How Aikido Made Me a Confident Teenager

Aikido for me has been a big part of my life. It literally became the catalyst that changed my personality as I matured through my adolescence. It all started at 14, when I was lucky enough that while my older brother was studying Ninjutsu, he saw the value in what martial arts could do for me and my self-confidence.

 

As a young teenager I was very quiet and timid. I was the youngest of 6 siblings. Being the youngest, I found I would generally compete greatly for attention, usually through spontaneously clownish actions. Moreover, being least senior, you find your opinions are either ignored or barely given a chance to be heard. Having accepted my place, I was for the most part shy. I can still remember in year 8 or 9 a student using the classic Robert Deniro line on me, “Are you talking to me?” I didn’t actually know it at the time but taking this seriously, in that moment I responded with, “No. Not me!” This was an exercise in the other boy’s authority and I had willingly submitted.  I felt bad afterwards; I was afraid to speak up, let alone what to say.

 

At 14, my brother made a deal with me: he would sponsor me if I did a martial art, on the basis that I could choose whatever martial art I wanted to study. I didn’t know much about martial arts and what I did know came from television. Being a 90’s child, my favourite martial arts movies as a young teenager were the Karate Kid 1, 2 and 3. I’m not talking Jacki Chan but the original Japanese one. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one either! Let’s face it, Daniel Laruso had Mr Miyagi (a positive male role model) who provided him with a positive masculine identity (yes, generic straightforward structure of 90s films). From defeating Cobra Kai, to even getting the girl (apparently, a different one every film) and let’s

 not forget, learning about himself. It was a series that groomed kids for an appreciation of Japanese culture. Sure, I’m more critical of them now but they were good films. From them, I wanted to do a Japanese martial art and was considering Karate like the main character of the films, Daniel.

 

My brother was learning a para-military martial art designed to kill. Most martial arts in general too, are designed with an aggressive streak. Martial arts comes with ideas of using your strength, being aggressive, multiple combo hits and lethal strikes… In many ways a complete disregard to the person’s life that you are “competing against” (This in many ways represents the masculine extreme). I felt martial arts shouldn’t be treated like a game of Mortal Kombat (I know many martial arts don’t and most martial artists that train long enough, do not usually have this mindset). Nonetheless, I didn’t want to learn to be a trained killer. I didn’t want to have a lethal intent or an aggressive mindset. It was in my mind, the painted world of “Cobra kai’s no mercy. I wanted to approach martial arts with the question of “What would Mr Miyagi do?” Sure, he was a fictional character but to teenage me, he was the ideal.  

 

I remember glimpsing through the pages of an old martial arts book I found at my father’s house. Looking through the worn and faded pages of full spread images of fighting styles, I saw people wearing black samurai “skirts” placing locks on and throwing each other as well as using weapons. There was something appealing about this art. It boasted ideas of incredible power by being relaxed and focused and respecting your training partner. There was a deep spiritualism about it that I liked on top of the martial aspect. It held ideas for a negation to any form of competition, and a greater respect and appreciation of the workings of nature. I dug these things – It had a Mr Miyagi stamp of approval all over it. And then too it indulged my Japanese culture fetish by the art’s strong connections to Budo. It gave me ideas of the Japanese warrior class’ chivalry, which in a way fed my “samurai feudal Japan” fantasies as a teenager. This was Aikido. I knew I wanted to try it.

 

My brother was a little dismayed at my choice, I suppose he wanted me to do something more brutal. A deal was a deal however, and I had the freedom to choose. Begrudgingly, my brother sponsored me. In hindsight, I was incredibly lucky for this. I remember finding Griffith Aikido in the yellow pages (yes, it was that long ago!). At the time, the dojo was at the QCA, in Southbank. It was a university club. I can remember the first night I went and watched these skirted people, gracefully throwing each other around the floor as though they were hovering. I was intrigued and decided to train. Occasionally, you would have conversations here and there on the mat. After training, they’d all go out for dinner and as I got older, I would go out and chat with all these awesome people about Aikido and whatever else. I was finally in a place where I was not competing to be heard, but instead just free to converse with anyone and neither did I struggle to find someone to train with on the mat. I felt included, like I was a part of a bigger family. At Griffith Aikido, I was a part of a club.

 

Overtime, I came out of my shell. I had the opportunity to interact with others through the vehicle of martial arts. I became more confident with my martial skills which coincided with me having more confidence in general. This confidence also led to me to studying Drama in High school. I was still goofy me but I was not afraid to be myself. Instead of shrieking away, I embraced things. In hindsight, I don’t know if there was a greater thing a teenager like me could have had. This is not to say I didn’t have my share of problems. Most teenagers were trying to be something, competing with others to do so. Aikido taught me I didn’t need to compete to be something. I didn’t see the need, I was content that I knew who I was and found strength in this.

