Winter camp was just a few weeks ago and I still find that I’m processing much of the information that I learned while I was there. As tips on techniques, strategies, and movements still percolate through my head, there is one idea that Sensei emphasized over and over again: community.
Now, what role does community have in martial arts? Certainly the current trend in martial arts seems to be “combat effectiveness at all costs.” (As a side note, I find the notion of combat effectiveness more than a little ludicrous. From what little I know about such things, fighting is a dirty, dirty business, and the rules change when you think your life is in danger. I would almost equate the idea of combat effectiveness as on a par with the idea of ki: we can throw the term around all we want, but what does it really mean? But I digress.) If combat is the sole viewpoint through which we look at our martial training, then community seems to be very low on the priority list. Kokikai, however, does not have this viewpoint. Instead, we try to look at the larger picture. How does our training affect our dojo, our friends, our family? How does it affect society at large?
At camp, Sensei did not attempt to answer all of these questions. In fact, he rarely answers the questions he poses–more often, he simply wants us to think of the answers ourselves. But in one case, Sensei seemed to be very clear: one benefit of community is that it gives us the opportunity to challenge ourselves on a grander scale, from a larger pool of people. This is something that I think is easy to understand. In our own dojos, it is very easy to become comfortable. We see many of the same people time and again on the mat–over time, we get accustomed to how they move and respond. As a result, we become quite adept at reading our training partners. This can quickly lead to the illusion that we’re making greater progress than we actually are. But because a kokikai dojo is part of a larger community, we have the opportunity to train with more than just people at our dojo. By participating in camps, seminars, and the like, we can see how much progress we’ve really made in our training.
The opportunities for community to really advance our training is of critical importance to instructors and dojo leaders. My own dojo, for example, sits just north of Seattle. There are, at present, only a couple of other Kokikai dojos nearby–something that makes us very different from the dojos on the east coast! It would be very easy for me to get wrapped up in a world of my own, even if my students do their best to challenge me when they can. (They often succee, by the way.) By going to camps and seminars, however, I get the opportunity to put my perceptions in check. For instance, I remember an experience at last year’s Fall Camp: I was in a group working on a technique in randori. For one reason or another, the technique wasn’t working right with me, and I was frustrated. As I stepped back to the edge of the circle, a senior instructor looked at me and said:
“I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: ‘But this works for me in MY dojo!’ Am I right?”
“Yes,” I replied.
The instructor smiled. “And THAT’S why we come to camp!”
And he was right. My ego was getting in the way of my education–when I stopped thinking about how I should throw, and focused on how I was actually throwing, I had the opportunity to improve. Only through a community of people is such progress possible.
Sensei’s remarks on community really struck home for me on a very personal level. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to really evaluate just how important Kokikai was to me. Many of you know this story, so I won’t repeat it. I will say, that the choice laid before me was clear: do I remain a part of a community? Or do I separate and go in a different direction? The decision was easy to make for a number of reasons, but there was one that continued to surface in my mind: that Kokikai was about more than any one person or dojo, it was about a community of people dedicated to understanding Kokikai movement. To leave this community was, in essence, to remove one of the best teaching tools I had at my disposal. It is a very valuable tool indeed, and one that is very difficult to replace.
I hope that all of us who participate in Kokikai dojos remember that one of our greatest assets is our community. It is through each other that we learn, grow, and make progress. Even if you can never attend a camp (though I hope you can!) or a seminar, remember that you are part of a group that, by its very nature, is there to help you achieve your best understanding of Kokikai Aikido. You may not see it, but it is there nonetheless, and its value cannot be overstated.