Culture

I believe we have a world class dojo where I train in Reno, NV, hands down. It’s the reason I’ve been training as long as I have and compared to a lot of my training friends, I’ve only been training a fraction of the time that a lot of them have. Some people may train for a while, leave for some time, and then come back (I’m one of those). Not all dojo’s are like this. I’ve been in a few that didn’t have the same kind of draw to them. I’ve also been in some that did.

What makes a big part of the difference is culture. The owner and chief instructor at our dojo has worked very hard along with our senior students to create a great, growth-focused culture. Our senior students are encouraged to help bring the newer students up to the next level. Doing this brings the level of the whole dojo up and makes it a much better place to train. Giving the senior students freedom to teach the newer students sparks improvement for both of them. Ego contests between students are at least attempted to be squelched as soon as possible and not encouraged. A healthy challenge of improvement is the overall mindset and most students are on board with this. Another great part of this culture is the balance between hard, serious training and light, creative, and fun training.

Point here is that we hear so much about culture today and I’m glad. Having an awesome culture is what makes wherever we are worth going to, but more importantly, it’s what keeps us coming back. Sure, people can get away with not having a good culture for a little while, but bottom line is, who wants to come back to a place on a regular basis that doesn’t make you feel comfortable? If it’s a workplace, they may have to come back, but the people in the company who are truly valuable and know it will be looking elsewhere.

It’s not just businesses that need to think about culture. How bout creating a great culture at home? I know it’s our family and we feel like they’re stuck with us and have to take our b.s., but a lot of people who stubbornly think this find out they are sadly wrong after a certain point.

Creating a great culture for others also makes wherever it is we are a better place for ourselves. At the higher level of selfishness, we realize that enchanting others (thanks Guy Kawasaki) is also better for us. I’m of the belief that the most stern dictators who seems to be very secure with their iron-fisted rule over their subjects are truly not very comfortable or truly happy. We should strive to carry this culture wherever we go. Carrying a certain energy with us exudes into the space we’re in and is the starting point of this culture. There are some who, wherever they go, seem to cast a positive light on their surrounding area. Since the culture is only as good as the people, this is an individual task that takes on a collective power when around others who believe in creating a great culture. Everyone has to be on board for an outstanding culture to exist, and I believe it’s worth striving towards.

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The List

A lot of people focus on things they need to get done. They make a to do list and check things off as they are accomplished. So much to do, so little time. Life becomes very task oriented and they move from task to task stressing out about the next one that needs to be done. Just bite the bullet and do it.

I read a great post recently from the great Tom Peters and he suggests starting a ‘to be’ list. With this ‘to be’ list, we think about how we are going to project ourselves onto the scene of the task. I see this as the intention or the juice we put into our actions which adds life to the to do list. Here we focus on the all-important ‘why’ instead of the ‘what’ which is focused upon in the above to do list. As important as having a to do list is, merely accomplishing tasks is not how we really advance in what we do. It’s who we are while we do them that can set us apart. In training, it’s not so much the physical application of the techniques, but our quality and direction of ki as we do them where we gain the most growth.

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Constantly Consciously Create

When are we not creating? Is it really possible to not be creating? Creativeness is something we can never stop doing. Our creative power is always turned on. When down on our luck, we may think that some negative force is acting upon us. In these times, it’s like our creativeness has escaped us. Thing is, it hasn’t. The force of creativeness is still there. When we realize this, we move from a position of hopelessness to a position of power. Once we consciously see it, feel it, and utilize it, now we can be in harmony with it. It’s kind of scary though. There is no off switch. This same power that can get us out of a rut is the same power that’s been keeping us in it. If we believe that we’re hopeless, we create more of that condition. We’re still plugged in.

Look how much of our lives we waste not consciously creating. What would it be like if we spent every spare minute working towards something? The dilemma is that our lives are short, but the more time we waste in the doldrums shortens them even more. What if that time spent in the dumps, or even just idle, was spent doing, or at least thinking of something creative? Here’s a great essay written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca called “On The Shortness of Life” which sparked this thought for me.

