Tag Archives: respect

Off The Mat, But Still Training

Leaving the gym recently, I ran into a former classmate in an Aikido kenshu (advanced study) class. We spent a few minutes catching up, and he asked me if I was still training in Aikido.

I’m not taking any classes at the moment, in part because the winter Rec & Ed session was cancelled, and with increased running and strength training my schedule is full anyway. But I told him that in other ways I practice Aikido every day.

I can’t help it.

Aikido did not become a life-consuming passion for me like running has. But my eleven-plus years of training have definitely created a lasting influence, whether or not I’m standing on the mat in a dojo.

For instance, a few days ago I went to get a haircut. I emerged from my car into a cold, blustery, rainy day (re: March in Michigan). Instinctively my shoulders rode up, face tensed, eyes narrowed, and I began to hunch-walk rapidly toward the covered area near the shop. Standard behavior, right?

And then kenshu training kicked in. A samurai, Sensei had said in a lecture, does not let rain, or cold, or other external situations disturb his serenity. Running for cover all hunched over is for other people.

I relaxed, stood straight, and walked the rest of the distance at a normal pace, as though it were a perfect sunny day. Perhaps I got a little bit wetter, but it was worth the restoration of my serenity.

With enough training, one can even embrace bad weather!

Other things practiced in class come out in everyday life too. Being more patient in stressful situations, like slow traffic or long lines. More tolerance for the mistakes of others, and even my own. Being polite and respectful at all times, and seeking harmony in all situations. And more.

Sometimes the benefits of training manifest very quickly, too. Some years ago I left a stressful situation at work to attend a lunchtime class. When I came back my attitude had changed completely, and the situation was resolved harmoniously. You can read that story here.

I could chalk up some of this to eleven additional years of life experience, or the expected increase in maturity as one grows older (well, maybe). Except that many times when I remind myself to be patient, or remain polite, or listen more, in my mind’s eye I’m standing on the mat. All these behaviors are not just essential to Aikido training, they are expected by Sensei and the other students. Not to do so would bring quick attention to oneself, and not in a good way.

Better be nice to your fellow students.

Perhaps the surprising thing is that these behaviors aren’t always expected by other people all the time.

So like it or not, Aikido is certain to remain a fundamental part of who I am for the rest of my life, whether or not I ever go to another class. And I have no problem with that.

Osu!

Hey, Wait a Minute – Wasn’t This Supposed to be Fun?

From my first Aikido Yoshokai class in 2005 as a raw beginner, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. Ten years later, I’m still training and grateful for how it’s improved my life.

Increased fitness, agility and coordination have been physical benefits, but the philosophy appeals to me too. I appreciate the emphasis on seeking harmony, of bringing positive energy to class, and setting the ego aside and training for its own sake.

Not to mention great stress relief.

Not to mention great stress relief!

And the benefits have extended beyond class. Aikido training has encouraged me to be more patient and respectful in all situations, not just on the mat. This post from a couple of years ago relates one instance where I used Aikido principles to turn a potentially unpleasant situation into a positive one.

For the first several years, Aikido was a fixture in my life. Testing for increased rank is completely optional, but I enjoyed the challenge and added it to my annual goals, with a plan to try for black belt in 2013 or 2014. From 8th Kyu up to pre-1st Kyu rank, I progressed steadily and passed every test the first time. The last rank before black belt is full 1st Kyu, and I tested for it at the end of 2012, right on schedule.

Jumping over partner.

1st Kyu test – I jump over my partner.

I did not pass. I’d felt ready and done as well as I could, but it had not been good enough.

I was disappointed but not discouraged. It’s not unusual for someone to fail a test along the way. I studied Sensei’s written feedback and began actively training for another go the following spring.

Then, as they say:

life is what happens etc

During a routine run in March 2013, I tripped and fell hard, injuring my left shoulder. I thought the pain and mobility loss would clear up but it got worse instead, and by June it was clear I would have to suspend training to let it heal.

Recovery took nearly a year of physical therapy and careful exercise. While I was often frustrated at the slow improvement, it gave me sufficient time away from Aikido to really reflect on my training. The main question I asked myself, over and over, was why I was trying for black belt. Not the flippant “because it’s there,” answer, but the genuine, deep-down reason. Why was it important to me?

I had no good answer.

Recognition and increased respect from other students? Nope. While there is a hierarchy to be followed, you’re taught to respect everyone.

To show the world what a kick-ass dude I’d become? Hardly; I didn’t feel like one. And Aikido is about finding harmony, not starting fights.

For personal satisfaction? Aikido emphasizes letting go of the ego, not feeding it. The black belts in our school are among the most humble people I’ve ever known. I’ve never seen one flaunt his or her rank. Rather, they go out of their way to help those junior to them.

