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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Bowing

In the dojo, bowing is traditionally very important. We bow to our partner(s) before we begin the training exercise and after the exercise is over. This is done out of respect for our training partner and acknowledges the fact that we appreciate them letting us use their body during practice and vice-versa. This is something that should not be taken for granted. Being Americans living in the culture where simulated, entertaining, mindless violence is a part of our lives from childhood, we can very easily take this ritual for granted. Back in O’Sensei’s day of training when he was a young man, in the early 1900’s, training was very, very serious. He and those he trained with were preparing for very real survival situations. Martial Arts were such a big part of Japanese culture, not because of huge marketing campaigns and kids wearing Tapout shirts, but because the culture had to embrace it in order to survive. This is where the essence of bowing came, and I think we should try to be as conscious of this as possible when we train.

Here in America, most of us have had the luxury of being sheltered from real violence. Other than the occasional Friday night out with friends where the guy at the bar has too much to drink and threatens to beat your friend up for looking at his girl, it doesn’t automatically click with us to think too deeply about our training much past the competitive level. Training in a traditional Japanese art like Aikido is very healthy because it instills in us the respect for others and humility in a simulated environment. Not to get too deep about this, because I am kind of straying from my point a little, but if our culture embraced this respect and humility as a whole, it may prevent future conflicts in our society. This scenario would be better than our sloppy, comfortable, spoiled behavior leading to conflicts down the road where we have to embrace this mindset, but under not so comfortable circumstances due to our actions. I dunno, food for thought.

Anyways, this brief but sincere acknowledgment of others before we interact is a great thing to take into our daily lives. This especially works well at the workplace or in business. There is always a defined time before the verbal part of the conversation takes place and begins with eye-contact. When we mentally thank this person for the interaction before we speak as well as at the end of the conversation, sincerely of course, it’s interesting what it does to the underlying current of the interaction. This is incredibly difficult to do, especially during heated arguments, and I’ve personally only been able to do it maybe a time or two in application. When I’ve done it, it really does make what could have been a bad conversation much better. The best way to practice this is to bow sincerely to our partners in the dojo. While in public, try mentally bowing to strangers without even making eye contact. It would be great for this to become a habit and will only help our relationships as well as our training.

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