Guest or visitor – Aikido thoughts of the end of the year..

31 12 2011

A long post, started with a sad realization:

Awareness of failure plagued at him like a sword, twisting in his consciousness cruelly as though it had been lying in wait to murder his self-respect — Noël Coward


  1. This post took an unexpected turn after starting.. There are a lot of personal thoughts.. Please, do not just write comments saying how bad or good an instructor you think I am.. because, in truth, I am pretty sure I have heard already those negative or positive comments from you before!! Really, no kidding!! I am not begging for forgiveness by the people that think I lack of respect to them and not realized how amazing they are, and at the same time not asking for celebration by the others that shared common feelings with me.. Not sure I care about the former and maybe I care too much about the latter.. I just show you here I am aware of my shortcomings.. are you? Only blabbering, as usual!!
  2. The post was mainly written after I got back from my too short holidays in Norway, not because I had bad feelings, mainly for the opposite.. it was great, also being around many friends from the past and observing them now, how they changed, both in Aikido and life..
  3. Maybe at some point I lost the linearity in writing, and more thoughts got entangles together (as usual).. Anyway, that’s what I am.. and this is only another proof..
  4. As I say, these are end of the year thoughts, so I wish you all a wonderful party tonight and an even better start of 2012!!!

Very recently a person running one of the dojos where I often go for practice defined me as a visitor of that dojo, to not be confounded with guests, that are always welcomed!

This was quite unexpected and the comment was, of course, not made straight to my face. It was also intended exactly in the way I wrote it: a visitor comes and goes, not always welcomed, but maybe difficult to stop or deny “hospitality”.

Given I always pay when I practice in that dojo, that I have never taught there or even intended to do so, or even wanted to do so.. the literary distinction of my “role” was a little disappointment, both for me and about the person making the comment.

They say that Asian people are famous for smiling at you at stabbing in the back. I have experienced that a couple of times, from a love relationship (Chinese gf) and from a “friendship” (half Japanese sob). I cannot generalize or extend to different people my experience, but, probably based on their cultural priorities, like not losing face, maybe it is true that Asians are especially good at stabbing in the back: so that, even in betrayal, they will not lose face!

In truth, the biggest disappointment was realizing that the smiles in the front are fake, while I do not care so much about the back-stabbing. Knowing I am not really welcome by one of the people in charge leaves not so much meaning: I do know several people training in that dojo welcome me, and enjoy practicing with me!

On the other hand, it reminds me as well another very recent comment about an asked group picture (I asked to people I used to practice with to take a picture together). One said: “Do we have to pretend we like each other?” and I knew that was meant for real. Because I know this person never really liked me. But, even if I hear and remember, nowadays I treat these situations as water.. let it flow through me.. even if I get a little wet.. but not soak in it anymore! (yeah, “anymore”.. earlier I would have faced the comment and behaved badly, like, for example, write a hate post on my blog.. kidding! This is actually the opposite!)

That brings to other considerations that I made long time ago: I know many people do not like me as an Aikido instructor, especially among the few I consider somewhat “my students” (ie. people that practiced a quite large portion of their Aikido life with me, especially at their beginning). I have (used to? maybe..) questionable methods, and I am extremely direct with corrections and comments. Many people tend to take this personally but as I explained more than once, for me the comment on the mats is only about Aikido. Only Aikido matters. You can be my best friend or the love of my life, but if you screw up on the mats, I will show you why, when and how, and usually I am merciless (as an instructor, not as a training mate!). This does not mean I do not like that person. But I would fail myself as Aikido instructor if I let this shadow my judgement..

..but the fact that my corrections are too strong, or given with an inappropriate smile “transmitting a sense of superiority and arrogance”, are reality, and I can agree with the complaints!

I put the “quotes” up there not because somebody ever said that to me, not those exact words, but some comments about me sort of laughing or smiling when correcting.. silly mistakes.. are true. The quotes are because those people complaining maybe thought about the arrogance or the bad feelings to be “laughed” at. I can understand, but two things happens to me when the mistakes are really.. huge:

1 – I cannot stop myself from smiling/laughing.. oh come on dude! how can you do that and not realizing you are completely open, or you ask for punishment, or you would kill yourself taking ukemi, or, or, or, or…. ???? How could anyone not smile when watching that? The person making the mistake would smile if he/she could see it!! I embarrassed laughed at myself several times watching videos or picture taken during my sessions! And wonder why my partner did not punish me (except if my partner was my last instructor in Oslo.. he was always punishing me, right Erik?)
2 – The thought that the mistake is so bad that someone else (the instructor) can easily turn me around and throw me with a smile would make me focus 1 billion times more and get angry with myself with the intent to improve and wipe the smile off the face of this idiot instructor…

..but few people get to reaction 2.. so I know I have drastically changed.. especially when dealing with people so culturally different from me, not understanding my distinction between friends on/off mats or my passion or my body language (Norwegian and Chinese especially). My fault, I know, but I am not asking for forgiveness!! That in most cases I would not get.. or care to get it!

If I did not intend to be arrogant, on the other hand the superiority is a fact.. I mean, what instructor can be inferior than his/her students? Do not jump to misunderstanding: I learn every time I step on the mats, learn when I am a student, learn when I am the teacher of the class.. because I am always a student. Learn when facing new challenges in order to teach the proper way to do something, as learning something about my body when receiving a technique. But, if I am teaching a session, I cannot step on the mats without a “superiority” feeling.. I know it is a bad word, but what I mean it is only I believe in what I do.. As Tissier sensei says, “if you are afraid as uke, you will never manage to do a good attack!”. So easy to take confidence, that an instructor must show, as superiority feeling!

