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.

j j j

declaration (revised)

This started as my ‘Mission’ page and has been an evolving idea. Now, you can see, I have changed the name of that page to ‘Declaration’ (I like the sound of it better). What started off as a personal Aikido journal has morphed into more than just that, and I thought it was important to take some time to update my intention with AikiLiving for whatever it’s worth.

In today’s world we all need to be artists at what we do, whether it’s bussing tables, driving a cab, being a parent, being a friend, doing road work, or running a business of our own. When I talk about art, I mean the act of affecting others in a positive way, in our own authentic way, if even a little bit.

Merely doing what we’re told and being replaceable parts in a machine isn’t enough these days, nor is it rewarding or fulfilling in any way. There is no safety in mediocrity anymore. We have to put ourselves into what we do, as well as in our daily lives, meeting each challenge in our very own, unique way. Doing this takes courage and insight. It’s definitely not the easy path. There is no instruction manual for art. If there was, it wouldn’t really be art.

We’re living through the death of the factory. Not just the blue collar factory, but the white collar factory as well. As useful as it may have been at one time in our history, we seem to be growing out of that stage of our unfoldment. Paradigm shifts such as these are usually not transitioned to easily and these times can seem downright scary and unpredictable if viewed from the old paradigm. As always in history, there is much opportunity among the chaos if we can keep our center and adapt.

What does this have to do with AikiLiving? ‘Aiki’ is a Japanese term which, loosely translated, means ‘engaging the energy (without clashing)’. This is a very powerful and practical concept and Aiki can be effectively utilised anywhere, really. I do study Aikido, and have for several years, and Aikido is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I will say that this is not, per se, an Aikido site. One doesn’t have to know Aikido to apply Aiki principles (although it can help). I am inspired every day by these artists who do this on a daily basis (whether they know they’re artists or not). I’m not necessarily just talking about the painter or writer, but anyone who connects with others in an authentic, meaningful way. People who act on things, start things, and engage life. I don’t claim to be an expert on this. I have my moments, like anybody, but mostly I’m just an observer and am happy to have an outlet to express this inspiration to others and at times hear their stories as well.

AikiLiving is a place where I, and others who may want to join the conversation, can express observations, experiences and stories about all things Aiki. This is pretty vague and open-ended for a reason. Common posts are typically general musings about art, conscious business, relationships, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution, personal growth, Aikido / martial arts training, books, movies, lifestyle, culture, etc. Some posts are just random thoughts about this general subject matter. Negativity is being mass-marketed and my intention is to create a space that highlights growth, improvement, art, and positive interactions and insights.

People are more intimately connected now than they ever have been before. Connecting with others in a positive way is what matters most now. No one is going to give us permission to do this. We need to take initiative now and start changing our world(s) – careers, businesses, environment, families, relationships, etc. – for the better, and we can’t wait for anyone else to tell us it’s okay to do so. Through the experiences expressed here, I hope AikiLiving can help others find their own true potential and enable them to spread their art in their own world.

-Jonas Ellison

j j j

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.

j j j

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.

j j j

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.

j j j