Life in the Rafters

So, some of you who know me have noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dojo these days. Well, that’s because I moved in. Being uchi-deshi (live-in student) at the dojo has been something I’ve wanted to experience since day 1, but my life hasn’t allowed for the commitment. A few months back, my wife was presented the opportunity to teach in Austria for 8 months through the Fulbright foundation. Being an opportunity we both knew she couldn’t pass up, we decided it was best for her to accept and take advantage of it. So, with her doing that, I decided that I could use all of the free time I’ll now have (love you, babes) to immerse myself in the art of Aikido.

A lot of you know what the uchi-deshi program is, but for those of you who may not, it’s basically an Aikido apprenticeship. For those of us who really want to take our Aikido to the next level, the program is a great way to do that. The reason I gave this post the title that I did is because I sleep, literally, up in the rafters (see above photo for a view out from the sleeping quarters). Living at the dojo requires upkeep and administrative duties which are all part of Aikido training. Not only is an uchi-deshi to train with ki, but also to clean and assist other members of the dojo putting forth the same energy. I will say, coming from a place of complete service to the dojo is definitely a different perspective in which to train. Before, I would come in, focus on what the teacher was showing, train, get a great workout in, bow out, and go home. Now, not only are the uchi-deshi expected to train A LOT, and take falls A LOT, but also to keep an eye out for things such as greeting guests to the dojo, making sure people remove their shoes upon entering, answering phones, helping out with newer students, addressing injuries of others on the mat, assisting with kids classes, etc. After training ends and everyone else goes home, the uchi-deshi are expected to clean up and get the dojo prepared for the next day’s training. Having this constant focus of always thinking where to help is very beneficial to awareness during training and off the mat as well.

So, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do this. I’m also very fortunate to have a great teacher like Vince Salvatore Sensei to train under. Along with that, I’ve been in a lot of dojo’s, and I must say, we have an incredible student body here in Reno.

The dojo is a very unique place. It’s a safe haven for many. It can be a place to go within or a place to commune with others, whatever we make of it. One thing I believe it is for almost all of us is a place of cleansing and vibrant energy. We know we can come here and leave our hectic lives outside, if even for a short while, and just train. People who come in and watch a class see us bow and clap twice and some are kinda weirded out by the ritual. Obviously, some may see it as a religious thing or an occult ritual. What it really is, as Sensei has said, is on the first clap, we’re leaving our mental baggage outside the dojo, and the second clap brings us into the present moment where we focus on the class.

One can feel the energy of the dojo right away upon entering, I know I did. Let me just say that being in a dojo by yourself when nobody else is around is an incredible experience. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy being in churches and places like that well before and after the service when no one else is around. The dojo is kind of like this for me. It takes on a life of it’s own after hours. The walls, the mat, the shomen seem to speak to you. Just the other night before going to bed I stopped and contemplated for a brief while all that I’d gone through in this building. All the times I felt like a complete failure, all the times I’ve felt like I’ve conquered huge inner blocks, all the times I worked until I felt as if I was sweating blood on test preparation and ukemi, all the times of complete stillness in motion, all the times of laughter with great people, the cleansing of my soul and purification that comes from training and insights that have come to me and left in a flash before I could write them down but are still part of my DNA although I don’t consciously know it. Kinda heavy, I know, but it’s true. Pretty sure this experience will bring forth some great inspiration for AikiLiving. It’s great to be here.

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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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