We have a ritual in Aikido where we sweep the mat after each class. Right after bowing out, we head over, grab a broom, line up, and sweep up. Sounds simple. Looking at it from a utilitarian standpoint, it makes sense to do this. It cleans up the mat for the next group of us who’ll be rolling around on it, right? True, very true. We’ll see people on the first day of class run over, grab a broom, and start whaling away with it. They’re sometimes out of sync with the group and whatever dust, hair, etc. they’re not grinding into the mat, they’re stirring up in the air. This lasts about 30 seconds before a higher ranked student will walk over and explain that we don’t sweep that way.

What’s important to understand is that sweeping is one of the last techniques of the day. While we’re sweeping, we’re aware of where everyone else is and we work together. Also, we don’t take huge hacks at the mat like we’re raking leaves. We take a smaller brushstroke like approach, barely coming into contact with the mat and just ‘pushing’ the fuzzies towards the destination. While we do this, our posture is straight. This way, if we’re attacked, we can wield the broom mightily, effectively, and with the upmost economy of motion to get the job done before we jump back in line and finish sweeping along with the rest of the group.

I know, sounds silly. Why don’t we just vacuum? It’d be much easier. Well, you probably saw this coming, but as always in this art, there’s various lessons to be learned here. Rebutting the above utilitarian view, we sweep in small motions so as to keep the debris from flying around and also not to damage the mat by ‘scratching’ it several times a day with the broom. The thing is, not only do we sweep in small motions, but those motions are usually pretty fast. Only way to do this is to stay relaxed, centered, and while maintaining good posture. If we were tight and off-balance, there’s no way we could sweep like this. As in good technique, we must relax the shoulders, focus on center, extend our peripheral vision, and put forth positive juju. Staying with the rest of the group shows us that it’s not just working in numbers that matter, but working efficiently in numbers is what makes it more effective. If we were to just spread out and go gangbusters, most of us would be working against each other leading to wasted effort and poor results.

I’ll end on the lesson that sometimes simple, mundane rituals can be very soothing and effective. Sweeping the mat leads to a more clean environment and soul. When we’re done, we usually feel refreshed (if following the above sweeping technique). It adds a sense of finality to the class. We don’t just train, sweat our asses off, beat up the mat and leave. We finish with a cleansing purification type exercise. This is a much better energy to end on.

Try this at work or at home. After doing crazy hard work, don’t just end abruptly and go home or to bed. Take a minute or ten to stop. Mindfully clean up your area a bit. Maybe take some deep breaths or something. Try to end on a replenishing note rather than a grueling, negative note. This will carry through to the next time you take another crack at it, and your space will be much more welcoming than if you were to just leave abruptly.

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  1. David Board on

    It always reminds me of Pratchett Lu-Tze, the sweeper and rule number one:
    As Lobsang followed the ambling Lu-Tze he heard the dojo master, who like all teachers never missed an opportunity to drive home a lesson, say: ‘Dojo! What is Rule One?’
    Even the cowering challenger mumbled along to the chorus:
    ‘Do not act incautiously when confronting little bald wrinkly smiling men!’
    ‘Good rule, Rule One,’ said Lu-Tze, leading his new acolyte into the next room. ‘I have met many people who could have heeded it to good advantage.’
    And the tale of the three students and the sweepers shrine:
    ‘You will take up the brooms and sweep,’ said the abbot, ‘and you will sweep every day, and you will sweep until the day you find Lu-Tze and dare to say “Sweeper, it was I who knocked over and scattered your shrine and now I will in humility accompany you to the dojo of the Tenth Djim, in order to learn the Right Way.” Only then, if you are still able, may you resume your studies here. Understood?’
    And the story continues: The novice who had protested that it was only the shrine of a sweeper ran away from the temple, the student who said nothing remained a sweeper for the rest of his life. and the student who had seen the inevitable shape of the story went, after much agonizing and several months of meticulous sweeping, to Lu-Tze and knelt and asked to be shown the Right Way. Whereupon the Sweeper took him to the dojo of the Tenth Djim. with its terrible multi-bladed fighting machines and its fearsome serrated weapons such as the clong-clong and the uppsi. The story runs that the Sweeper then opened a cupboard at the back of the dojo and produced a broom and spake thusly: ‘One hand here and the other here, understand? People never get it right. Use good, even strokes and let the broom do most of the work. Never try to sweep up a big pile, you’ll end up sweeping every bit of dust twice. Use your dustpan wisely, and remember: a small brush for the corners.’
    Either that or have to resist the the urge to yell Hurry!!! Hurry Hard! All the way to the button. I think it’s the white mat.

    I’m a bit irreverent.

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