Aikido Seminars: Reflections From the Edge
Injured a few months back, I am still healing and must stay off the mat, for now. I’ve missed a few seminars already, but last weekend, I went to a seminar with Waka Sensei and Yamada Sensei organized by Aikido de la montagne in Montreal, Canada, but I did not practice, at least not in an obvious way.
Off the mat… Off the mat, I see things differently. The mat is like a lake, its edges a littoral of sorts, a barrier. Tangible. I circle along its edge and watch. Without a gi, I am an outsider. I stand on the edge, outside looking in, and I wonder why I’m here. Why anybody’s here, really, and where I should be, could be instead...
The many reasons why I attend seminars:
Learning: Duh. Well, yes and no. Learning is not entirely automatic. You can go to class and just repeat and repeat. For all the other reasons stated below, seminars put me in a learning posture. It starts when I get on the road. On the mat, I get to practice with new people, of all levels. Some I know and respect, others I discover. Let’s be honest here, sometimes I work on things I would rather not work on, but it’s all part of the path. Yes, resistance, patience, compassion, resilience, humility, restraint. It’s all good. It’s not easy though.
Feedback: Practicing for too long in my dojo only makes me worry. Have I grown complacent? Are there other ways out there? I have to go out and practice with others. They move differently, react differently, see me differently. This provides me with important feedback that I would not have otherwise.
Discovering: Sometimes I go to seminars to discover new forms of aikido. This has been hit and miss, certainly, but always a great source of learning. I would say that most things have been positive surprises. Generally, I can’t wait to go back to the dojo, but with a few new tricks, or new ways of seeing things, up my sleeve. Not a complete change, but a slight shift, at least for a few days, where my exploration continues.
Struggling: Oh yes, so far, I’ve made it sound like seminars are fun! They’re not. Not really, which is what I enjoy. But let me clarify. I’m having fun, but because I’m enjoying the struggle. I know something is happening when I struggle. I know I need to look carefully at myself, at the situation, when I feel like things are about to break, for there might be something new hidden under all my reactions, emotional and physical.
Specializing: Some seminars are for discovery, others are for focusing. I enjoy seminars where it’s more of the same, but for longer hours, at greater intensity, and building and building on top of the years of focus.
Connecting to the roots of Aikido: Seminars with instructors from Hombu Dojo, such as Waka Sensei, or with former uchideshis of O’Sensei have a way of reminding me of the greater world out there, of the not so distant past, of the early days of a movement that went from local to global within a few decades. In the same way, meeting instructors from other countries also humbles me, puts things back in perspective.
Supporting: By attending a seminar, I know that, in a small way, I’m helping those who organize and those who teach it. I’m also increasing the likelihood that other seminars will continue to take place. These gestures are small, but they add up. I’m not saying that I’m making the difference, but that we all do. We all add up.
Making friends: The mat is a great place to meet people, plus you don’t even have to talk! Sometimes I wonder if I don’t learn more about who a person really is on the mat, where words are scant and attitudes are plenty, than in my other lives. The mat bares us.
Meeting friends: The corollary of making friends. I enjoy seminars in part because it is a moment to renew acquaintance with people I have learned to love dearly through practicing with them.
So here I am, off the mat, pondering and pontificating on all the reasons why I wish I was on the mat. Here’s irony and struggle for you! Ok, that sounds worse than it is. In fact, I learned a lot, watching from the edges, and I connected with friends, and, you know, all of the above!