The principle that comes to mind is when we work on the 5th Awase ken (sword) practice. For whoever is stepping back, their energy and intention is always focused forward. The posturing in this practice is always forward, even though the feet are stepping back. We all have that creative resistance within looking to stifle our creativity. We must be diligent, recognize the enemy, and push forward into creativity.

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Leading

Customers, whether they consciously think so or not, want to be lead. The tricky thing is that they also need to feel like they are in control at the same time. This is where the art part of business comes in.

When a customer comes into contact with a business, whether it be a store, website, or via telephone, they want their experience to be convenient. Some want to be swept off their feet by customer service, looking for more of an aggressive approach. Some want to be left alone more, and not bothered by customer service, depending more on product placement being easy either in the store or website. They know exactly what they want. Either way, businesses need to lead their consumers the way the consumer wants to be lead, not how they want to lead the consumer.

This can not be done via a script. Being receptive to the vibe of each customer is a great skill, and a necessary one in today’s day and age where consumers have so many choices. It used to be that if you were loud enough and you could produce stuff for cheap, you’d win. This is still the case in some areas, but things are changing fast. If your business upsets someone, they have an almost endless number of other places they can go, and when they get home, they can log in to their Facebook or Twitter account and tell 200 of their friends how horrible their experience was. Things are getting back to small town rules, which is refreshing, but businesses will have to adapt after having it their way for so long. Word of mouth is on steroids now, and if businesses don’t do their sole job of taking care of the customer, they’ll find they won’t be around long.

We can work on this skill of leading in the dojo, it’s a skill we work on all the time. During training, some attackers come in faster and more aggressive, and some come in slower. Some come in fast but sloppy, some come in slow but deliberate. Our Aikido improves tenfold when we feel this. I totally see the parallel to this practice off the mat in the business world. Each attack must be dealt with differently.

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Fail

The way we test is really unique and says a lot about the art of Aikido.

Our first test is the 7th Kyu test after finishing the beginner’s classes. The techniques in the test consist of a few of our stretches, ki exercises, and very basic techniques. What it’s really for is getting us used to getting up there in front of the class at the risk of… failing. Not that anybody has really, technically FAILED a 7th Kyu test that I’ve seen, but what’s interesting is what we naturally do in the days leading up to the test: We stress out about FAILING THE TEST. Others may tell us that we can’t really fail it and we may act like we’re not really worried about it to our training partners…. but we are. Somewhere deep down, maybe at times not so deep down, we think there is a chance we might get up in front of everyone and be ridiculed by our teacher and the class, getting shamed off the mat and laughed out of the dojo. As simple as the exercises in the test may be, it’s amazing how we amplify their difficulty leading up to the test.

As we test, we wrestle our fear of failure in front of people we barely know, most of whom are very good at this crazy art. Even when we make it to higher ranks, we are put in crazy situations during the test, especially during the randori (multiple attackers). Our teacher may ask us to lay down while someone pins each arm, each leg, and three people are waiting for the command to attack so they can come in and try to take our life with a sponge noodle. Why? This would never happen on the ‘street’. Why are there seven people on this randori? If I ever piss seven people off at the same time in real life, I’ve got issues. The reason why is that under the scrutiny of our peers, we exercise our failure muscles. We’re always kept just out of our comfort zone where the risk of failure is imminent. If we don’t take that risk, we don’t advance. Essentially, we are moving up the ranks by failing, not by winning competitions. Through this process we become less fearful of failing.

As in most things with Aikido, this is exactly how it is in life. We advance by failing. If we don’t take the risk of failure and fly in the face of it, we can expect high levels of mediocrity at best (or we’re incredibly lucky).

As with most things with American culture, we grow up from a very young age believing that we succeed by winning. We win the football game. We get straight A’s. We knock the guy out. We win the race. This is great as long as we’re winning. What happens if we stumble? Now what? Some never recover from this and are devastated. Societal pressures don’t make this any easier. This mindset is very hard to sustain.

When studying very successful, innovative, and sometimes world changing people, we observe that they succeed by failing. They’ve had many moments of falling down, dusting themselves off, and getting back up only to risk failing again, and repeating this process until one day they discover the theory of relativity or the pet rock. Taking the risk of failure can be frightening, but history shows that those who stay resilient in the face of failure achieve great things. If that’s the case, can we really call it failing?

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