Ahhh ... back at it after a long first 2 quarters of the New Year and the frustrations of life. When under stress, working, paying bills, running kids around, chasing clients or feeling like life passed you by on the way to the sushi bar it can be all too easy to stop training and stop trying.
Stop trying? What do you mean by that Great Sensei Pooh-Bah?
Many times in my MA career I have had the thought (and know many other Sensei who have had the same thought) of "why bother"? I've taught for years, decades actually, and can count on a few toes and fingers the number of times I felt burnt-out and wanted to just chuck-it in the ash can and go fishing. Luckily tho' I've always ignored that feeling and have put down the martini glass, gotten out of the chair, put my gi back on and gotten on the mat for a few waza.
So a few days ago I went down to the local cable place to turn in the boxes as part of our shift from cable to satellite service. I drove up to the front door and saw two people standing outside. One was a man in khaki pants and a black shirt and behind him a woman tending to her baby in a baby carrier/car seat. I walked up, saw that it was opening time and tried the door.
Rats! Locked and everyone inside is standing around drinking coffee. If I'd been the Inspector General I would have shown my badge and after walking in and pouring my own cup of coffee I would have fired every last one of the lazy fools and then sent them down to the charity kiosk to accept donations of used fundoichi's, rusty tanto's and unwashed chopsticks.
Suddenly the guy in the black shirt who has been jabbering loudly on his cell phone and sharing his personal conversation with all of us says in a very loud and very rude voice, "HEY! We're in line here!"
So I say to myself, "Self .... here we go again." Realizing that I'm about two arms length away I look over at him and try to decide whether or not to hit him in the face with the cable modem box I'm holding in my right hand before, or after, I foot sweep him ..... hmmm ..... decisions, decisions.
So I gaze at him ... smile slightly and say in my best cynical tone of voice (actually I was dripping cynicism sarcastically) .... "Ohh reeeeallllly .... ?" sorta like Terry Thomas used to do (you know, the Brit actor with the gap between his eye teeth .... what a great actor .... he could do sarcastic like nobody's business).
Well ..... I guess he was anticipating some kind of apology or cringing or something like me crawling to the back of a non-existent line but I apparently upset his apple cart when I turned to face him square on while on still holding the modem in my hand and then saying, "I thought you worked here since you're wearing that shirt and all," the implication being that I thought he was nothing more than a door greeter like the old folks at Wally World.
I almost laughed as his face took on a crestfallen look as he looked down at his shirt like he didn't realize that it looked like the same kind of cheap izod-type short sleeve spandex shirt over a bulging belly that a million minimum wage clerks in a million retail stores wear to work every day.
"Buffoon" was the only thought that came to mind which was then shortly followed by "asshat" as he rushed inside to be first in line ahead of the women who all had small infants in baby carriers (by this time two more had shown up making a total of three women carrying babies in a car carrier while they tried to manage cable boxes and bills and dig out money).
He apparently thought himself so important, his business so critical to the survival of the human race (what with the impending Mayan End of the World Christmas Holiday Season and all coming up later this year - be sure to get your shopping done really early this time around) that he had to start his day by trying to make a scene with me and then give no consideration at all to women with small babies that could wake up at any moment. I was left wondering whether or not he was wearing his classic "wife-beater" undershirt under his too-tight Wally World Greeter Shirt and had gotten in a little whacking action in at home before he rushed out all breathless-like to save the world and validate his testosterone levels.
I don't get very sarcastic about these things do I ..... but then again I so dislike ego, arrogance, and bullies and while I make it a policy to not start the action I sure won't back off from it and indeed find for the most part that simply standing there and not backing down is more than enough to give them pause and to get control of the encounter .... I think they call that "mental Aikido".
Okay .... so now I need to explain how Shrinking Gi's relate to bullies at the cable company and chucking it all to go fishing.
If I'm a Sensei and I decide that I want to learn and teach martial arts I need to be able to walk the walk. I don't really care if you were good at one point; you should be good at all points even if you're 60 or 70 or 80 .... unless of course unless there is something medically haywire OR you're just "old". (insert sad face here since time will unfortunately catch up to all of us at one point or another .... insert another sad face).
How many Sensei do we see on the internet in videos who are wearing ratty and ill-fitting gi's that cover big sushi-bellies (waaay too much time at the bar holding their sake cups in the air and yelling ,"Nurse!") while they wallow around doing some weird and out-of-round version of kokyu-ho and pontificate on how Aikido is "luuvvve and affection for our fellow Budo-ka"?
