Acknowledge

Those who have read my blog for a while know that, for the past several years, I have been trying to find ways to improve my level of physical fitness. While there may be many who think it strange, even insulting, to think of a martial arts instructor being in less than peak physical condition, the fact remains that teaching a martial art is not the same as training in it. I know that my aikido skills have improved since I began teaching–my fitness levels, on the other hand, have remained stagnant.

About eight months ago, I was talking to a student who was a big advocate of a couple of workout systems–namely the P90X and Insanity programs. I won’t explain these workouts here. It’s enough to say that the former is an intense workout program focusing on resistance training, while the latter is an even more intense program focusing on cardio. These workouts are known to be hard, but I have faced tougher challenges. with discipline and focus, I completed a round of each program, with good results.

But this post isn’t about my results.

You see, after I started these workouts, I began to meet people–friends, acquaintances–who also have tried these workouts. Time and again, these people told me how they had tried the workouts, but stopped after a few days because it was too hard. Or that they were doing the workouts, but only once every few days or so. At first, I smiled politely as I listened. But as the number of people i met started to increase, I decided I had to be honest as well.

These excuses, these statements of “It’s too hard” or “I only do it now and then” are nonsense. ridiculous nonsense.

You see, what aikido has taught me is that you can do anything. But to do anything, you first have to have an honest assessment of yourself, and a willingness to accept that assessment. Too often, I think people are deluded into a false sense of their own capabilities. Then, when something comes along that shatters this delusion, they can’t handle it. I see this often on the mat. Strong guys who have difficulty acknowledging the limits of their strength; flexible people who are baffled as to why their speed and agility fail them. Those who do well on the mat are those who find their limits and embrace them, who see them not as blows to their egos but waypoints on the paths to self-improvement. to quote an ultra-marathoner I heard interviewed the other day: the ego is what makes you quit; the soul is what makes you strive. Good training, good living, requires that you shed your ego, find your limits and lose, so that your soul can flourish.

This idea is difficult enough to explain to someone on the mat–you can imagine how hard it is to convey to someone who really is just looking to lose a few pounds. But I have decided to try. Now, when I meet someone who says they can’t do P90X, I still listen politely. But then I look them straight in the eye and tell them there is nothing in these workouts that they cannot do; they simply need to acknowledge that their self-image doesn’t match their reality. And as long as you can acknowledge this, you are not only okay–you are truly on the path to making your life better.

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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.”

The Invisible Role Model

When I train in aikido, I rarely get a chance to be with my peers. This is the downside of being an instructor; you spend more of your time teaching than you do training. Compounding my role is the fact that there are only a handful of dojos that study my style of aikido. To study with my peers, I often have to travel outside of the state.

Without having Sensei in the immediate vicinity, or even a more senior instructor close by, I’ve tried to come up with a few approaches to help ensure that I still have some focus on improving my technique, as opposed to simply sustaining it. One method that has worked well I refer to as my invisible role model. This is my take on the “What Would <insert someone’s name here> Do?” mentality. The difference is, I deliberately don’t think of any one person in particular. Instead, I hold in my mind’s eye a picture of the ideal aikido student, and I try to emulate what I think this individual might do in a given situation. Doing this, I have found, helps me set my ego aside and look at a challenge or issue objectively. It certainly doesn’t always give me answers, but it helps me think about the questions.

Over the past few weeks, I have been on leave to spend time with my newborn son. This week is my last week; come Monday, I will be back in the office. I must admit that I have some anxiety over my return. Part of this anxiety stems from my concerns of what happened while I was gone. Did I leave something undone that I should have taken care of? Did I miss something that resulted in causing other people more work? Another part stems from some of the people I work with. I am part of a great team, but there are some folks that are more challenging for me to deal with than others. How am I going to deal with these people when I return? What can I do to build stronger working relationships with these people, or affect change if that’s necessary?

As I’ve thought about these questions, and as I have tried to deal with some of this anxiety, I had a thought. Why have I not tried to apply my invisible role model to my work life? Let’s put an image of the “star” employee in my head. What would this employee do to handle some of these situations? It’s odd, but while I may not know what I would do, I sometimes can figure out what someone else should do. For example, take the question of how I might deal with some of the people I have to work with. With my ego in the equation, it is difficult for me to see how I should handle the situation. With my ego removed (or, let’s be honest, most of my ego removed), the path is much clearer to follow.

As my return to office life looms before me, I can give myself some measure of peace. I may not know exactly what’s in store when I get to my desk on Monday, but I at least have a methodology to help me figure out the right course of action for what might come my way.

Aikido and the Sick Child

A few days ago, my son Max came down with a fever. I can’t think of many things worse than a sick child–especially a young child that has limited means of communication. Poor Max was probably tired, achy, and generally miserable–but the only way he could express it was by screaming at the top of his lungs at all hours of the night. With my wife needing to focus on our newborn baby, it fell to me to do what I could to help Max feel better. I tried rocking him, walking with him–even jogging with him (which actually helped a little–I think it was the breeze running generated). But, for the most part, the only thing I could do for the poor guy was hold him while he yelled. And yelled. And yelled.

If you’re a parent, you know that there is a point in the middle of the night where your fatigue and frustration reach a peak. You’re exhausted, for one thing. For another, it’s unbelievable just how loud a child can scream when they put some effort into it. While I tried to comfort Max, I felt this frustration starting to build. “What can I do to get this kid to settle down?” I thought. “I just want to go to sleep!”

