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Aikido Philosophy Corner
Responsibilities of a Senior Student

Article by Eric Dehn
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Not knowing she had a previously injured shoulder (that she had meticulously rehabilitated), my impromptu reaction to her technique “tweaked” her shoulder to the point that she let out a yelp and could not continue to train for the remainder of the night. I can’t begin to explain how immediately foolish and angry at myself I felt. I certainly had no intention of injuring a training partner, especially someone significantly smaller than myself. I was mortified at what I had done. So much so, that I, had difficulty sleeping when I got home that night. 

 For the next several days I dwelt upon that incident and how I needed to prevent any type of recurrence. I was deeply troubled by what I did. I certainly don’t want to be that guy in the dojo who nobody wants to train with for fear of being hurt. I determined that the best way for me to avoid this was to perform the technique that was being shown and nothing more and train only with more senior students closer to myself in physical stature.  

Still feeling badly about the pain I had inflicted, but satisfied with my resolution to the problem, I attended my next training session a week or so later. The class was small that night and I was fortunate enough to gain Sensei’s ear for a few minutes. I related to him what had happened and how it affected me. I also related the solution I had come up with. He listened intently and after I explained how I intended to avoid future occurrences, he told me very calmly, “Don’t do that.” He went on to explain that as a senior student in our dojo, I have a responsibility to assist the more junior students with their journey just as students senior to me have a responsibility to assist me. I must learn to adapt my training techniques to accommodate those less skilled than I am. In doing so, I become better at what I’m doing in the dojo.  

Conversely, those same junior students have a responsibility to learn and the only way that will occur is by working with training partners more skilled than themselves. Additionally, Aikido is a martial art. Training injuries occur. We do our best to avoid them, but they do occur (I’m the recipient of more than one injury myself). Sensei led me to take what had happened as an opportunity for growth as an Aikidoka rather than a reason to shut a door.  

While Sensei talked to me, I nodded at all the appropriate times and did my best to take it all in, but we were training and my thoughts quickly returned to the mat. Eventually, I had an opportunity to chew on what he told me. Once I had reflected on it and kicked it around in the gray matter of my brain a bit, it all made sense. He was, of course, right.  
The only way we get better is by training. Each training partner, senior and junior to oneself, has something to offer in terms of the training experience. Take and give. It’s the senior student’s responsibility to take what is offered by the junior student and adapt. Likewise, junior by senior. Of course we don’t train with the intention of inflicting injury, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen from time to time. From a personal perspective, I need to be more cognizant of whom I’m training with; their abilities and areas they struggle with. When training with partners junior to myself, it’s acceptable for me to explore a technique. After all, I’m training, too. I simply need to do so within the confines of UKE’s capabilities.  

After nearly 3 years of training in Aikido, I find that I have “evolved” in how I look at Aikido. I’m told by Sensei that progression of how one views Aikido as he/she progresses up the ladder is normal. When I initially joined the dojo, I wanted nothing more than to be active and keep myself from becoming a couch potato. I especially loved the “no competition” aspect of Aikido. Initially, I was only concerned with the mechanics of a given technique. Once I had trained for a couple months, and began to develop some level of confidence and enjoyment, I began to look at why a particular technique is used rather than merely the mechanics. Then I started to look at Aikido in martial terms. In other words, what’s the goal of this technique? Am I looking to escape or punish an attacker? Now I’m in a phase where I try to imagine scenarios where techniques might be applied in real-world situations. Who knows where I’m headed next.

I’ve read many treatises on O’Sensei’s intentions and goals for Aikido. While those goals are lofty and righteous, I’m not one to subscribe to them. Perhaps that makes me less of an Aikidoka than others. Perhaps not. In my pedestrian view, for me, Aikido is a martial art. It’s not interpretive dance class. It’s not philosophy class. It’s not art class. It’s an opportunity to learn how to defend yourself from the myriad dirt bags and people in our society that would do you harm. If you choose to use it as a means to achieve some higher level of enlightenment or way to live your life, so be it. If that’s what helps you out of bed in the morning, great! Again, in my eyes, at it's most distilled level, Aikido is a martial art. What does that mean? To me it means I show up to the dojo twice a week, sweat, learn, laugh, and sometimes get hurt while trying to master something which is arguably “unmasterable.” I’m finding that with Aikido, it’s more about the journey than the destination. 

 I look forward to continuing my journey with my many friends at Castle Rock AIKIDO and evolving as an Aikidoka even further! See you on the mat!

Eric Dehn is retired from the US Air Force and he is a professional gunsmith. He is the owner/operator of Iron's Gunworks in Monument, Colorado. 

A couple weeks back, I had one of those “enlightening” moments that spontaneously pop into our lives from time to time. The scenario went something like this: I was training with one of the dojo regulars (a most pleasant woman and waif of a human being), executing a technique we had been shown by Goettsche Sensei. After performing said technique numerous times, I grew "bored" with the technique and began to “play” with it a bit. I was acting as UKE for said training partner and as she applied the technique, I countered it without letting her know I intended to do so.