The question of why train in Aikido is at the heart of why anyone would want to open a dojo, in particular one that is truly a labor of love with no financial aspirations as is ours. My personal reason stems from a belief that Aikido offers an opportunity for notable self improvement. More specifically, Aikido training can impact how you interact with people for the better every day.
I have applied Aikido in my daily life in so many ways — from work, to family, to self. One of the more impactful takeaways I’ve experienced is how it has enhanced my awareness. In particular as it relates to assessing interpersonal interactions as they happen. This awareness in daily life relates to my decision to start a dojo. It is also a key part of my thinking as a dojo cho about the philosophy behind my school.
The power of a community of practitioners to create change is notable. The dojo is a place to inspire human betterment. The potential of these two ideas combined inspires me to pass forward Aikido. The hope is to help others find their own benefit of Aikido in their daily life that can lead to some broader good in the world. This has become a special way of Aikido playing a role in my everyday life as I seek to apply what I have learned both on and off the mat to nurturing my dojo community.
Reflection and a Desire to Make an Impact
Shortly after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, my wife and I found ourselves in a bit of shock. We have family who worked in the Newtown, CT school system and who lived in that community. We were new parents with our daughter of six months. This is not the first tragedy that had stirred and frightened us of course — but as new parents this hit us where we were most vulnerable. The new parent anxiety of trying to keep our little girl alive, healthy, and thriving in even the most safe of environments was strong. Watching this tragedy unfold was a harsh reminder of how out of our control so much of life is. There was something about this moment, this event, that in reflection Aikido began to take on a different role in my life.
In the weeks following Sandy Hook I wanted to do something. But not too long thereafter life as a new parent kicked back in. I didn’t find that opportunity to do more good they way I was hoping.
Interestingly, Aikido didn’t really come into my mind in any way at first. But a few years later after hitting a milestone of training for 14 years I started to reflect on the role of Aikido in my life.
Aikido started as something I did to be physically active, to learn to defend myself, and challenge both my mind and body. As I reflected on my years of training, I recognized something about Aikido. I’ve trained pretty steadily every week, multiple days, and since 2002. I’ve taken more planes to seminars than for any other travel I’ve done. I’ve happily spent birthdays, personal, and vacation days on the mat.
Aikido has become part of what I do.
The Impact of Aikido Training
I believe Aikido training has helped me to “assess” my actions more readily, sometimes in real time. When assessing my behavior in a situation I find I notice when I am blending or clashing. I more quickly recognize when I am relaxed or tense. I better see how my actions impact the emotions and responses of others. I notice when I say something jerky or when my hangry is kicking in. I recognize when the way I say something can make my daughter feel happy, loved, or aggravated. Aikido training has added to my metacognitive process.
One might think that this increased awareness has made me a better person. Well, like improving my Aikido technique, becoming a better person is a work in progress and a lifelong pursuit. This said, it does make me feel hopeful and more empowered. I believe this awareness is foundation. There is an aspect of the awareness experience that reminds me of something I’ve heard my Sensei Stewart Johnson share on many occasions — learning to in any moment see things as they truly are. An ability to, in the moment, be able to “see” conflict arising, love received, or confusion manifest. If the awareness can lead to a pivot to try and redirect the bad or support the positive then its power for good is notable. This has become my much delayed response to Sandy Hook. To give others the opportunity through Aikido to develop their own interpersonal awareness in hopes that it will lead them to be a force for good in the world.
This awareness of self and impact on others in the moment and without any competition is something that is rare to have a chance to practice. Aikido requires that we get to practice this skill continually. It is a core part of the experience. We act and react with our partners throughout each class.
The Opportunity of Aikido Training
As you work on a technique over many years you can begin to recognize the flaws in your execution through the unspoken signals in your partner’s reaction to what you do. The other person no matter their level of proficiency becomes a teacher — if you know how to pay attention to the lessons shared through their body.
This is what oyo (applied) and henka (changing) techniques are all about. You react to an initial energy coming at you and as your first action takes shape can recognize if something is amiss with your partner and situation. When you can adjust at that moment to change towards a more appropriate and likely satisfactory outcome is when a new level of understanding of the art begins.
Personal development often begins with an undesirable or unsatisfactory experience. In Aikido as detailed above we experience this constantly. We continually work to refine flaws in our technique learning from and with our partners. We also learn how to recognize when our first idea may need to adapt to another due to the energy of our training partner and/or circumstance of our environment. The application of this learning off the mat is profound.
Following Sandy Hook and exploring how I can make a bigger impact in the world it is this awareness that I am describing that is at the heart of it. The skill of being able to recognize the energies of human interaction as it is happening and to be able to change in that moment of recognition to strive for a better result is valuable far beyond a martial context. Aikido does not change people — but it does offer an opportunity. We get to practice developing an awareness of self and our interactions with others continuously. If one is open to considering how this way of martial training applies off the mat there is great potential for self-improvement.
It is my sincere hope that more people can evolve their ability to assess their interactions with others in real time — to use this ability to make the bad better and the better remarkable. This is the mission of Brooklyn Aikido Center: Hoshinkan Dojo.
Brooklyn Aikido Center provides training of both body and mind through the traditional Japanese martial art of Aikido and Zazen meditation. If you have any questions about our programs please email us or call us at 347-735-6744.
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