AIKIDO – (THE WAY OR PATH OF SPIRITIAL HARMONY) ‘ON & OFF’ THE MAT
Lyn Meachen, Nidan Roban , 15 December 2007
Picking a topic for your Roban is never easy. The first time around I was given a topic, and in many ways I believe that made it a tad easier, but then maybe not. Given this is a long journey I thought it high time I went back and actually looked at how long. I have included the years when I was not training as they were as important to my journey as many of the years when I was (in fact they were the most challenging). I found my 6th Kyu (first grading) certificate which was dated June 1995 and therefore believe I must have started Aikido earlier that year. I still remember that grading well; it was the day I began to learn I needed to lose the ‘Ego’ if I was going to continue in this art. I came from a very competitive sports background but I took the grading lightly. I did okay, but thought I was going to do a lot better, and probably should have. It was a huge event early in my Aikido journey, very humbling. And, yes the word journey will appear many times in this essay, as it is such a succinct way to describe one’s path through Aikido.
So why the Roban topic Aikido ‘On & Off’ the mat. Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido) insisted that ‘Aikido is the study of the spirit’. How one defines that spirit is totally up to the individual, but what I do believe is that we continually carry it on and off the mat. I have seen many people start Aikido, as quiet, shy, individuals, sometimes lacking a little in confidence. I have then sat in awe as they have grown into individuals who can teach (sometimes to large groups) and share their ideas in a way I could never hope to emulate. I have seen these same individuals grow in confidence regarding their life off the mat, and often smile inwardly when I see the Aikido Spirit continually used in this way. On the other side I have seen individuals begin Aikido who could be classified as maybe a little over-confident, individuals who perhaps struggle to deal with those who are not strong or self-confident. I have not seen these people lose their self-confidence, but I have seen them become more understanding and aware of the different attributes and strengths that others have to offer.
I was taught another excellent lesson in Aikido ‘Off the Mat’ recently. A relative newcomer to the art came up to me after class and told me he was going to be placed in a highly stressful situation at work, and wondered if he could use his Aikido to help deal with the situation. We had a wee chat and he came up with lots of the ideas. I was blown away because I would never have thought of it at such an early stage in my own journey. Again it brought home to me that everyone who does Aikido develops at a different rate and in a different way.
So what happens to the Spirit of Aikido when you are not training at all? In some ways I believe that is when it can become the strongest. I visited some friends recently (both Aikidoka who are not currently training) and saw so much of the energy of Aikido around me that it blew me away. I actually went there to train ie to prepare for my Nidan grading. However what we ended up doing was so much more fun. The people concerned have 3 little girls who love the art and yet have not stepped onto the mat because they are too young at this stage. We did not get to train because they kept running up wanting to join in. They amazed me with both their understanding of leading and the role of Uke, and also their joy at practicing the art. They never stopped laughing and neither did the adults. I have decided it should be compulsory for everyone who practices Aikido to train with young children, particularly leading up to gradings.
I continue to see Aikido make people grow in so many ways both on and off the mat. They are constantly challenged and I never see anything but strength in the way they deal with some of life’s biggest challenges. I have seen people injured both on and off the mat, sometimes quite seriously (more predominantly off the mat as it would happen), and I have also seen the way these people have dealt with these major blows. I cannot help but think that the Aiki Spirit has helped them to heal and have the self-belief to come back onto the mat.
Life sometimes deals out pretty huge challenges. I have experienced some myself and I have definitely seen some of my fellow Aikidoka experience them. They have amazed me at how they have dealt with the tough stuff and again I cannot help but think that in some way their own Aiki spirit has helped them to get through.