 

I have seen others like this pass through the dojo as well – shy and quiet to begin with, but through aikido, developed their own sense of confidence. Instead of recoiling inward they learnt to perceive outwardly and engage with the world. I liked engaging and communicating with other people. I have Aikido to thank for that. Later over the years, I even became a senior leader in my school. Sure, I wasn’t beating the local Cobra kai or getting the girl like Daniel but I was happy in being me.

 

Chris Cobbo

Looking for Interesting Background Knowledge on Aikido

In order to really understand Aikido, it is good to have some background knowledge of the history of the artform. As a more recent martial art, Aikido’s history and growth has luckily been able to be comprehensively documented. Many figures, most notably Stanley Pranin went to great efforts to gather first person accounts as well as records in general. What is evident from the primary resources is an interesting and mottled history. Eushiba’s life (the founder is an extraordinary one) from being a pioneer on the frontiers of desolate northern Japan, to exploring his spirituality in Shinto sects and then trying to leave them and finally, dealing with family drama and politics within his own emerging martial art. This all takes place as well over the backdrop of the historical currents of Japan’s place on the world stage during the 20th century.

What is interesting to note from this mottled history and has remained a great point of contention is what is Aikido or Eushiba’s Aikido? When O’sensei died, he did not leave much of a structure or curriculum to the artform. Moreover, his artform continually developed as he aged. From this, many of his head students had to pick up the pieces after sensei passed on, and try to make sense of what O’sensei was teaching and create a curriculum. A curriculum is a challenging thing to structure; part of it is having a set of stock techniques taught and then secondly as well, ensuring that as students progressed through the ranks, that there are concepts clearly evident and built on through these techniques. This makes a curriculum very personal in that the choice of what concepts/techniques present in the curriculum suggest what is most valued by the creator of that curriculum. Partly because of this open-ended interpretation of what the curriculum should be, many styles have emerged.

Should we even be concerned with delineation – does it even matter that our style is different from others? With so many abundant styles it becomes questionable to ask how should we be training and moreover why is our style the way it is. Understanding the history of Aikido and the branches that have spread forth allows us to figure out why our style is what it is and in turn what we should be aiming for in our own training.

If you are really interested in such matters, a blog article by Mark Murray is worth a read:  https://www.aikidosangenkai.org/blog/ueshiba-legacy-mark-murray/

The article is from a blog that puts forward a strong case that aikido changed from what Eushiba intended. I will say the author does favour internal power ideas but it is still worth a read.

 

Chris Cobbo

Basic Aikido Practices

In Aikido, you will have training for both physical and mental aspects. Physical training emphasizes more on the fitness of the body and specific techniques while mental training allows you to have peace in your mind and body even under dangerous circumstances.

Your training actually begins right at the door of the dojo: here you will take your first bow in the direction towards the kamiza (a shrine usually at the front of the dojo). We do this as a sign of respect to the place (for which we are able to train in) as well as the learning we receive in this space. Once you step inside, you take your shoes off near the door and point them toward the outside. First, is not to dirty the space – a common Japanese practice. Placing the shoes outward however, is a physical reminder that negative thoughts from the outside world are not to penetrate inward and only positivity goes outward from the dojo. This is the first aspect of letting go of the outside and being absolutely present in the here and now – a Buddhist concept of mindfulness. You will see many people walk through the doors timid, stiff or tense from stresses but by the end of the lesson, they walk out calm, relaxed and confident and this is what you take with you from the dojo.

After the first cultural hurdle of entering the room is passed, before stepping onto the mat, you bow again to the kamiza in the middle. This again is a sign of respect to the space but moreover, to the founder who you will see a picture of just above the kami. This etiquette most likely dates back to practices of ancestor worship which is common throughout asia, but in this form, it is recognition and thanks that what you are learning originally came from O’Sensei.

Suddenly, a senior kneels down and claps twice. The class lines up from most senior downwards, more noticeably too everyone is on their knees (another Japanese cultural practice). Sensei then enters, following the same bowing etiquette and then sitting in front of the class, turns and everyone bows with them to O’sensei. Then finally, after turning back around, sensei and students bow to each other. On doing so the words are uttered, “Onegai Shimasu.” At the end of the lesson, “Arigato gozai masu” are uttered as well. You may also hear these words conversed at the start and end of training with your partner. To the beginner, it can sound like total babbal and you will generally spend some time trying to grasp how to repeat these phrases. Don’t worry if you can’t repeat it as you are not expected to and like most things in Japanese culture, this is more so a courtesy.

