I suppose it’s true that in any pursuit, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know.
At a few points thus far in my short Aikido journey I’ve had glimpses what might lie along the road ahead. Vague outlines of the tops of distant mountains. A barely perceptible pre-dawn glow from a city beyond the forest. Is that the wind, or the roar of a far-off river?
I had one of those glimpses recently, when Sensei demonstrated in a simple technique the difference that connection makes. No connection. Connection. Twenty seconds out of a ninety-minute class, and the impact was profound. More about that, please!
Tonight I was frustrated with myself, as usual, when I still couldn’t get a technique right on the 4th or 5th try. My partner, as he’s done several times before, just smiled and told me to be patient.
I was reminded of the above sign, which hangs on my office door. I originally bought it (at the local tack store, of course) because it so perfectly described how I felt most of the time. Obstacles be damned, let’s get things done! That’s a good thing, right?
And with most intellectual challenges I get right up to speed. I can become fluent in information, ideas, facts, concepts, and vocabulary really quickly. Throw me in a deep end, and I’ll swim. I do it all the time in my work. I think my proficiency with that kind of learning makes it all the more annoying that physical learning doesn’t work the same way.
Our bodies only “get” things just so fast. Rushing is counterproductive. If you play guitar, maybe you remember learning a barred F chord. You were never going to get it. It sounded awful, and felt awkward. You must not be doing it right. It was impossible, probably for months. And then one day it was just there, and it was easy. There were some tips to learn, of course, but hurrying, using more muscle, and getting mad at yourself didn’t help a bit. You just had to practice.
There are days when one Aikido technique or other is that barred F chord. I can see how it’s supposed to go. Everyone else is doing it gracefully and effectively, but I can’t do it to save my life. Hurrying, using more muscle, and getting mad at myself never help. I still try them all, of course, but I’m getting a little better at recognizing that mental state, letting those things go sooner, and getting back to patiently, slowly, calmly trying again, and trying again, and trying again.
Robert Nadeau Shihan said something* that really helped me understand the conflict between my expectations of myself (“the I-self”) vs. the reality of the way I learn physical skills (the functioning system), and to be more patient (when I remember). He said:
“The functioning system should be able to move along the way that it moves along, without being inflicted on negatively, or improperly, by an I-self system."
”…it has great growth capability, the functioning system, but it has its own timing, and its own way of doing it. See, the self is kind of big and vast. I mean, in a split second I can imagine myself in Kauai, on the beach, having a fish dinner at my favorite restaurant. You know, in a split second, it’s like I’m there. But for my body to move, my body has to move the way that it moves. So I can’t get mad at myself if I can’t physically go…“ and the interviewer finishes, "to the beach and eat your fish dinner.” “Yeah," Nadeau continues, "They both have their own rules, if you would. …”
(*In his interview with Jeff Davidson for the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony Podcast,” available on iTunes.)
There’s also something Sensei said, when I was restless about getting back to training after an injury. Perhaps I should flip my sign over, and paint it on the blank side:
I think I’ve noticed an interesting rhythm to what is covered in classes: As exams approach, about every 2 months, classes focus more on techniques that are required for the exams (thank goodness!). Just after exams, we get to try some more interesting things. Both of the classes I did today covered new (to me) ground. Fun stuff!