One of the ways that I explain what aikido is about, is to say that it is an exploration of boundaries. It starts with an understanding of our own personal boundaries. Who are we? What are we good at? What are we bad at? Where are we comfortable and where are we not?
Aikido offers us the opportunity to find out the answers to these questions and many more, because on the mat, the nature of the art means that you can not hide and whoever you are is revealed. Whatever your strengths and weaknesses are, become apparent.
At that point a whole series of new questions arise:
· Are you going to take a good look at what is revealed?
· What are the things that you need to work on if you are to develop as a person?
· Are you prepared to put in the sometimes painful work to get there?
I have a theory that students often stop coming when they reach a point in their development when their abilities on the mat match their potential before they arrived. Then, if they are to improve, they need to take a good look at themselves and do the hard yards. Many simply can’t face doing that. Interestingly, it is often those that seem most at ease with the world and who have a natural athleticism, whereas those who arrive on the mat somewhat broken by what life has thrown at them are more willing to pay the price.
Aikido offers the tools and principles to allow us to become better versions of ourselves by presenting a path to continual grow. (Beware the student or usually teacher, who thinks they have made it!)
So, what has this got to do with boundaries you may ask? Well, until you know who you are and where you want to go, how can you start to move forward. Moving forward means that you are prepared to step outside your comfort zone and experience the things that at this point in time don’t seem possible and which seem a little bit scary. It is only when we understand where we are at that we can see the path forward. And like any journey it’s best done step by step, as a leap into the unknown is far more likely to lead to disaster.
Boundaries are a place you can be inside or outside of. On the mat, outside is represented by our partner. They are the mirror that reflects who we are and if you want to see clearly, you need to explore the boundaries of your partner. This is the place of true connection and where the true practise of aikido begins. If you don’t find it, you will learn little about yourself or your partner.
As a senior grade, it is your job to reach down and help your partner up the ladder and in this scenario the partner has to reach up as far as they are able to make the job of moving up and on, as easy as possible. Where partners have similar grades and experience, the model doesn’t change much simply because each partner has strengths and weaknesses, so sometimes one is lifting up, but at other times they reach down. It’s a beautiful thing!
When you step off the mat, this way of practise doesn’t really change, as armed with what you have learnt on the mat, you can adopt exactly the same principles, with everyone and everything that life throws your way.
The joy of aikido for me has always been this journey of self-development inextricably linked to my relationship with the people I meet and the situations that life brings my way. The choice is simple. You can either engage and give it your best shot and accept that sometimes you will fall, or avoid the challenges that are offered and miss out on what could have been.
Every moment potentially offers a challenge. Are you up for it?