To the unrequited of the Japanese language, while the last phrase is common, the first phrase is not as common to everyday Japanese speech. It was not till recently, even after having trained for some time, that I actually noticed this oddity and wondered the difference. While both phrases may sound similar the first is very irregular. So what do this phrase mean?

“Shimasu” means “to do” is common in speech, however “O’negai” literally means “to pray to (something)” or “to wish for (something).” More interestingly is this “O” is different to the one used in O’Sensei. Rather it is used to make the phrase more honouring. You may hear it in Japan at New Years Eve celebrations, as “kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu” which translates along the lines of “I pray I do good tidings this year.” The word can be used in many different contexts. At its most basic though, it means “good will” towards the “future” of two meeting parties. Interestingly enough, in the context of training, it can be the equivalent of saying “please” in the sense that by accepting to train with the person, that you are ready to accept what the other person teaches you.

It is funny to think, that we hear this phrase uttered every lesson. And so as you train, keep this in mind. The more your Aikido develops, the more you are consciously able to learn. Sometimes it may be overwhelming that we cannot grasp everything at once, especially as a new beginner. Or as a senior, we sometimes underestimate what we can learn even from someone junior to us. For your training to develop, you may be surprised by how much you can learn from anyone with an open but humble attitude.

Learning Humility Through Respect

Man is most humbled through a culture that has a respect for all things.

There are little eccentricities when training in a dojo. It can be rather daunting to the initial beginner when already trying to just gather the basics of technique, that you then realise you are thrown into as well, a strange dialogue of etiquette. It may seem strange but this culture is just as pivotal as the techniques in learning the art of Aikido.

From the moment you go to step into the dojo, you are bowing to almost everything. And then to top it off, when you think you have finally mastered the courtesies, as your partner bows to you, if they are the ultra-enthusiastic type, they will then greet you in a bunch of syllables spoken in rapid succession. If they’re really good, another different set of syllables is spoken again at the end of training with this person. Regardless, even if you avoid, perhaps awkwardly, this strange conversing, you must then face the muttering of these alien syllables at the start and end of class…

The training space is an odd environment. Once you enter the room, you set foot into a strange quasi-culturally foreign place. This is further reinforced by the placement of ornamental stands, images and even calligraphy on the walls. It isn’t Japan but it’s not like the everyday outside world either. The training space is a strange hybrid of cultural ties – held together by the very people active in that space at that time.

So what does it all mean? Although seeming benign at times, rituals or practices give a space significance. It’s our psychological way of helping us change our frame of mind. For many, after a long gruelling day at work or dealing with the stresses of life, this is a way to automatically separate our problems of the outside world from the dojo. For most, the dojo can be a psychological oasis. Aikido is a Japanese martial art. With this comes the most apparent practices of Japanese culture including language and gestures, but moreover even spiritual aspects such as Shintoism.

In general, the Japanese culture expresses a lot of thanks, courtesy and gratitude to not only people (past and present) but objects and spaces as well. This ties into Shintoism’s concept that all things have spirits. This is manifested as having respect for all things. Moreover though, there is also a permeation of other cultural practices in the art, bearing traces of Buddhism, Doaism and even Confucianism that stretch from a line of Japanese martial tradition (Budo). As you train, these will become more apparent.

Koichi Tohei Sensei – Ki Aikido 1/5 Fundamental Concept Principle

Now this looks familiar…

Home Dojo – A Question of Respect and Loyalty

One very important issue discussed amongst the club membership at last Tuesday evening’s AGM was ‘home dojo’ etiquette.

As Maruyama Sensei says, “Aikido is not a sport, it’s a martial art; and the dojo is not a gymnasium, it is a special place.” Our view is that our dojo and every dojo whether it is ours or someone else’s, deserves our utmost respect.

Home dojo etiquette begins with loyalty to your own dojo and respect for its Head Dojo Instructor and fellow dojo members. Whilst you are free to train at any other dojo, you should never forget where home is, and where your loyalty lies.

Your home dojo is the only dojo where you grade, and follow the guidance of your Head Dojo Instructor. You have only one Head Dojo Instructor at any given time, not two or three.

Your home dojo is the one and only Aikido membership you should hold. When you train at another dojo, you should do so as a visitor representing your home dojo. It is always polite to ask its Head Dojo Instructor for permission to train there.

