In keeping with the spirit of celebrating the late Kushida-sensei’s life and teachings, many of my next posts will focus on principles I’ve learned in Aikido class and stories about my training where I applied (or misapplied) those principles.
WHEN I TRAIN WITH NEW BEGINNERS (those just starting their Aikido training) they often apologize to me afterward for mistakes they made in class. They cross-step when they should have shuffle stepped, or pivot too far, or get halfway through a technique and completely forget what to do next. I tell them it is not a problem, and then I pass along something my instructor told me in my very first Aikido class.
Celebrate your struggles.
“To struggle with a technique,” he said, “means there is something to learn. If everyone did everything correctly the first time, nothing would be learned and there would be no need for a teacher. So if you are having trouble with a technique, celebrate that fact, for it means you are learning.” More than anything else, that simple statement has kept me going when my Aikido training gets difficult. I could have taken it as a platitude, along the lines of, “look on the bright side” that we’ve all heard and let pass through us. This one sank in, altering my entire outlook on Aikido training; it was okay and expected to make lots of mistakes. And some of the mistakes I’ve made have been pretty spectacular.
One day I was told to teach a particular technique to the class, which I did, I thought, pretty well. Later that day I reviewed the technique on DVD and discovered not only had I taught something completely different, I had effectively invented a new technique. When I mentioned it to my instructor, he laughed and said that was part of the teaching process too. In other words, embrace the mistake and move on. Then there was the time I flunked a demonstration technique in front of the entire class.
Nearly seven years after that first class, having progressed from raw beginner to near black belt rank, I still make lots of mistakes. But a self-reminder to celebrate the learning renews my focus and keeps me determined to keep at it until I get it right. That said, I also apologize to students senior to me, when I struggle with a technique in class. They always tell me it’s no problem. After all, they’ve been there too.