Reflections from the Mat

Ruminations of Kokikai Aikido technique and philosophy

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Top five things you need to be prepared for Aikido Class!

Here are the top five things you need to come prepared for your next Aikido Class:

  1. Develop a positive mindset.  Each and every time you step onto the mat, you have an opportunity to learn something new. You just need to give your best effort and challenge yourself along the way. Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned practitioner of the martial arts, a healthy positive attitude will go a long way. My teachers tell me, “Always look for one thing to take home with you.” Taking one thing home with you every class is a philosophy for growth. It teaches you to look for positive things in your life and thus, develop your positive mind. A good attitude is essential for the development of a good character. Always strive to turn negativity into positivity.
  2. Take good care of your body.  Aikido teaches us that the body and mind are one, so how we treat our body affects our mental health and how we treat our minds reflects in our physical health. On days when you have Aikido practice, you will want to drink plenty of water. Make hydration a priority. You should also make sure that you don’t eat a big meal before class. If you are out of breath and dehydrated you will not have any energy to learn and participate in class.
  3. Keep good hygiene.  Taking good care of your body is a formula for success, and proper hygiene is a sign of respect for your fellow training partners.  If you are giving 100% effort during class you will get a good sweat going.  Bring a small cotton towel in your bag and tuck it into your lapel so you can wipe your brow when the sweat starts flowing.
  4. Treat your Gi with respect.  Keep your Gi clean because it is a reflection of yourself. If you treat your Gi with a certain reverence, then that same respect will flow into the rest your life. Being clean and presentable is a significant factor in how you will be perceived by others on the mat.
  5. Remember your belt.  Remember that your belt is the thing the ties everything together. Unfortunately, I’ve had to borrow a belt a few times because I left mine at home. If you find yourself repeating the same mistakes, you need to look for the lesson that your mistake is trying to teach you. This is another way that you can try to develop your positive mind. Your belt is a symbol of all of the time and dedication that you have taken in your Aikido journey. Treat your belt as something special. When you put your belt on, you should be proud of how far you have come and reflect on what lies ahead. When you take pride in the small things, the bigger picture becomes more clear.

 

How to Focus on the Present Moment

Meditation is a tremendous way to exercise your mind and body in a fun and challenging way. The longer you practice meditation, the better you’ll feel about your ability to live your life in the moment. This has great potential to increase your confidence and self-esteem. Mindfulness practice can be a great daily de-stressor, so that you can live with presence of mind and enjoy every moment. It doesn’t matter whether you are a businessperson with a busy life and an ambitious career or if you’re a young adult that needs help with self-discipline. The path to a meaningful life begins in the present moment.

First, you need to realize the fact that you can only focus on one thing at a time. Since we were young children we were taught to believe that we can fill our minds with many tasks and do multiple things at once. That may be true in some situations, but in order to practice real mindfulness we have to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. By slowing down your mental process during meditation, you’ll notice that your breathing is happening on it’s own, with or without your conscious attention. When you concentrate on deep breathing, you’ll notice the rhythm of your body’s inhalation and exhalation process.

After we learn how to focus on our breathing, the next step in becoming more present is to let go of your thoughts. The present moment is always available to you, and your breath is the ongoing action that keeps you anchored to the present. Simply notice your thoughts and feelings as they come and go without clinging to them. Sometimes, you may feel like you are pulled away from the present moment because the thoughts inside your mind are chaotic and running out-of-control. The Aikido approach to calm an active mind is to let the thoughts come and go just like the waves rolling in and out on the beach.

Once you put these basics of meditation to practice, make an effort in your life to discover activities that you love doing. It’s easy to be in the moment when you’re doing something you enjoy. When you are able to be yourself in the present moment, you become more and more optimistic and goal-oriented. A goal gives you a sense of purpose in life, and life becomes meaningful if you have a sense of purpose. Life may knock you down from time to time, but if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything.

The only way you can live your life in the present moment is to enjoy it. You can try to force yourself all you want, but it won’t work that way. For example, when you practice a new skill that you are unfamiliar with in your Aikido training, you don’t want to try to force your muscles to throw the person. If someone attacks you, you want to move in an effective way that maximizes your counterattack… minimum effort, maximum effect.

If you are calm and enjoying yourself, it will be much easier for you to be in the present moment and learn something. The best way to grow is to step out into the unknown and see what we can do once we get there. When we get lost in our thoughts about the past and the future, the mind can be so self-critical that we forget about the good things happening in our lives. Instead we should remember that the present moment is a bottomless treasure that can always teach us new ways to deal with the problems that we face in our lives.

Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay

The Benefits of Working with a Training Partner

Introducing yourself to your training partners, getting to know them personally, and developing healthy relationships with them will maximize the likelihood that you can learn something new every time you train together. Throughout civilization for thousands of years the martial arts have held the notoriety of being an extraordinary form of exercise for a person’s body, mind, and spirit.  Aikido works to develop harmony of the body, mind and spirit as one.  Aikido students will learn how to develop these connections without isolating any of the three forces from each other.  Students are tested by their own ability to be present in the moment when training with a partner or a group of people.  Students new and old need to work together to keep each other accountable while training so that we can all train hard to achieve our own goals and also make an effort to better ourselves a little bit every time we step onto the mat for practice.

One of the four core principles of Aikido is to develop your positive mind.  Aikido does focus on physical development and good students of Aikido train hard to condition their bodies to their utmost potential. However, like many things in life, the mental aspect is the real obstacle that we work to develop so that we can evolve and grow beyond the limits of our physical bodies.  When we have a partner to train with over the course of our development as martial artists, we can monitor our progress with greater accuracy because our practice becomes a dialogue. Developing this dialogue requires great patience and respect so that we can all grow at our own pace.   Each and every interaction that we have with our training partners is an opportunity to step outside of our comfort zone and move onto the next level.

In fact, to sum up the whole matter, it is possible for us to grow as individuals only if we are able to communicate effectively with those that we interact with. The best martial artists are those that decide to take their practice seriously.  It takes time and dedication to develop good qualities like patience, discipline, and positivity.  Being a martial artist is a way of life.  You do not need to reinvent the wheel in order to learn martial arts.  You just need to show up to class with an open mind that is ready to learn.  The dojo is a place where students can grow beyond what they think they are capable of. When people come together with a positive attitude and a sense of discipline, people will naturally help each other to become the best possible version of themselves.  Instead of students competing with each other to beat each other, Aikido is an art that allows students to learn from each other and grow together so that we can achieve the goals that we set for ourselves.

 

Being a Good Steward of the Dojo Space

dojo mat space

 

It is an honor to be writing a blog for Chester County Kokikai Aikido, and for my first entry I will go over some details about what it takes to become a student of Aikido and what Aikido students need to acquire over time as they begin to practice the art of Aikido. If they are hungry for learning the art, new students of Aikido will quickly adopt the idiosyncrasies and rules that go along with the training. New students should strive to develop their ability to learn by doing or imitating the technique as they see it, and over time their particular skillset becomes more finely tuned and developed. Coming from a beginner’s perspective, Aikido, like other martial art disciplines take many years of dedication to become proficient.  You need to develop the will and the character to stick with it.  Some students may need to have certain goals and that can range from small things like getting out of the house, to exercising twice a week or greater achievements like becoming a black belt. In more than a few conversations with my instructors, though, I have heard that, “black belt is only the beginning of your training.”

CLEARING THE SPACE

How can a beginner student learn self-control and other skills necessary to start the journey that leads toward becoming a good steward of the dojo?

Sometimes class can become so interesting and exciting that we forget to take care of the little things that we need to get done like cleaning the floors of the dojo after class.  We should always dedicate five minutes to practice good hygiene before and after class. Taking the time to keep our dojo in a clean, pristine condition sends a good message to both the people we train with as well as ourselves.

Entering the dojo is entering a special space. Anyone with a will or strong mind can learn a great deal from Aikido. I have learned this after training in the martial arts for most of my life, to put it simply, new students just need to develop patience and give it time. You must learn the rules of the dojo and develop a positive attitude and patience so that the dojo space can be an open, inviting and abundant space full of potential to learn something new every class. The dojo is a place where people want to learn freely and grow as individuals and become more connected to other people. If new students can really understand in their minds that their positive mental attitude means everything, then we can aim to harmonize with our partners while we practice, and learn from each other in a harmonious way.

One goal of our martial art is to strive to learn from each other in an exchange of physical techniques. What better way to flex your social muscle than by practicing together with a partner or a group of people.

GATHERING GOOD INTENTIONS

What I am beginning to understand about training in the martial arts is that when you are a new student, you need to learn early that your presence and how you show up to class matters to your training partners. Sometimes, just getting to class is an effort in itself, but truthfully, I always feel great after a good sweat at the dojo. A student should be dedicated to showing up to class and finding the best way to learn at least one new thing every time.

The most important aspect of training in the martial arts is the continuous and simultaneous development of our self-discipline and our self-awareness. If you have an open mind and you can leave all of your emotional baggage at the door when you enter the dojo, your mind will be receptive and aware and you will be able to learn. If I am able to take one or two insights out of the class than I am learning and growing as an individual. 

So in conclusion, if the dojo continues to be a positive and welcoming space,  then the students will want to come and practice in harmony. In retrospect, it’s the students presence and actions that help keep the dojo a positive and welcoming space.