The other day in a weapons class Sensei wanted to work with bokken, and before class was considering what to focus on that day. The class ended up being an intensive little workshop, essentially, with lots of emphasis on breathing, correct technique, and incorporating weapons into familiar techniques, such as ikkyo.
Sensei’s classes are frequently, no, usually, like that. "Just a regular weeknight class" is never “just” anything.
After class I usually thank Sensei, if he’s not busy talking to someone. "Thank you, Sensei,“ I say, adding something like "I really enjoyed the class,” or “that was really interesting." Even, maybe especially, when the class was challenging, or even frustrating.
It’s polite to thank your teacher, and sometimes I feel like it might come across as only that. Just being polite. But there’s nothing contrived about my gratitude. I deeply mean every word. (And I’ve told him so.)
Classes are always inspired, never rote or perfunctory. Familiar techniques are presented in fresh ways, new subtleties explored. Sensei considers the response his words might elicit in a given student, knows just how much pressure or breathing room each person might need that day. He gauges the mood and abilities of the assembled students, and tailors the content of the class accordingly, on the spot. He sees endless detail in the mass of movement on the mat and offers strategic corrections, all while planning the next technique, managing the energy of the group, and keeping track of the time.
It all looks perfectly natural. For Sensei, it probably is. Just like it’s perfectly natural for a hawk to swoop at blinding speed through the branches of a tree, appearing on the other side with dinner in its talons. Perfectly natural from a lifetime of practice, and amazing to witness. It is as interesting to observe the teaching as it is to learn and practice the Aikido.
But as a student each class is a tremendous opportunity – to improve my Aikido of course, but also to examine my way of being, and to discover how I might take Aikido with me into the world. I am consistently blown away by the care and attention that goes into each class, and I am grateful for every opportunity to train under such a remarkable teacher.
Domo arigato gozaimashita, Sensei.
A note from the next morning after I wrote the above post:
I just went out to feed, and a hawk flew between the trees, at eye level, right in front of me, and across to the neighbor’s yard where it scattered a flock of small birds that were sitting in a tree.
I haven’t seen a hawk hunting in my yard in years.
There’s something really weird about the universe.