At work, I am fortunate enough to have a friend who is not only an Aikido enthusiast, but also willing and able to let us use his dojo’s space every now and then during lunch. We train in different styles, so our sessions often center around differences in movements; both the practical (re: martial) reasons behind a given technique or strategy, and the philosphical aspects.
Today, he brought up the fact that he had been struggling with Tsuki (punch). Not just regular, we’re-in-a-martial-arts-class tsuki, but the real thing. Jabs, body blows, the whole shebang. No problem, I thought to myself. I’ve trained in this type of situation before. I know what principles to apply and what strategies to employ. I have something to bring to the table here. I admit it: in my own mind, I felt that I was going to really show that I could dominate such a situation. I had the knowledge! I had the practice! I was ready to go!
When we got to the mat and began our workout, I lost. A lot. By “lost,” I mean that either I was forced to the ground or was hit hard enough/in the right area that, had this been an actual conflict, I would have been hurting. Certainly not the outcome I was anticipating. In all fairness, I don’t think I lost every time. But I lost enough that I found myself frustrated and upset. What made it more challenging for me was that I had done this exercise countless times, successfully! Why was it not working now? Was my training flawed? Was the uke that good? Am I just not that good of an aikidoka? I am a sandan, after all. I should win, and win often!
When we left the dojo, I found myself with these questions bouncing around in my head. I’ve come up with the following answers:
- Was my training flawed? Doubtful. I’ve done this technique before–at least enough times to know that I can be successful.
- Was the uke that good? Probably! He’s not unskilled, and is extremely committed. If anything, he is more of a martial artist than I am.
- AmI just not that good of an aikidoka? What a ridiculous, egotistical question. I should know better than to beat myself up over the poor execution of a single technique.
Aha! Ego! Perhaps the problem lay there. I thought back, and attempted to remove my ego from the situation. When I did so, I realized several things. First, I realized that the very fact that my ego got involved at all shows that I have a long way to go before I master this art. Aikido is not about ego. It is about calmly accepting the situation and responding as needed. With my ego in play, I was resisting my uke; I was not attempting to blend with him. I wanted to beat him. What I should have wanted was to join him.
Second, I realized that, the closer you get to real fighting, the more luck can become a factor. Sometimes I think I won because I shifted my weight at just the right time. Other times, I think I lost because I made a slight mistake in my movement. These are things that cannot be helped, and could happen to anyone.
Third, while I didn’t win every time, I didn’t lose every time either. Yet all my mind wanted to focus on was losing. Again, an illustration of how far I have to go in this art.
Fourth, even though I lost sometimes, and even though I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out why, I didn’t get overly upset. Granted, I wasn’t the perfect example of calmness, but I was at least present enough to realize that I needed to keep myself calm and collected. That alone shows that, as far as I have to travel, I still have made some progress.
In the end, we gradulally slowed down the attacks. After a certain point, we reached a speed at which I became successful nearly every time. That tells me something. Just like with kokyu doza, perhaps the solution lies in slowing things down and rewarding correct movement even if it still could be improved. The next time we have the opportunity to do this, we agreed to start at a slower speed, and slowly increase that speed until we reach a point where the technique falls apart. The goal would be to get to where the point where things fall apart is beyond the speed at which any reasonable uke will attack.
In the end, I was grateful for this training opportunity. Next time, I’ll do better.
And, next time, I promised that I would not bleed all over the mat. But that is another story.