Observing junior players train for a promotional demo, especially if it's their first, is an interesting blend of excitement mixed with trepidation and budding confidence combined with hesitation and internal doubt. During one recent class I watched the players review the night's lesson of material that was targeted at upcoming demos. While walking around the mat assisting, commenting and correcting I was reminded of something more easily told by a set of true events that I was involved in over 25 years ago.
Once upon a time in a dark and foreboding .... oh sorry .... been watching too much tv lately ..... many years ago when I was a senior Yudansha at my old dojo I spent a lot of time working with beginners for Sensei. One newbie was a woman named Maria (can't remember the last name which is good for her privacy .... plus her first name wasn't even Maria to begin with). In speaking with Maria over the weeks and months she was training she gradually rose from white belt, to yellow belt, Sensei and I eventually learned some things about her.
As she attended classes and began to feel more at home she gradually opened up about some of her personal issues without being asked to. My (and Sensei' assumption) was that much in her personal life outside the dojo was troubling her, and aside from her looking for self-defense she was also seeking out a social support group. The fact that she had come to the dojo and had found both in the same place just made it easier and more comfortable for her.
Basically she had apparently grown up as a battered child and lacked any basic self-confidence or belief in herself which had led her to an unhappy marriage to a man who simply repeated the pattern that she was conditioned to. Life went on as usual for her.
Somehow, someway, she finally had the courage to look for self-defense lessons. To this day I don't know if her husband had finally broke her back with that last straw for the camel to carry, or if a girl friend or blood-family member or minister had encouraged to take some kind of action but somehow she found her way to the dojo; almost stumbled in actually as if even the act of walking onto the property was an issue for her.
It was immediately apparent to us all that she had no self-confidence as she even had difficulty in just simply putting her hand in a man's face to do Shoman-ate and to push him away from her; her conditioning from childhood to the present being that strong and that subliminally powerful.
Sensei was big on encouragement for new students and I was too; because I was taught that aspect of teaching and working with people by my father and grandfather. In coming months I spent a lot of time simply working her thru the issues of release motions, basic ideas behind having good posture, putting a hand in the attacker's face to get separation, and then eventually working up to throwing them.
Finally after what seemed an eternity, she began to understand the idea of being "pro-active" and of aggressively seeking to be more forward in her actions and taking the initiative in entering and breaking the attacker's off-balance and controlling their posture and throwing them down. She also began to understand the importance of being relaxed and calm while becoming more posturally confident (the traditional "stand up straight", "good posture", "look him in the face and don't look down") and pro-active while doing so in the "safe" context of kata and kihon practice and not "thinking" or "acting" mad and aggressive.
We were essentially re-programming her to just accept movement and kuzushi and hand in the face and throwing as "just another walk in the park", and as something so natural that it happened everyday. This is one of the critically important functions of kata; allowing the student to program into the mind (and to viscerally understand) motion, posture, timing, how to be aggressive, how to react and how to deal with vigorous attacks, all within the safe and controlled context and environment provided by clearly defined kata ........... all of which taken together is the gateway to truly spontaneous randori and self-defense.
At no time, other than in casual conversation on the mat, did we tell her that she had to be a Navy SEAL or a street fighter. We simply encouraged her to come to class (a lot) and just do the work and that eventually her subconscious mind would understand the art form (Aikido) and the concepts of self-defense and that she would just "Do It" when the time came.
Navy Seals and street fighter are naturals. They already know how to "run towards the sound of gunfire". People who are not naturals tend to flinch and pull back slightly from a vigorous attack. It's when you pull back (in some circumstances) that the attacker takes you because your retreat provides him the opening and because you're physically trying to move "away" from him your mind is also retreating (which means that you cannot react to his attack). Sometimes it's necessary to run towards the gunfire and take the initiative; and kata provides an environment and a tool to teach that.
Well, one day Maria understood. She was walking in one of the largest shopping malls in Houston when a purse snatcher ran up behind her and grabbed her purse. Since the strap was around her arm she was whipped around and actually pulled towards the thief as he tried to run off with her purse. As she turned she automatically grabbed his arm and he ended up face-planted in the floor with her holding an armbar. According to her account (I loved this part) she told him to give her the purse back. He refused. She told him a second time to give her the purse back and added, "Or I'll break your elbow!" He gave her the purse back and ran off after she let him up and after seeing that other people had begun coming over to help.
She enjoyed telling the story at the dojo the next day.
Then, not too long after that the kicker occurred. Her husband, who apparently liked getting physical with her, refused to give her the car keys when she had just had enough and wanted to move out. Somehow during the tussle with him over the car keys she got that one good and perfect Shoman-ate in and as she told it, threw him across the room. After he hit the wall and slid down it he gave the keys to her.
She enjoyed telling that story at the dojo too.
She quit training at the dojo not long after that and when I told her that she had bright future in Aikido and asked why she was stopping training her comment was, "I accomplished what I set out to do." I understood.
It is my belief that she was looking for an out from her existence and her past upbringing, and that Aikido gave her the self-confidence to see the out and to take it. She possibly never really wanted to become a life-time player; she just wanted the encouragement and the support to show her that she could do it. She was looking for that opportunity in her life and after she found it, she was ready to move on.
When we train, some of us already have that spark of aggression. I came to Aikido having already competed in Tae Kwon Do and Judo but many/most don't. The training when taken over time, provides a vehicle by which the common, ordinary citizen who has never really been aggressive or physically pro-active, can become more than what they were.
What's that saying, "If you want something you've never had you must do something that you've never done before."
Come to class grasshopper. Just come to class and do 1,000 repetitions .... and then another 1,000 .... and another .....
Over time, you WILL get there. You just have to come to class and make the effort. If Maria could do it, then so can you.
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX