When beginning Aikido, things can seem very confusing; there seems so much to know, physically and mentally; and after a few weeks, you perhaps start to think that there is far more which is, apparently, completely beyond your grasp.
To reassure newcomers to the club; you are not expected to know. Indeed, a desire to know too much too soon can lead to disappointment at one’s perceived progression, which can cause much confusion. This is not uncommon, but it causes some people to give up after a short time, which is a great shame. Perhaps they have not realized that they have already learned an important lesson; that there is much they do not know, and this will always be so. One reason for practicing and enjoying Aikido is that one never reaches the end – the top. Where would there be to go from the top – except down? Yet, one is able to keep learning and, I hope, help others to do so for many years, for Aikido is one of the arts where older practitioners have much to offer and are willing to do so.
– There can be many seemingly peculiar to the dojo (like etiquette, warm-up, ukemi, and a variety of other exercises); people doing (or not doing) things, sometimes without apparent reason or purpose, and perhaps encouraging you to try or do things which seem, at first, rather pointless. But learning Aikido is, I think, like learning any other art – music or writing, for example.
We practice basic exercises over and over again, which by themselves are not particularly useful, just as when learning to play an instrument we practice scales, or the alphabet when reading and writing. When learning to write, we practice our letters between lines and end up with row upon row, page after page of letters, practicing their individual forms. One day we no longer need the lines. When these are mastered, we move on to simple words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.
If we are able and motivated, we may get beyond applying for jobs and wring postcards, to perhaps wring for our own entertainment or others, poems, short stories, a small article, or even a book. Though few who write will ever be a Shakespeare, it is enjoyable nonetheless. However, this state is only reached by repetitive and sometimes boring exercise; then we come to the point where we can enjoy a great range of writing and reading and we realize, this development has opened up a whole new world.
In the dojo, you may not realize the purpose of an exercise until long after you have practiced it for some time. Unless you do it often, a particular penny will never drop, but when it does, the reasons for otherwise pointless exercise suddenly become clear. It is a great feeling when this happens.
I found that my Aikido took my mind away from severe domestic troubles for a few hours a week. I didn’t bring the outside world into the dojo, but by and by, I think some of the dojos came out into the world with me. I later stopped needing the dojo in this way and inevitably had days when I just didn’t feel like turning up to practice, for all the usual reasons; a bad day at work, important socializing to attend to, etc. I kept turning up, though, and what I realized was that when the last thing I wanted to do was Aikido, I always had a much better session, got more than normal from it, and came out feeling greatly improved in a couple of hours before. When I went to train feeling like the bee’s knees, I found things very difficult. Strange? Perhaps not – Aikido is a great leveler. Perhaps it shows that we should practice because we enjoy it for its own sake, and have a desire to learn, to lose one’s ambition and ego; not because we want to impress or be the best, and certainly not to be superior.
There is always someone better, not to think so is the gunfighter’s syndrome, and being an inmate of Boot Hill has never appealed to me that much. If there is always someone better, then there is someone to learn from. We are therefore always at the beginning. Everyone has to start somewhere – the important thing is to start. As been quoted so many times:
“A journey of a thousand miles must always start with the first step”
Written by Jon Stokoe, CUA Aikido Union