Then, I had an unexpected aikido moment. I remembered something that one of my teachers, Sensei Rick Berry, talks about. Essentially, Berry Sensei points out that there’s a difference between what we think we want and what we actually want. When we encounter resistence, it is often because these two elements are out of alignment. This idea is readily apparent on the mat. You want (for whatever reason) to do tsuki kotegaeshi. But your uke resists every attempt. One solution to this problem is to realize that what you really want is not tsuki kotegaeshi at all–it’s to take the uke off-balance. When you realize this disconnect and adjust accordingly (by changing your response to the attack), the uke’s resistance melts away.

This same principle came to my aid while I was trying to comfort Max. I realized that I actually did not want to go to sleep. Were that the case, I could easily have done so. I could have put down the crying child and head back to my room. Of course there was no way I was going to do that. What I really wanted was for Max to feel better. Since I couldn’t make that happen, the next best thing was to have him calm down, so that he could get some rest. Once I figured that out, I realized that I didn’t care if I had to stand on one foot and hop with him in my arms–if that’s what it took to get him to calm down, I’d do it. Instead of being frustrated that I couldn’t go to sleep, I was content knowing that, as I continued to find ways to comfort my son, we were both getting what we want. I was getting him a little calmer as each hour passed; he was getting a little more comfort from whatever virus was in his system.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have appreciated a full night’s sleep. But it’s gratifying to know that the ideas we use to effectively take someone off-balance can also help us avoid frustration and comfort those who need it.

Changes

As I alluded in my last post, I’ve been thinking a great deal about this blog and what I would like to do with it. My original intention was to have a means of articulating some of my thoughts regarding aikido. My hope was that, by writing these thoughts down, I would spend less time talking on the mat. Those that train at my dojo can say with utmost certainty that the blog has failed in this regard. Still, I enjoy writing about aikido. Writing has always been one of the primary means through which I process ideas. I can honestly say that I have learned a lot about my own aikido practice simply by trying to write about it.

Now that I’m nearly 150 posts into the blog, I am finding that writing solely about aikido practice is more limiting than I’d like. In my post, No reprieve, I mention that the only way to practice aikido is to never stop practicing aikido. I have lost count of the number of ways in which aikido influences how I think and act, both on the mat and off. Consequently, I’ve decided to expand the blog to include three categories:

  • aikido. This is the default, of course. Posts in these categories will, as always, look at how we train and study the art of aikido. Sometimes, these entries will be specific to Kokikai Aikido, the style I choose to study. In general, though, I hope to write these posts in ways that are applicable to any style of aikido.
  • business. More and more, I find that I am very interested in how aikido principles could affect situations in a business environment. The obvious, of course, is redirecting the anger of an irate co-worker or boss. But there are aspects of aikido principles that I employ when I’m managing a project and leading a team. I also find, when reading the news about a particular company or other, that I try to discern if the decisions or actions by the company follow aikido principles or not, and how that affects the outcome. Do aikido principles lead to good business strategies and practices? I don’t know, but I’m interested in researching it.
  • daily life. Posts in this category have more to do with my family and my community. I should note that I’m taking a step I’ve rarely taken, and that is to include my thoughts on my faith in this category. I’m not saying I’ll write a lot about being a Jewish aikido instructor, but the idea might pop up on occasion. If it does, this is the category it will be in.

In addition to these categories, I’m going to start a new initiative. This Saturday marks my return to the mat after an over two-week absence. I took this time off because of my third child. My wife is still recovering from the operation, and can’t lift things heavier than, say, a newborn. (Needless to say, this has made our 18-month old son more than a little upset.)  When I return, I am starting a project called 100 Days on the Mat. As the name implies, I plan to write a blog post for the next 100 days I’m on the mat. I thought it would be interesting to see what sort of recurring themes or trends show up when I write at such a granular level. I’ve created a specific category just for these posts, should anyone be interested.

One last thing: I’ve heard from a few folks that they enjoy my blog. I recently learned that I could publish my blog so that it could be read on the Amazon Kindle and it’s associated applications. Apparently, you can subscribe to blogs for something like $1 a month, a portion of which would go to me. As I’m always looking at ways to support the dojo, I thought this might be worth looking into. If anyone has any thoughts on this (whether the Kindle or other publication means), please feel free to share them with me.

I look forward to writing more, reading more, and training more! I hope you do too.

Welcome, Little One!

Once again, I’m a little slow in updating Aikithoughts for a very specific reason:

Jakob (Koby) Shevitz

Jakob (Koby) Simon Shevitz was welcomed by my wife and I on Wednesday, July 7th. Both he and my wife are doing well (as is the rest of the family).

As you can see, there are some other changes happening with the blog…I have some interesting ideas that I hope to share within the next week. Stay tuned!

The Reason for My Absence…

I recognize that I’ve been remiss in updating this blog lately. I assure you–I plan on fixing that as soon! Those of you who are at the dojo know the reason why, but for those who read this blog remotely, I am very pleased to introduce the latest addition to my family: Max Karl Shevitz.

Max Karl Shevitz
Max Karl Shevitz

For those of you interested in statistics: Max was born on December 25th, weighing 5 pounds 13 ounces, and measured 19.5 inches long. For the full story of his birth, feel free to check out my wife’s blog: shevitzcircus.blogspot.com.

We’ll return to musings on aikido practice shortly!

We Interrupt this Aikido Blog…

This has very little to do with aikido, but it’s news I’d like to share regardless:

We have just found out that my wife and are having a baby boy! The little guy is due at the end of December. According to the ultrasound technician, he’s doing great and is actually ahead of schedule in terms of growth, etc. I have no idea what most of the stuff means. They tell me he’s healthy, and that’s all I care about.

For those interested: yes, we even have a name picked out. Max Karl Shevitz, after my great-grandfather (Max) and my father-in-law (Karl). My daughter’s tremendously excited, as are we all. But note to self: remember to get lots of sleep now–come January, it’s going to be in short supply…

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. 🙂