As a visitor, you should pay your due respects, and apart from any payment requested, it may also involve wearing a white belt, which conveys a message of humility. It signifys that you are only there to learn.

Your experience at that dojo should be simply one that contributes to your understanding of Aikido; and nothing more.

It is most impolite to train for years at your home dojo and grade at another dojo without discussion with your home dojo Chief Instructor.

If you feel that your loyalties lay elsewhere, or wish to leave your home dojo to follow the Head Dojo Instructor of another dojo, it is polite and respectful to inform your Head Dojo Instructor and formalise your leaving.

This etiquette is nothing new. It is one of the many aspects of politeness and respect that surrounds our art. We follow Maruyama Sensei’s Aikido Yuishinkai and accordingly, we must be mindful of all of the traditions and maintain the high standards expected of us.

As also discussed amongst our membership, we intend introducing a new class of membership this year to accommodate members of other clubs and to ensure that every visitor who steps on our mat is covered by our insurance.

The True Value of Aikido Etiquette

ki-connection-300x199As training gets under way for another year, it is a timely reminder that the reason we train is to develop ourselves so we can better meet the challenges of life outside the dojo.

Although learning technique is fundamental and a lot of fun, one very important aspect of Aikido training can often be overshadowed.

That is, the art of etiquette.

It is easy to minimise the value of etiquette to a series of bows in and out of the dojo; on and off the mat; before and after practice. However, the positive impact of etiquette can reach much further into our lives and relationships outside the dojo than technique alone.

Look around and you will see that the really good practitioners in Aikido, as in every other walk of life, are defined by their etiquette. That is, in the way they conduct themselves.

Those that are respected are not full of self-importance. They are humble and kind. They respect beginners and seniors equally. Quietly confident in their own abilities, they focus on others rather than themselves. They gain respect because they give respect.

Aikido etiquette is also respect for our dojo just as we would respect our home. It is respect for our instructors and fellow students just as we would respect our family.

Our home dojo deserves the same loyalty and protection that we give to our homes and families. In the words of Maruyama Sensei, “A dojo is not a gym and Aikido is not a sport.”

A dojo is a very special place and should never be treated as a convenience store or part of a cross-training menu. Training and grading under the guidance of Sensei who teach by choice is a privilege. Selfless dedication to home dojo in the Samurai tradition, is still one of the values that underpins Aikido’s connected journey.

Enjoy your training

Gary

Happy New Year! … from Griffith Aikido in Brisbane

gary-e1356227078850-150x150Welcome to Griffith Aikido in Brisbane 2014!

As all of our super keen members know, training has already started. I hear the aiki-addicts had their noses pressed to the glass doors waiting for both dojos to open last week. Another year of aikido training means another year of fun and another year of learning how to apply these wonderful principles to your daily life outside the dojo. Besides welcoming back our returning members, we are looking to meeting new members as we implement a promotional program that will run all year.

What’s new this year!

1. With independence in what we teach, our most senior Aikidoka are getting their heads together to review our syllabus. If I know our old-school Sensei, we will see an emphasis on practical and effective technique; a reinforcement of the art’s history & etiquette and importantly, a renewed focus on the Ki in Ai-Ki-Do. For those new to the art, it’s about developing your own strong and purposeful spirit while staying relaxed under movement and pressure. You won’t learn it from a book. The only way is to practice it for yourself.

2. On the first Thursday of each month at Nathan dojo only, we will be exploring ways to use aikido for self-protection and to cope with some of the everyday challenges that life throws at us.

See you on the mat,

– Gary

Griffith Aikido Brisbane

Start your Aikido journey today. Enrol now at Griffith Aikido Brisbane.
Call Narelle (Nathan dojo) on 0474 218 203 or Michelle (Everton Hills) on 0448 644 436

Brisbane Aikido – The Art of Peace

“The key to good technique is to keep your hands, feet and hips straight and centered. If you are centered, you can move freely. The physical center is your belly; if your mind is set there as well, you are assured of victory in any endeavour.” Morihei Ueshibapete-276x300-150x150

Had a tough day at work?

Got too much on your mind?

Feeling kind of down?

Too tired?

Too many things to do?

These are all good reasons to take a class today.

As soon as you decide to do that, your day will change. Maybe just a little bit, maybe a lot. By the time you have packed your gi and are on your way to the dojo, your own personal ritual for transformation has begun.

Michael Williams “Aikido Yuishinkai Student Handbook”

Looking for Brisbane Aikido? Start learning aikido this week at Griffith Aikido Brisbane

Class times at Nathan and Everton Hills