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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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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