What Can I Expect?
by Dennis Hooker
I want people coming to the dojo to know and understand their bodies, their physical strengths and limitations. We will try to improve their bodies’ strength and overcome some of their limitations while learning a fine martial art. I want them to know beforehand their health status, and understand that knowledge of their health is business to be attended to before training. That is the first lesson in self-defense.
I also like for them to know we will be blueprinting a new set of movements into their minds and bodies. Just like learning to print letters as a child the movements will start slowly. It seems most all expect more of themselves than I expect of them.
From the non-physical side I want them to know where they are and what they are doing. We are about improving our lives in a very real way and not at all about playing games. I lose some here when I tell them if they want to learn to fight and win over others, they are in the wrong place. I will gladly suggest some good teachers in arts that do that sort of thing.
The student, and particularly an older student, should know what could reasonably be expected. An interview should always be held if there is a question with regard to age, illness, and/or disability. The teacher has a responsibility to protect the prospective student and the existing students of the dojo. A student should be allowed to train with a reasonable goal and reasonable expectations. A prospective student with special needs should always be identified and helped, and never left to his or her own devices. Usually self-expectations and ideas of what the dojo is about are wrong, formed in the most part by people very unlike us. By explaining who we are and what the dojo is about, we can take unnecessary pressure off the prospective student.
It is important for everyone to stay in good physical condition. However, good physical condition is a relative thing, isn’t it? Show me another martial art where so many old men and women are still actively teaching and reasonably effective. Every day I breath, I consider myself to be in better shape than I deserve. I consider every step I take to be one more than was predicted. Although my situation is unusual, it is by no means singular. I have met several other Aikido teachers like myself. By some standards, indeed most, we would be considered a poor risk for life insurance. However, I dare say that as Aikidoka most of us will outlast many of the younger and more vigorous of our breed. Vitality is not found in the same place for everyone. When I was young, airborne and bulletproof I was a rock. Rocks break! Now I’m old, chair-borne and soft. I am water. Water destroys rocks. So consider shape and condition with an open mind.
The overuse of physical force is counter to the basic principles of movement and blending in Aikido. Hard and strong are many times seen as synonymous, but in this case they should not be. If muscular structure hampers fluidity of movement and gives a false since of indestructibility, then it is detrimental to Aikido growth. However if a strong and/or muscular body is capable of moving and blending with the efficiency required in Aikido, then it would make sense to have a strong well-defined body. I would certainly love to have one, but Myasthenia Graves keeps me fighting just to maintain a functional one. When I’m functioning normally, I lift weights just to be ready for the next crash which will come. In my many years of Aikido I have seen times when more strength would have came in real handy. Being weak as a kitten at times has forced me to a greater understanding of harmony of movement that might not have been gained had a strong body been there to overshadow necessity of blending.
But don’t use the excuse that body development is detrimental to your Aikido just to be slovenly. I have seen this happen. People who drink too much booze and smoke too much and eat too much and just live poor lifestyles use Aikido as an excuse to criticize those who take pride in their bodies and work hard to keep themselves healthy. Aikido is available to everyone and can be used to some extent by anyone. We should endeavor to be as physical fit as necessary for us to function properly in Aikido. This is different for everyone.
I believe that anyone doing something passionately day in and day out for years will experience hills and valleys. This is only natural. Sometimes we will stay on a plateau for a long period of time moving nowhere, just trying to get unstuck. This is the most discouraging stage for me — the stage of not moving forward and fighting that feeling of regression, simply plodding along day after day because I am too lazy to get my mind in gear. I have found personally over the years that these periods of deepest drudgery foreshadow a breakthrough of some sort, either a physical or spiritual one. Sometimes the nature of the breakthrough seemingly has nothing to do with my Aikido training but is nonetheless a catalyst for getting me off that damn plateau.
I can not avoid the Aikido doldrums; I only wish I could. They come to me with my full knowledge. There is not a darn thing I can do to stop them. I can only recognize them and use the tools I have to get past them.
Aikido hurts more the older you get. Parts break faster and take longer to heal, or they just wear out and need to be replaced. But the one thing that comes through loud-and-clear is that you can’t ever stop. You stop, you die. It’s an addiction, one that was once identified as positive. Now you’re not sure. But you still can’t quit! You have got to find Ikkyo.
Each time I get on the mat it’s with that challenge. More than thirty years and I still look forward to each new class. I still look forward to looking for Ikkyo, trying to find the first principle.