Repeat Many Times

HOW DO YOU HONOR THE MEMORY OF AN AIKIDO SENSEI? By training hard with a strong spirit.

In Japanese Buddhist culture, the 49th day (7th day of the 7th week) after someone’s death is a special day marked by services and remembrance. June 27 was the 49th day after Kushida-sensei’s passing, and Aikido Yoshokai dojos held special memorial classes last week. The Ann Arbor Rec & Ed club memorial class was Monday, and we had great attendance, including two senior level students resuming training after a hiatus. The patience and encouragement they’d showed me as a beginner was one reason I kept training, and I do my best to emulate them when I train with beginners.

Guess who is the only one who didn’t properly close his fingers.

Our instructor shared stories about Kushida-sensei and his key teachings, and we practiced some of his favorite techniques in detail. We closed with 77 bokken strikes – one for each year of Kushida-sensei’s life. The bokken (wooden sword) was his favorite training weapon because he liked how the entire body and mind must focus and commit itself to the strike. And the multiple strikes would have pleased him, too. “Kushida-sensei believed the key to getting better at something,” our instructor said, “was to ‘repeat many times.'”

At Thursday’s class he spoke more about this idea. “Live-in students in Japan,” he explained, “might spend an entire class doing only one thing, such as a 45-degree pivot, then spend the next class on only bokken strikes.” Americans generally do not have the time or the mindset to practice this way, and Aikido classes here have adapted to better fit our culture. But our improvement will be much faster, he explained, if we can find the time to practice outside of class.

I think Americans understand the value of repetition. After all, we have the saying, “Practice makes perfect” and recently Malcolm Gladwell has proposed that at least 10,000 hours are needed to master a skill. It’s finding the time to practice that is a challenge, given how busy most of us are these days. But, as Jeff Haden at Inc. Magazine points out, one key of very successful people is that they do not let time fill them; instead, they fill time.

One day in Kenshu I did 400 of these, and it just about finished me.

So in keeping with the idea of “repeat many times” I have set a July goal of 50 weapon strikes or 50 breakfalls every day, to be done outside of class time. It’s a relatively modest effort – Kushida-sensei in his prime did 1,500 breakfalls every day. But it’s a start.

Also, July 31 is the start of my “500 at 50” or “Arbor to Arbor” trip – the 500-mile bike ride from home in Ann Arbor to our campground near Glen Arbor and back. I’m planning one more two-day ride as a final tuneup. Details to follow.

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