Stop thinking – start flying

Stop thinking – start flying


If I had to critique myself I would say I over analysis things and talk too much. I have a training partner in Christchurch that won’t train with me unless I shut up and have inner quiet. Although in my defence my talking skills got me out of a nasty situation years earlier that nothing short of the SAS turning up could have defused otherwise.

It was this nasty situation that made me look for another martial art to practice. A friend of mine suggested a few including Aikido. I’d looked at doing it years earlier but decided against it as Sensei Henry had them shikko-ing round the mat for what seemed like the entire class and I had just blown my knee while skiing.

I decided to have another look so turned up at Crofton Downs thinking I’d watch a class. Fortunately I was met by Sensei Lyn who encouraged me onto the mat and that was 15 years ago.

I was trying to think of what to write for my roban as we are guided to explain large and small circle theory. When I reflect on my years of training I see lots of small circles that join to make a much larger one: the success circles, the fear circles, the frustration, the pain, the joy and the friendship circles. They all form into making a larger aikido circle, which in turn joins my fellow aikidoka circles and all of us join to form an aikido circle around the world. I’d like to focus on a couple of those smaller circles, fear and doubt, which if left to get bigger can cause chaos.

I’ve been helping teach the kids class on and off since I was a 5th Kyu. This in itself is interesting since I’ve always said I fear small children and dogs. But they’ve helped me learn a lot and I find it’s amazing the things that can affect your life as an adult that never did as a child. When we’re young we don’t understand the meaning of things like fear and doubt. Well maybe fear of what’s hiding under the bed or the bullies at school. But as we grow older we become afraid of things that we have no real need to. We start to doubt our ability to do things that we use to do all the time, without a seemingly good reason.

There’s fear of injury, fear of rejection, looking foolish, sounding stupid, fear of being wrong. There’s doubt that you can do something and when corrected on a technique you start doubting the rest of it, even if it’s been your favourite one, the one you’re most confident at. There seems to be stages you go through in your Aikido journey, and these can swing pretty wildly from the positive to negative and back to positive.

When I first started I took to rolling pretty well as I’d done gymnastics most of my younger years but as I went up through the grades learning different rolls and high falls I started to think more about what I was doing (or not doing) and doubt crept in that maybe I could do better. My rolls down the mat in practice were great but then I’d get thrown, and think that was a little hard or a little fast and I start to fear being thrown because I now doubted my ability. I held back and I saw near misses and I’d think if that was me I don’t know if I could’ve gotten out of it. You get injured and have daily reminders of it or it sits festering in the back of your mind that it could happen again.

Sensei Richard Moon said “Intimacy with one’s self is the doorway to knowledge. Being honest with ourselves, getting to the heart of the matter, is courage. Courage releases vitality. If we don’t take risks, life goes flat.”

I didn’t realise it at the time but my issue with rolling had become so bad over the last few years that I found I was holding back when rolling for fear of being injured. I couldn’t even roll for people that had never hurt me in training and was making every excuse under the sun for it. I was very close to doing myself an injury because I wasn’t rolling to protect myself. Last year I was told by a Sensei I trust the best thing to do was go back to basics. I had to be honest with myself about what was happening if I ever wanted to go further in Aikido. Luckily Brendon was just about to start a beginner’s class so I asked if I could go and could he help with my rolling because of his knowledge and skills with what the body and mind can do. It took six months but we broke everything down. The fear, the doubt, the excuses, the bad habits I’d created thinking I was doing well but in all honesty I was just screwing myself up more. But at the end of last year when I was at camp I felt so much better about my ability to roll, I wasn’t quite flying but I was happier in my training. I had a couple of Sensei’s tell me my rolls where looking good again. So a special thank you Brendon for helping me in a time of need.

I still have work to do as I would love to stop thinking and start flying with a sense of freedom and abandonment children have when they play or train. They have no fear. I see people round me at training, flying through the air and I think I wish I could do that, then stop, and think there’s no reason why I can’t. Coming up with excuses, which in the long run, are only based on my own inner fear and doubt is not healthy. I should learn from Yoda who said “Do or do not – there is no try”.

I had shut my emotions out for years but in practicing Aikido we need to be able to recognise them and we need to embrace them, make them our friends, use them to increase our awareness, use fear and doubt to look for a better way to do our techniques, turn it so it’s not doubting your ability to do something, but how you can do it a better way or a way that’s more suited to you. We all have moments that we do something and think BOOM I rocked that!!! Everyone is different in training so when someone does a technique it may be one technique but it varies from person to person. Someone who’s bigger will do it with bigger movements, bigger circles, where as someone who’s small is quicker so uses smaller circles, and someone with injuries will change it to protect themselves.

While writing this I started to doubt whether what I was writing was right, but then I told myself this is my understanding of things at this stage of my journey – a year or two down the track I might read this and wonder whatever possessed me to write this rubbish!

There’s so much more I could expand on but since I realised I’m already onto my second page I thought I should stop and thank my training partners over the years, my Sensei’s Lyn, Vance, Matt, Lachlan and Conrad, the “seminar” sensei’s Henry, Danny, Mike, Phil, Alan and Dean. Without all of you there would be no aikido for me to learn from.

Aikido is the most amazing and satisfying thing I’ve ever done and at times the most frustrating. I use it in all the different areas of my life (when I think to). You are constantly learning and growing and exploring. I plan to keep on doing Aikido until I physically can’t do it anymore (which has been pretty close in the last few years: I joke with my Osteo I have to keep her in the life style she’s become accustomed too). To finish I’d like to quote one of my favourite sayings: “There are many paths to the top of Mt Fuji, and yet only one summit. This summit is, in other words, the way of love. Each individual’s practice is different, while the final destination is identical.”

Estelle Wilson
Shodan grading, May 2015