Our training area is in a gym at a school. Each evening before training, everyone helps in laying out the mats for practice. There is no heat in the gym. The other night as I prepared to start class, it was raining heavily and cold. In short it was not a good night to be traveling—even short distances. I was not expecting a big class. As the time approached and people started to arrive, they immediately began helping with the mats and setting the area up for practice. When we began there were only four people on the mat. They all had been training for several years and were not dissuaded from practice by weather or traffic conditions.
I was reminded of a story told to me by Saito Sensei years ago. When he was a young man he lived on the other side of town and had to walk about 30 minutes to the dojo. One night it was cold and raining hard. He went to his friend’s house so they could go to the dojo together. His friend told him that it was so cold and rainy that O-Sensei wouldn’t be expecting any students that night. Saito Sensei disagreed with him and said he would be there and they should go. They walked to the dojo through the rain, using flashlights to light the way. When they arrived, O-Sensei was waiting in the dojo for them. Saito Sensei and his friend were the only ones who trained that night.
Saito Sensei told me the story to impress upon me the responsibilities of being an aikido teacher. However, as I think back it is also a story about the willingness of someone to undergo inconvenience in order to attain something—in this case skill in aikido.
A new year always brings hopes and new challenges. As the year begins I always feel positive about my life and the future of aikido. We all want aikido to grow. We want to share our enthusiasm for the path we have chosen to improve ourselves. It is important, I feel, not to overreach. I knew a talented aikidoka who wanted to literally change the world. He felt everyone should practice aikido. With five billion people on the planet, such an idea was impractical, but he held to his vision. I, too, have a vision of what I want to accomplish. It begins with such small steps as a resolve to be nice to everyone I come into contact with, regardless of personal attitudes. I have finally come to believe we can do our best work in spreading aikido simply by joyfully sharing our practice with others we come into contact with both on and off the mat. Outside the dojo we use our best aikido principles in contact with people who come within our maai. The people who do not train may not know we are practicing our special discipline, but they will respond and will hold you in high regard in future meetings.
We should remember until about 55 years ago, aikido was almost unknown outside of Japan. When I returned from Japan in 1968 there were only two small dojos operating in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, I guess, there are about 40 or so. I consider that to be excellent growth. When one goes to the dojo every day and sees enrollment growing only slowly, it is easy to become discouraged. Now that I have the advantage of hindsight, the number of people who practice, or have practiced, aikido has grown remarkably.
We must consider the idea of going to a dojo, putting on a gi, and getting thrown around does not resonate with most people. Although we may ask a student to commit for a month at a time, the real goal of training is attained only after many years of diligent practice. Most people want easier solutions which give the same results and don’t require such long term time commitments.
The physical skills and the “non-technique skills” which we acquire are not available to people who do not enter into the dojo and accept training. I believe these qualities set us apart from the average population. Since these skills take continuous effort and are manifested over time, the person who seeks rapid results may get discouraged, and it takes self-discipline to perservere.
Saito Sensei felt that progress in aikido was attained through the hardship of continued study and practice and resulted in a personal joyful feeling and close comradeship to others in the dojo. I would like to add that our aikido training in a more peaceful and subtle manner really does affect everyone with whom we come into contact and really does make our local world a better place.
I wish everyone peace, prosperity, good health and successful training in the coming New Year.
Happy New Year.
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