Tag Archives: Yoshokai

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.

A Farewell and an Invitation

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.

One of last week's Rec & Ed classes.

One of last week’s Rec & Ed classes.

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.”

I'm guessing there's some room for improvement in my form...

I’m guessing there’s some room for improvement in my form.

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?”


A rare treat - throwing my instructor.

A rare treat – I throw my instructor.

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!

Staying in Balance

With such terrific spring weather here in southeast Michigan this week, I’ve gotten outside to run or ride every evening after work. It’s felt like forever since I’ve been able to just toss on the gear and go, without worrying about being warm enough or bringing a headlamp.

While I was out on the bike this week, a brief lecture by my Monday Aikido class instructor kept popping into my head. He’d spoken about the need to balance our study of Aikido so that we practice both leading a technique (Shite) and receiving, or following, the technique (Uke). “With our Western attitude,” he’d said, “we can focus too much on being Shite. We like feeling that we’re in control.”

But if the two people performing an Aikido technique both try to be Shite at the same time, the technique cannot succeed. One person must agree to be Uke, and follow Shite’s lead properly, for the technique to be executed safely and harmoniously. “It would probably be useful for us to study Uke even more,” he concluded, “to bring our training into better balance.”

Believe it or not, it's just as much fun to be thrown this way as it is to perform the throw.

Believe it or not, it’s as much fun to be thrown this way as it is to perform the throw.

Carrying the idea into everyday life, he pointed out there are many events in our lives that we cannot control. “We can fight that and try to be Shite,” my instructor had said, “or we can be Uke, and let ourselves be led down the road. Perhaps it will take us somewhere interesting.”

The next evening, after a long day at work, I got on the bike and headed out to nowhere in particular. I’d felt mostly like Uke during the day, working on the priorities of the moment, and I was ready to be in control for a change. I turned onto a couple of roads I’d never taken before, and checked out the progress being made on the Border-to-Border Trail in Dexter. It felt wonderful to cruise along at my own speed, make on-the-spot decisions about which route to take, and choose when I was ready to head home. I was finally being Shite, I remember thinking.

Or was I?

After that moment of satisfaction, I suddenly realized the bigger picture. Yes, I had chosen which roads to ride on – but I had followed those roads instead of plowing through someone’s yard. I was choosing my speed, yet I was fitting with the condition of the roads, the mechanics of the bike, and the strength in my legs that evening. I’d decided when to head home, but I’d wanted to return before dark, and I had no control over the sun. In short, there was a lot of Uke mixed in with that little bit of Shite.

And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Dexter DQ

At least I get to decide whether to get ice cream. Shite, right? Except for that line I have to wait in…

A Cruise to the Finish

HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO ALL MY READERS. I hope you’re enjoying them as much as I am. Just one sad part – I had to say goodbye to my oldest daughter this morning, who headed back to her home in Virginia. But the week she spent with us, and that we spent with our combined families, was wonderful.

Did I mention I broke 20:00 in this 5K?

Did I mention I broke 20:00 in this 5K? But it hasn’t gone to my head. Not a bit.

Last week was memorable for a couple of events, and I’m overdue in posting an update, so here they are.

I received my Aikido 1st Kyu test results, and unfortunately I did not pass. I’m disappointed, naturally, but I enjoyed the experience, and I received a list of specific form and technique points to work on. My club instructor, who has failed three tests in his years of Aikido, once said he hoped we might all experience the ‘blessing’ of failing a test because we’d learn so much from it. Well, based on the list I received, I am very blessed. But as he also said, pass or fail, you just keep training, and in January I’ll be back on the mat. More thoughts on this in future posts.

On a happier note, my seven-mile run on Dec. 19 put me over 2,500 combined running and cycling miles for the year – my final goal! I joined the PR Fitness Wednesday night regulars for an easy cruise through downtown Ann Arbor and some residential neighborhoods with particularly spectacular holiday light displays. The run felt smooth and effortless, one of those times a runner lives for, where you feel like you’re just gliding along and there’s nothing else you’d rather be doing. It doesn’t happen every time, but it’s magic when it does.

Mile 19 of the Ann Arbor Marathon in June.

Not one of the magic runs, but memorable: Mile 19 of the Ann Arbor Marathon in June.

With all my goals for the year behind me, it’s now time for some R&R. Over the holidays I am running regularly, but that’s about it. No Aikido classes or Body Specs workouts until after the New Year. I feel positively decadent.