Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Always a student before a teacher.
This is becoming an all too common theme in so many disciplines across so many industries. We have become so polarized that even those activities and communities we belong to, specifically designed to create a bridge between those with differing ideologies, are reduced to reasons why "not" to be a part of that community.
I should begin by stressing that our dojo has experienced some of this to small degree, but there are those who are on the brink of closing their doors because of this polarization. If this post helps to show even a handful of those people that they should increase their commitment to their training, it will have been a success.
History of Disagreement.
Debate between people has always been a reality, it is inherent to our species to compete. To deny this, our nature, is to deny one of the very things that allowed us, as humans, to achieve so much in science, art, culture, and almost every other facet of the human experience. But you may be thinking: "how do I reconcile this with Aikido's principle of non-aggression and absolutely zero competition?". This is a critical point that for me, almost made me quit Aikido after my first day on the mat.
Through my training, both as a student, deshi, and now teacher, I have come to realize that Aikido's principles of non-aggression and zero competition, do not mean that we should strive for a world without competitive spirit. It means that we should not let competition define who we are. Win or lose should not be the defining characteristic of what makes us good or bad, light or dark. It is in our daily struggle to better ourselves that we discover and define who we are (which is inherently good).
So then how does the dojo fit into the current climate of polarization?
These days it seems that we have moved away from the debate of ideas and ideologies, to personal characterizations and attacking each other. This has created a reality where we have polarized in support of one idea or person. This does not create progress, but instead create fortification in our minds and spirits that prevents us from growing. For those who truly practice the spirit of Aikido, I implore you to think back honestly about whether or not you have or are acting in this way. Many of you have already begun to think defensively of your thoughts, behaviors, or actions, believing yourself justified based on your morality, or support from those around you who feel the same. I believe this is a mistake.
Aikido teaches us to practice with everyone, to train with everyone, in the hope that this physical training will positively affect us mentally and spiritually towards achieving stronger bonds between us. O'Sensei is famous for talking about unity and oneness with the universe; the idea that individually we are pieces of a whole that each of us is an integral part of.
It is always easier to retreat to our safe spaces where we feel supported in our beliefs, but that is not where growth happens.
A common martial arts philosophy states: "Learn to become comfortable where you are uncomfortable".
Those of us most susceptible, are those who teach more than we train. As a result of this transition, we often find ourselves, accidentally, no longer searching inward, but expecting outward. We do this as teachers by expecting special consideration, special favors or power. Instead, consider how you thought, felt, and acted when you spent the majority of your time training, working, and in some small way, yes: suffering.
One of the things I am most grateful for in being an uchi deshi of the late Richard Stickles Shihan (for all his human blessings and faults), was the introduction to concept of suffering in Tibetan Buddhism.
The reality that we are all suffering in some way and that this is one of the basic truths of our existence (I in no way claim to be an expert or practitioner of tibetan buddhism).
If you have read this far, consider your responsibility at your current age, status, or season of life. What can you do to build bridges, rather than tear them down while decrying evil around you. In the end, we are all in this together, and no matter what you believe, the practice of Aikido can be an integral part in building bridges when practiced regularly.
As always, these are simply one Aikidoka's humble opinions. If you find them suitable, please incorporate them into your daily life. If not, please feel free to discard them. In all things, be blessed on your journey.
Always a student before a teacher.