maybe you suffer from similar issues?
One of the things I’m keying on at the moment is “subtleties.” As our fellow student Mike is fond of saying as we fumble through a new technique, “… it’s the darned subtleties!” What I’m talking about is something as simple as having your hand palm up versus palm down for a certain technique or dropping your gravitation center or “One Point” six inches as you execute another technique. I’m finding small, simple things can make a BIG difference in properly executing a technique. I mention this because these are things that beginning students can easily miss. I did and still do. I get the general movements, but I miss the “darned subtleties.”
I’ve found that as a new AIKIDO-KA, I have to change the way I learn. Having spent my entire adult life as a G.I. or General Infantry, I’ve always learned “backwards.” In other words, I tend to look for the “end state” and then learn how to get there. In the Air Force we called this the “BLUF” or “Bottom Line Up Front.” The reason I mention this is because I tend to ask what I believe are perceived as “unusual” questions to Sensei and the senior students. To their credit, rather than telling me “Don’t worry about that now” or somehow otherwise putting me off, I’m provided an answer that helps me get my brain around what we’re doing. The point here is simply: If you need to know, ASK!
I find that I make gains in “waves.” I’ll have periods where everything seems to come easily and it all just falls into place. Conversely, I’ll go through periods where I can’t walk across the mat without falling down. The way to overcome the latter is to just push through it. You’re going to struggle at times. We all do. Push through it. Work at it. It’ll come.
Finally, a quick word about injuries: I was an athlete for many years, so I understand training and injuries. I’ve suffered through them and recovered from them. Not everyone, however, has had to deal with them before. As with any athletic endeavor, there is the potential for an injury to occur with Aikido. Don’t let that give you pause. We take every precaution to prevent injury during training and understand that not everyone can “go” at the same level. Don’t force yourself to do something you can’t physically do. There is no shame in preserving your physical health. After all, you have jobs, families, etc that require you remain healthy and, let’s face it, getting hurt just isn’t fun! The point here is, don’t force yourself into a situation where you believe you’ll become injured. Let sensei and your training partner know if you’re experiencing problems. Here again, my experience at the dojo in this regard has been exceptional.
As the old saying goes, “Anything worth having is not easy to get.” Aikido is no exception. The more I learn about this amazing art, I find how little I know and how much more there is to learn. If you peruse the web and read some of the forums and Blogs, you’ll find there are as many varying opinions and view points on Aikido as there are stars in the sky. Don’t let it muddy the waters for you. Take it all in and form your own opinions. If I can offer any advice from my completely “Novice” point of view it would simply be this: Have fun and soak it all in. Listen to those more experienced than you, ask questions and, oh yeah… HAVE FUN! See you at the dojo…