Tonight, one of my students asked us to work on kata-tori ikkyo tenkan. This technique brings back a lot of memories for me. When I first started teaching on my own, one of my students was a police officer. One evening, we worked on kata-tori ikkyo tenkan. It’s a fundamental technique, which I define as any technique that shows up in the 6th and 5th kyu test requirements. The next class, the police officer came up to me. In the most casual manner possible, he said:
“You know that technique you showed us the other day? Worked great.”
I smiled and nodded, walked three steps, then stopped. The ramifications of what he told me finally hit. I went back to him and asked him to elaborate.
“Oh, we had a guy causing a bit of a problem. He tried to start something, and I did that technique. Worked great!”
I remember this moment as the first of many in which my students have more practical experience with using Kokikai Aikido than I do. Sometimes, this really bothers me. I wonder if I offer less as an instructor because I don’ t have a background in law enforcement or the military. It’s this doubt, in fact, that keeps me from teaching “self-defense” classes. Having never been attacked (not seriously, at any rate), having never served in the military, how can I claim an understanding of the street that I simply don’t have? Instead, I focus on what I do know–how timing works, how correct positioning renders an opponent unable to resist, and so on. A phrase I repeat often is: “This is what I know. You’re responsible for adding it to what you already know.” It’s very similar to how we talk about ki. In Kokikai, we define ki as “mind/body coordination.” Of course, this definition could be extended indefinitely. However, Sensei always seems to imply that our working definition is sufficient–anything more is up to you, as an individual. There’s wisdom in this tactic–it ensures that we study how to use ki, without getting caught up in any metaphysical distractions.
Anyway. At this point in my training I’m no longer worried about what I don’t know, so long as I remember that I don’t know a very great deal. I never had the opportunity to serve–either in law enforcement or the military. There are times this bothers me, and I think that’s a good thing. I make peace with this fact by believing that what I do and teach serves our community, which is just as important. Also, I’ve met a few folks who have had strong military backgrounds, yet were unable to relate to the average person. So I shouldn’t consider the fact that someone has military or law enforcement training as the litmus test that they “understand” self-defense. These individuals have the same challenge that I have–to remember that we don’t have all the answers. It’s when we forget this fact, when we assume that we know it all, that we stop growing and, in point of fact, start declining.