Some sad news and some happy news out of my Rec & Ed Aikido club.
First, the sad news. After over ten years teaching the Rec & Ed club, our instructor is leaving Ann Arbor to teach elementary school in Vermont. I was fortunate to spend seven of those years as his student, and I can say truthfully that I enjoyed every one of his classes I attended. He made studying Aikido fun, and we will miss him.
But there is happy news as well, as he will open our school’s first dojo in Vermont, giving more people an opportunity to train and grow in Aikido. And with one of our senior students taking over as Rec & Ed instructor, the tradition of excellent Aikido at our club will continue. As our school’s founder Kushida-sensei was fond of saying, every end is also a beginning.
So our instructor taught his final Rec & Ed class last night, and afterward the students of appropriate age took him to a nearby pub to celebrate. After many good stories and a couple of beers, our guest of honor gave us some advice from the heart – really honest and profound stuff. For several reasons, I won’t go into detail on it, but I will say that he advised us again – all of us senior students brown belt or higher – never to get complacent about our training. “Once you start thinking you’re good at Aikido,” he told us, “you’re guaranteed to get worse.”
Getting the ego out of the way was a subject he often spoke about in class and provided an excellent example of, both on the mat and off. And, naturally, I had to open my mouth and provide myself an opportunity to learn a lesson. I asked Sensei a question that had been nagging at me a while.
“Hypothetically speaking,” I said, not wanting to finger anyone, “suppose after a class a junior student came up to me and pointed out a mistake in my technique. What is the proper way to respond?” A junior correcting a senior student is not forbidden, but it is generally considered bad form and not to be encouraged.
“Just say, ‘thank you’,” Sensei said.
I had said exactly that at the time, so I felt pretty pleased with myself. Then the most senior student in our club, a black belt, put down his drink and pointed at me. “You did that to me once,” he said.
When the laughter finally subsided, Sensei’s the loudest of all, he looked at me with a big smile on his face. “So, Jeff-san,” he said, “how does that foot taste?”
P.S. If you’d like to meet my soon-to-depart instructor, watch Aikido in action, and learn a little about it, come to our demo at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival on Sunday, June 16. From 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. our club will be on the lawn at the Power Center putting on a demonstration of Aikido and inviting people to join us for a free beginning class. Hope a few of you can come!