Posted by: aikithoughts | February 12, 2011

When it’s time to move on

Before you begin reading: This is, probably, a terrible post to write after such a long absence from this blog. So allow me, if you will, a moment to say that I am still here, and I still deeply enjoy my aikido training and my dojo. My absence has had more to do with work responsibilities and the adjustments that come from having three children. I have missed writing about aikido, but I have refused to do so unless I had something I really wanted to express and the time to really express it. And now, back to the post at hand…

The phone call was a welcome one, and not unexpected. An old friend of mine, a fellow aikido instructor, was on the other end of the phone. I had been trying to reach him to see if he was able to come to a seminar I was hosting, and if I could provide any assistance to ensure he had a comfortable (read: economical) trip. The voice that greeted me on the other end of the line was filled with that calm resignation that comes only from someone who has made a difficult decision, and now must share the results of that decision.

“I’ve decided to close my club,” he announced.

His reasons for doing so are irrelevant here; suffice to say they were sound and completely understandable. It was also clear that while he knew he was making the right choice, he also knew he was ending a part of his life that he had enjoyed, filled with people that he cared about.

When I got off the phone, I shared the news with my wife. We talked for a little bit about his situation, and then my wife grew quiet.

“Would you ever quit the dojo? Quit training?”

I’m pleased to say that my answer was immediate. “Of course I would,” I answered. “If you or the kids needed me home more, I would quit immediately.”

That, of course, was the easy answer. Family is a valid reason to refocus your life, but it’s pretty much a no-brainer. As the evening continued, I found myself thinking about my wife’s question more and more. Finally, I brought the matter up again. (My wife, bless her heart, is used to me returning to conversations we’ve had hours ago.)

“You know, there are many days where I don’t want to go to the dojo. When I know the baby has kept you up all night, and you’re exhausted. When our daughter has had a hard day at school. When I’ve had a miserable day at work and just need to take a break and be by myself.

“But you know, so far, in 15 years of training, I have never regretted getting on the mat. No matter what my state of mind was when I entered the dojo, the moment I step onto the mat, everything changes. I’m there to teach, to learn, to express myself through a truly wonderful martial art. There are stories of O-Sensei in his later years, frail and sick, suddenly coming to life when he stepped onto the mat. I think I understand a little of this.

“If I ever got to the point, though, where I found myself thinking that I did not want to be on the mat; if I got to the point where my brain and body simultaneously said: ‘I just don’t want to do this!’ I would stop. I would have to stop, because I certainly would no longer be of any use to anyone on the mat–not as a teacher, and not as a student.”

I bring this up because I found it very liberating to realize that there was, in fact, an option other than training. That I was not trapped by habit or community pressure to continue. That there were, for want of a better phrase, exit criteria that would indicate the time had come for me to move on. I am sure there are stories of instructors who have kept teaching and training even though their heart and soul was no longer in it. They continue, perhaps, out of a fear of what might happen next.

For me, knowing what to look for in myself that would tell me it’s time to stop has been just as educational, just as liberating, as understanding what it is that still keeps me on the mat. Maybe, like understanding a technique requires both the uke’s and nage’s perspective, to understand yourself you have to understand your “why nots” as well as your “whys.”

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Responses

  1. I’m glad to see you writing again.

    You know, I heard that voice in my head for a while before I left aikido, but I couldn’t understand where it came from, so I ignored it for a long while before I finally listened to it.

    Two years out, and I find that while I do miss many of my friends, I haven’t missed practicing. I don’t regret a single day of my time in aikido– I think it was a great thing for me to at the time that I did it. If I ever hear the call again, I hope it won’t take me too long to heed it. But I think I did the right thing.

  2. This rings true to me in music. I had played music for nearly twenty years and kept playing despite my inner voice telling me to move on. I should have listened, it would have saved my turmoil with others and myself.
    I still enjoy playing, but not at the level as before. I hope I never lose my enthusiasm for Aikido.

  3. Back in 2000, my job situation changed and I had to work a lot of nights meaning no more teaching or training in Aikido. It bothered me at first, but soon it got to the point that I didn’t miss it at all. My 2 boys were little and I missed spending time with them and my wife.
    Fast forward 10 years into the future- the opportunity arises to teach for the local parks department. Last April I began teaching again, now with my boys old enough to train with the old man. I have fallen in love with this great art again and am passing it on to the next generation of Cruse’.

  4. Isn’t the Hombu Dojo a marvelous place? It took not one but three lifetimes to make it what it is now..problems still continue and you can see Ueshiba father and son wincing from pain and exhaustion come every morning for the early class. I hope to acquire their strength through their teaching and achieve in my soul what they achieved with the Hombu.What is a man’s worth but his experience? Victory over oneself and an everchanging life is no easy matter…


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