I've noticed over the last 40 years on the mat (in myself and in others) the tendency to "go rusty" and lose the edge ... that is, by not working out at all, by sitting in the chair and drinking coffee for every class (and not just occasionally mind you but every class), by never looking at kata and principles again and again, and by not actively teaching creatively but instead, teaching by rote like you're bored to death and don't care about the art but instead just like the kudos ..... you lose your edge, you lose the ability to calmly function under stress (when challenged by a Wally World Greeter), you lose that "mental flexibility" to intuit what needs to be done and more critically and much more importantly, you lose the ability to communicate those higher levels of Budo to your students simply because you yourself can no longer do it; either physically (too fat and lazy and stiff) or you teach by rote with no growth in understanding apparent and with no energy (a failure to inspire).
In effect, your gi "shrinks" and no longer fits you as you become a Budo Mat Potato (think couch potato except in white pajamas) who should have retired long ago but hangs on only out of habit. You should take off the gi and instead wear that tacky spandex that all folks with super high BMI's wear in public (oww ... my eyes, my eyes).
When Mr. Rude at the cable store was communicating his "displeasure" towards me for trying to walk into the store the only thing that popped into my head was the thought that I could parry his right hand with my left (I perceived that he was a righty and I was going to divert his attention by knocking his cell phone out of his hand) while doing Shomanate with the modem box in my right hand while I would take either Ouchigari or Kouchigari (foot sweeps) because of the way he was standing and because initially I was partially bladed-in and leading with my right side towards him.
There have been periods in my Aikido/Budo career where I didn't work out physically a lot but during periods like that I find myself thinking about Aikido day and night and sometimes will wake up at 3 AM and watch the fan go around in circles while I visualize ideas. So while my body isn't "in the game" so-to-speak like it was when I was younger (and taking 300 ukemi a night) my mind is very much in the game continually, daily, nightly, awake or asleep. I still train and teach very actively of course but I'm just not taking 300 ukemi every night and doing 5 run through's a class on Koryu Dai San Kata.
The result of the last three years of my mind being more engaged than my body is that having worked thru' a lot of info and ideas in my head I am now back into the game physically like never before; that's why when confronted with Mr. Greeter I just had this immediate feeling of boredom with just one more asshat (I kinda like that term, it doesn't sound as bad as a__hole but has the same general meaning).
The idea of the modem box for Shomanate came, I'm certain, from the very large amount of hand randori I've been doing and teaching for the last 3 years. At every class that one of my senior Yudansha attends he and I take 20 to 30 minutes after everyone else has left to do high-speed, high-level hand randori that sometimes will include sacrifice throws which are almost never, ever seen in Aikido randori.
Many nights we'll complete a practice session and look over at the audience that has quietly developed as the departing players stop before walking out the door and instead sit down and watch. They look in wonder at what we're doing which (after Mr. H and I finish and bow-off) many times leads to a discussion (sometimes at 9:30 or 10 at night) of what we're doing, how we're doing it and how an intense study of the kihon and fundamentals set the stage for them to later also do high-speed, high-level randori. So all that randori sharpens the senses and perceptions when faced off against someone and makes you much more intuitive in "reading" them.
The foot sweeps that were intuited in my head likely came from the strangulation kata we've been drilling now for the last year and a half which includes foot sweeps as an offensive or as a defensive idea.
And, since foot sweeps very often lead into going down on top of the opponent and beginning ne-waza that idea came from all the Kosen Judo (grappling) we've been doing in the new study group we've formed because going to the ground holds less and less fear; a battle that all Aikido players face unless they do some level of study of ne-waza.
So the moral to the story here is that because I've always stayed active one way or another, because I'm of late (of late ... haa ... the last two three years of real focus didn't start yesterday) intensely studying hand randori and sacrifice throws and strangulations and foot sweeps and ground work and am now really into koryu jojutsu and weapons work .... my mind is not stale and is refining, developing and redeveloping its' flexibility and intuitive processes on several different levels.
My mind is active and questing and seeking and flexible and not stiff and stale from teaching the same thing the same way a thousand times. Years ago when I trained at the last dojo before leaving and striking out on my own I did a lot of work with a good friend who was also a senior Yudansha there. I really liked and respected this guy but every single time Sensei asked him to teach a lesson he taught the first release movement (that's the 3rd of the 5 Original Hand Blades for you Tomiki guys out there). He liked it and was good at it but that was all he ever taught and looking back now after all these years, I think that his mind had calcified and was lacking the creativity that could have allowed him more intuitive flexibility in his responses, and would have allowed him to inspire and teach his students and to pass his understandings on to them.
So in a long and convoluted nut shell that's about it for shrinking gi's. The lesson here ..... just don't. Stay active. Move forward. And if you need to buy a bigger gi ... don't even think about it. Buy yourself a rice cooker, learn to roll sushi, go on a Zen Macrobiotic diet and spend more time on the mat actually doing stuff and making that gi and hakama look good.
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX