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Being Prepared

Being Prepared

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Published by zaynit
aikido essay for first dan
aikido essay for first dan

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Published by: zaynit on Mar 10, 2009
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06/14/2009

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- 1 -Zayd Abdulla2-12-1963Hagukumi DojoEssay for shodan examJune 2005
Being prepared
When I was preparing for my 5th kyu exam several years ago, not realising I already receivedthat grade from an involvement with Aikido several years before at a different dojo, mySensei told me that I should prepare for 4th kyu. 'But I would already be quite happy with a5th kyu', was my immediate reply. His answer was strict: 'Well you shouldn't be!' To myanswer that I was a slow learner, he replied that it was time for me to stop making a prison of my thoughts. It has taken me some time to realise the full extent of his remark. During theexam in question I 'missed' a
sotokaitennage
and stood there dumbstruck and horrified, whichresulted in a 5th kyu after all. I would have loved to have blamed my Sensei for provoking meto do more than I thought I was prepared for in the first place, but I sensed this attitude wasincompatible with what we were being taught on the tatami.During Aikido practice since, I have also regularly heard teachers tell me 'Don't think, just do!' It was very difficult to grasp how this was possible, since I was convinced that I hadto see what was being done, preferably down to the very last detail, before I could attempt tocopy it. Maybe afterwards I could stop thinking. This thought in itself was yet another brick inmy prison wall, though I was not aware of it at the time. I could only just about grasp thenotion of not making thoughts imprison me, but this notion was still only a label for aproblem. I did not want to fall into the trap of mistaking the label for the solution, and to haveno thoughts at all and just perform a technique as instructed was beyond me.Occasionally, Bacas Sensei tells us 'You must
kill
your enemy!' He does this to makeus more aware of certain aspects of a technique or posture and of course we know he isn'tinstructing us to literally go out there and start killing people, though I am always curious toknow how a casual first-time visitor would interpret this part of his instruction (and if hewould ever return). He is joking, but only half or probably even less. Even though we aretraining and are not in any real danger of being killed by our partners on the tatami - at leastnot deliberately - the essence of his command is that real attacks and real-life confrontationslie at the basis of all Aikido practice, which is something we tend to forget during therelatively safe and certainly harmonious practice on the tatami. Bacas Sensei's words alsohave the unintended but welcome effect of seeing the enemy
within
oneself, in one'sobstructive thoughts. The killing in this sense is not a reckless and radical obliteration of thoughts, but an ever-increasing awareness of what is stopping us in our movements, both onthe tatami and elsewhere. I have been fortunate to have been allowed to have my trialexamination
before
handing in my essay, so I can expand a little more on this stopping.Although I passed the examination, there were a few moments where the movementstopped. I remember these moments well, as though I were an onlooker of my ownperformance. Why? Because I was 'thinking thoughts'. Afterwards, I was given complimentsby a few people who had seen my gradual progression during the exam from standstill toslightly more movement, but in a real-life situation I would have been the perfect example of what Bacas Sensei means when he says, 'Movement stops!' and you are 'Finished!'. I was alsogiven compliments for two or three things I did but of which I have no recollection at all, suchas carrying out a technique which wasn't asked but which happened to be the more convenientthing to do at one stage. I did not block out the memory of the things that went well
 
- 2 -deliberately and I also cannot doubt they were talking about me since I was the
only
one doingthe exam. Most likely I would have put up that barrier, too, if I had been given the chance.The truth of the matter is that there simply was no 'I' around to observe what my body wasdoing when the mind stopped thinking.During Aikido practice, there is a subtle game some of us sometimes play. It involvespractising a technique seriously as instructed by the teacher while at the same time teasing thetori, ever so subtly, by resisting the last part of his or her control. A sudden rigidity in the arm,for instance, or the use of muscle power when the tori least expects it can catch the tori off balance. It is a friendly way of revealing the tori's mistakes and is a way of checking whetherthe tori is mindful of the technique from beginning to end. When this is done to me, I amliterally pushed off my balance because my starting position is often incorrect. Usually thisequivalent of a pin-prick or tickle is acknowledged by the tori with an appreciative smile oreven laughter and results in more concentration and energy. What makes this game playespecially interesting is that no word needs to be uttered and yet there is full communicationtaking place, on top of the more familiar wordless communication between tori and uke.There is not only harmony between tori and uke as we are always being taught andexperiencing, there is also an added harmony between seriousness and playfulness. Butoccasionally the tori himself becomes more rigid as if the use of sheer strength as a solution iswhat was on the uke's mind. Suddenly, the tori's reaction is completely disproportionate towhat triggered it and the resulting miscommunication - of which the tori, in general, is notaware - is where the notion of subtle playfulness suddenly disappears and the uke 'resistsresisting', realising the tori is not receptive to playfulness at this stage and the normal trainingmode is continued. As a general rule, the more advanced Aikidoists are more receptive.Although I often initiate this teasing of the tori, my own receptiveness was put to the testabout a year ago during the practising of the first half of a technique (although any aspect of atechnique can be complete in itself, depending on our focus). Both the 'incompleteness' of thetechnique and the fact that the uke and I had never teased each other previously caught me off my balance. Or so I thought. He tried to redirect my final stance with outstretched arms intothe beginning of 
shihonage
, but ended up on the tatami himself after realising he was the ukeof my own shihonage. His pleasant surprise was mine, too! For the first time in my Aikidoexperience, I had experienced a glimpse of what my teachers meant by 'Don't think!' I hadalways been worried that I wouldn't know what to do in a real-life situation and this was nearenough to real life for me because I wasn't prepared. Now I was instead trying to figure outwho had carried out that shihonage. It certainly wasn't 'me', the me with worries andpreconceived ideas. And yet, despite having experienced 'ego-less Aikido' - a strange notion,since there definitely was no 'I' with a recollection of the shihonage - I put up another barrier:'Ah, so this is what it will be like if I continue practising Aikido until I reach old age.' I failedto fathom that the glimpse, right then, right there, was not a reward or had any meaning otherthan what it was. It was not something in the distant future, only to be reserved for those whohave trained hard for at least twenty years. It could already be savoured. I felt I was 'gettingsomewhere', as though the loss of conscious self was a target and not realising yet I wasalready precisely where I had to be. All I had to do was let go of preconceived thoughts.A few months ago, when I was first asked to take over a lesson because a teacher wasill, my immediate reaction was 'No, I'm not ready! I haven't prepared anything!' This reactionof mine did not feel right and yet I stuck to it because it felt safe. It did not take long for me torealise I had been hiding, the same way I used to hide from the Sensei's judgment by skippinghis lessons and only following the beginners' lessons. The lazy mind prefers to stay whereeverything is familiar and comfortable, especially in a non-competitive environment such asAikido. In true Aikido fashion - or so the lazy mind believes - even the slightest suggestion of outside pressure to do more is side-stepped, similar to how in Aikido we learn to step out of 
 
- 3 -the line of attack. The lazy mind is also very selective and hears what it wants to hear. Forinstance, when Fujita Sensei tells Bacas Sensei, 'Peter, you must go
down
' this is immediatelyseen as a justification for hiding in the wings: 'If the Sensei's Sensei tells him to do that, why,then all I have to do to set a good example is not to let any outside pressure affect me.' Thisapproach prevails in the period leading up to examinations, especially when teachersthemselves put the grading system into perspective by saying that grades are not important.Besides, since the continuity of one's training schedule is hardly ever affected by the gradeyou receive, you can pick up where you left off before your exams. And yet, there is a seriousrisk of remaining in limbo if the lazy mind does not free itself from this vicious circle, unableto discern non-competition from non-activity. After all, it was the same mind that brought youinto the dojo in the first place as opposed to any other martial art or 'sport'. The Sensei seesright through this tendency to stay in the wings and remain an observer. He cannot cut theknot for you, but he does see that we sometimes hold back from who we are. It was only afterthe Sensei noticed my hiding in the beginners' lessons that I decided to change my schedulearound. The lazy mind had been exposed.Shortly after having rejected the San's request to take over his lesson, I sent him an e-mail saying I felt awkward about my earlier reply and that next time I would have to reactdifferently. His reply was that the knowledge to teach was already there, we just had to find away to let it manifest itself. For now, the lesson I had declined to take over was taken over byanother San who did not want the continuity of the lessons to be interrupted. I was prepared tointerrupt the continuity of a lesson but not prepared to take up the responsibility myself. Thiswas me? The teacher's remark about 'manifestation' was echoed a few weeks later, in April,when Bueno Sensei from Brazil visited the Hagukumi Dojo. During a guest training he gave,he briefly interrupted the training and told us 'Don't
do
Aikido! Just let it manifest itself.' Toshow what he meant by 'doing' he then imitated a very flamboyant and macho style, the styleBacas Sensei refers to as 'demonstration Aikido', which is impressive to watch if you are anoutsider but not what Aikido is about if you don't want to end up 'finished'. We all know thisand yet it seems to be tempting to sometimes exaggerate our movements. Bueno Sensei wasindirectly showing us the perfect technique was already there somewhere, including if thismeant
not 
using the technique you had just been shown to practise if this happened to beinconvenient. Just let it go. All we had to do was discover the perfection, and this could not bedone by 'doing' Aikido. It did not matter that in our attempts to reach perfection ourtechniques looked a bit sloppy now and then, is what he also seemed to convey. After all, weweren't demonstrating anything.By the time I was asked the next time to take over a lesson, I was fully prepared. Thiswas only a few weeks after the first request. How is it then possible that such a radical changecan take place in such a short time? And what, then, does 'being prepared' really mean? Whois this person deciding and judging whether he is prepared or not? Is that me, too?Apart from Aikido techniques in the narrow sense, there were three things that keptme occupied during my very first lesson: keeping an eye on the clock, making sure I kept myfellow Aikidoists entertained, and keeping the mat in order so that no large gaps wouldhamper the training. Because these things were an unexpected experience for me, I afterwardssaw how very different my earlier understanding of teaching had been. Of course I hadprepared for the lesson by thinking a few days in advance which techniques could be used. Byfamiliarising myself with my own visualisations, I felt quite relaxed about my first lesson. Iwasn't prepared for those other aspects though, and yet they posed no serious problem at all.They were simply dealt with as they arose. Not being prepared and therefore not being able toknow whether I would be in control, was not the obstacle I probably would have made of them had I known about them in advance. After only one lesson, teaching turned out to beradically different from my preconceived ideas. What is more important: it didn't matter! The

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