Sensei Greg Angus, chief instructor at Naka Ima Aikido

Aikido – Why Do We Practice?

Written by Sensei Greg Angus

Each person comes to the dojo for a different reason. Some come because they want to improve their physical condition, or as stress relief, or perhaps because they are interested in self-defence. Others join because of the feeling of community inside a dojo. And others have done some research into the philosophy of Aikido and wish to explore it further. Many parents bring their children to the dojo to encourage self-discipline, confidence and cooperation. All of these reasons and many others are valid and important. The most fundamental point is that each person who steps onto the mat is searching. They are asking the question: "How can I improve myself?"

The answer is different for everyone. However, there are many common experiences that students share as they pass through the different stages of training.

In the beginning there is a great deal of confusion. "What are they doing?" "I can't remember that movement." "What are the names of those techniques?" Many people are discouraged soon after they join the dojo; they expect to be able to do things perfectly. They feel that they are inadequate in some way. However, they need to understand two important points. The first is that Aikido is complex; it takes time to learn basic movements and decades to master them. What is essential is regular and persistent practice. The second point is that Aikido helps us to hold our egos in check. We are not at the dojo to compare ourselves with others in order to determine who is "better". We are there to work on ourselves. By reducing the ego we can begin to understand the other person. This is the beginning of compassion.

As the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months, uncertainty is replaced with a growing sense of accomplishment. Each student finds their place in the dojo, they get stronger, their ukemi gets better, and they make friends.

They also begin to see that Aikido is not a sport or an exercise regimen but a path. Progress is rapid and exciting. A strong sense of community arises.

As the months turn to years the student begins to see the breadth and the depth of Aikido. They assume their position as senior students (sempai) and help the junior students (kohai) with their training. They accept more responsibility within the dojo, taking care of daily maintenance and teaching duties. They start to recognize the fundamental principles that underlie Aikido and how those principles relate to specific techniques and even more importantly to life in general. It is a time of self-examination. While knowledge and skill are increasing steadily there are many questions. "When will I understand Aikido?" "When will I master it?" The answer to these questions is more practice. This is rich and fertile ground to work in. There are many challenges and rewards in this study.

Ultimately, and in keeping with the origins of Aikido, we strive to extinguish the self, to connect with the universal and to free ourselves. These may seem to be lofty goals worthy of only nuns, monks or saints. How can an average person even think these thoughts, let alone walk this path? Nevertheless, we must return to the original question, "How can I improve myself?" Our answer lies there.


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