All right, I could adjust my goals; Aikido isn’t about pursuit of high rank, anyway. But when I resumed training, the old spark wasn’t there. What had changed? And that’s when it hit me, so to speak; I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Instead of looking forward to going to class, I was stressing out about it.

And the stress was mainly coming from where?

irony_alert

Yep – from my rank – what I’d worked so hard to achieve, because I’d thought I wanted it. The higher Kyu ranks carry some extra responsibilities, which is fine, but I’d thrown in some additional expectations of my own making.

A couple of examples: on top of learning my own techniques, I’d been trying to learn all those of the junior students, so I could help them prepare for their next tests. I’d been attending advanced classes and instructor clinics, because that’s what black belt trainees do. But all that extra study and training was in the pursuit of rank rather than personal improvement. I was sacrificing what I enjoyed most about Aikido to meet an artificial, meaningless objective.

Looking back, I can see how much unnecessary stress I’d caused myself for a goal I’d been pursuing blindly, automatically, rather than as something fulfilling. That fall in 2013 was truly a blessing in disguise – a temporary discomfort that allowed me to recognize, and correct, a chronic one.

And what’s next? I continue to train, but with a firm resolve not to test again until I know why I want to. So far that answer has not appeared to me. And that’s okay. I’m back to training just for the sake of training.

And it’s back to being fun.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Yes, this is fun. Trust me.

Sorry, Sir, Your Ego Trip Has Been Unavoidably Delayed

As part of celebrating the seven terrific years of training I’ve had with my now departing Rec & Ed Aikido instructor, I am dedicating a few posts to things I’ve learned from my training and how it has reflected in other areas of my life. This first one actually deals with the lesson I learned most recently.

Over the last few years I believe I’ve become more tolerant of mistakes. Perhaps it’s due to getting older, or from raising children (a learning and humbling experience to this day), but I’m pretty sure my Aikido training has had an effect. All my instructors have been such incredible examples of support and forgiveness of my countless mistakes on the mat, it seems wrong for me not to do the same with others.

My instructor was my Uke at my last test. That involved a lot of trust on his part.

My instructor was my Uke at my last test. That involved a lot of trust on his part.

My day job as Director of Quality at a software services company includes quite a bit of training and coaching our engineers. Our industry is highly regulated and safety-critical, and one of my responsibilities is checking that our procedures are followed. When someone fails to do so, it is most often an honest mistake, and I do my best to address it in as positive and constructive a fashion as possible. I’ve been doing this for many years and like to think I’m pretty good at it.

And then, one fateful recent morning…

I’d been invited to a review of a key project document. Among other things, I check that such documents follow our quality standards and are fit for a formal engineering review. I looked it over before the meeting and found some errors. That’s expected. But as the meeting progressed and more problems surfaced, it became clear to me that the document was not up to snuff. And the author admitted there were some portions of the document (his document) that he wasn’t entirely clear on.

I was annoyed. The author was trained and qualified. Why had he called for a review when he was clearly not ready? He’d tied up several very busy, high-level engineers for an hour on a document that would need substantial rework. This was clearly not acceptable. I decided I would call this person into my office, and politely but firmly point out that our process calls for better preparation, and that he should have gotten some answers to his questions before calling the review. We have rules here, after all.

I decided to hold off until after lunch to do this, and set about catching up on my emails. Among them was one from my boss regarding how to organize some tests on another project. His direction did not fit our usual procedures, and also seemed contrary to something he’d said to me earlier. I sent off a reply to that effect, copying a couple of other people I thought needed to hear my take on it. Five minutes later I got a phone call from my boss.

He was annoyed. Had I bothered to get the facts regarding this particular situation? I had also misinterpreted what he’d told me earlier. And why had I dragged two other high-level, very busy managers into what should have been discussed with him alone? He let me have it. And on every point he was absolutely right.  I hadn’t gotten the facts first. I should have looked up his earlier direction. And there was no need to involve others in my reply. I’d failed to follow my own rules.

What had happened to my usual respect for the time and feelings of others, not to rush to judgment, or, say, – to be more tolerant of mistakes? In short, where was the behavior that is expected both in the workplace and on the training mats? The answer was clear – my ego had shoved it out of the way. What was that I’d been told earlier about, “once you think you’re good at something…”? (See previous post.)

Lesson learned: respect is not something you practice only when convenient, or when people are behaving as they should. It is 24-7, to be practiced in any and all situations. Sometimes we are Shite and lead, and sometimes we must be Uke and go where the situation takes us. But we can always choose how we behave towards others.

I do this to you with the greatest possible respect.

I do this to you with the greatest possible respect.

I did express my concerns about the review after all, but it was a quiet word with the engineering director (the proper contact) instead of a confrontation with the author. I later realized that out of my hasty, disrespectful email, my boss had unknowingly given me a valuable gift – a chance to avoid doing something even more hasty and disrespectful. So I did what one does when given a gift. I thanked him.