And, before anyway start thinking “oh, but that great sensei or instructor does not do this or that..”, remember I was/am still learning the best way.. and also that maybe you have not been around enough or practiced with enough different people: trust me, I met quite a few instructors (that I also liked!) that had a billion times more superiority attitude on the mats. Senseis I have been traveling around to practice with throw you with a smile or a laugh when your body is not even close to do what it is supposed to do.. and why not? People are like chocolates, all different and not necessary you’ll like all.. but I like trying! Then apparently, for some my chocolate flavor was unpalatable.. while for others is what makes the day perfect 😉

We are people enjoying what we are doing! The way we do Aikido is fun and if my spirit raises high I express it!

Also, don’t misunderstand me! It is not the superiority important, but the confidence at not feeling inferior. When I step on the mats I always know I am among the worst ones. It’s true. I am in bad condition, quite fat, old, now without enough training. Many teachers, senseis took good care to remind me my huge limits! I have always been a hard worker, never a gifted student. But I managed to get some understanding, writing tons of notes, studying them, trying them on the mats. So I have to accept myself as not being the last of the idiots!

I used on purpose the 2 very negative words up there, superiority and arrogance, helping the people that always thought those things of me.

Funny, even after about 2 years in China with sporadic training I did not feel at the end so inferior on the mats in Norway, practicing with amazing good people that travel everywhere to seminars and have improved a lot in the same time. And I admit that, especially in Trondheim, I had very little confidence the first sessions of the seminar!! But then I got quite good feedbacks: I know my ukemi is worse, but my focus can’t be on that anymore, since I cannot have Svein, Sverre or Jacqueline to throw me every day..

Also, another human aspect, is remembering more of the negative experiences than the positive ones. People tell me I am only negative when instructing. This also makes me laugh: I have had instructors really always negative! People setting such a high standard for themselves that everything under is disgraceful and therefore being generally disappointed by the performances of their student.

I set a high standard for me, I had hopes as an instructor and I know I somewhat failed in my last Norwegian experience, but I also know I have been quite balanced with my students. Especially when feeling the vibes of a good class, the improvements showing not only in the intentions but also in the technique, or people just giving everything they had. And even if several of the people that has been, even shortly, “my students” will never admit it, I know I have given them something more than just nightmares. They might give their praises only to the instructors they had after or before me, the ones that used sweet words, or the ones they connect better to, and still it is not important for me: but when I see in this people some movements or I feel some of “my” Aikido there, I know I left something else behind than just bad thoughts..

And that is the only thing that matters.. as I always repeat: there is only Aikido that matters!

(I wonder how many managed to read until the end of the post.. and were disappointed.. no big revelation or grand finale!! 😉 )

Good luck to us all for the new year!!

And, dear friends, thanks for a wonderful 2011

on and off the mats!!!

FUNNY THING OF THE DAY – I can find something funny even with a post like this, amazing uhm? Anyway, one of the people lost in their life full of activities and priorities that unfortunately took him far from Aikido mats, once said that I made the best comment ever. I realized I did not even thought about that, it just came out. My student was happy because I said (quote): “Today I am not too disappointed!!” 😀 Hysterical!!! I was actually quite happy that day.. but better not build up too much expectations to the next class 😉 (kidding.. it was not intended in any ways.. just came out like that..)



4 responses

3 01 2012

Interesting read, Andrea.
I found it really good to practice with you in Trondheim after so long. In fact, I couldn’t feel that your level had diminished in any way. I think you felt like the good old, Andrea. 🙂
I definitely recognize, as an instructor, the feeling of disappointment, that you mention. And I envy your ability to ignore it off the mats.


4 01 2012

Thanks a lot dear friend,

I wonder though if both of us are getting old together 😉
Kidding.. apart from being thrown around by Irie sensei in Beijing and actually one session with Endo sensei in Shanghai, the tour to Norway and practice with you and the other guys was among the season highlights!
(including several trainings in Shanghai, never equally good!)

One thing about the disappointment: the bad feelings about myself follow me evrywhere, on and off mats. When concerns my students, though, I manage to limit the feelings to the mats.. actually both the bad ones and good ones (I like practicing with someone I would never spend 1 minute with off mats!!).

But, trust me, the disapponitment I feel about myself, so often as teacher and even more often as practitioner, is always with me..

Best wishes to you and Marie and I hope 2012 will bring a lot of joy to both of you!

Your friend in the East…


9 01 2012

I have been following your blog for awhile now, as the only source I know that writes about various aspects of Aikido in China. I am not familiar with your teaching skills or experience, however, I would enjoy (read: make myself seem important) by contributing the following:

1. Teaching and Aikido are two separate arts, or skills if you wish. One might master only one of these two, or both. Each should be given thought and dedication in order to improve. One should think about the purpose and goal for each and to whom it applies, meaning, to self or to another person. After these are defined, one would think on the best way to accomplish them and keep adjusting to improve their abilities (e.g. deliberate practice).

“As Tissier sensei says, “if you are afraid as uke, you will never manage to do a good attack!”. So easy to take confidence, that an instructor must show, as superiority feeling!”

A good attack, is one of the goals of a good Uke, according to Tissier, so it seems. Fair enough. And he seems it can be achieved by not being afraid.

What about teaching? What is the purpose of teaching? As an example, when teaching someone new to Aikido, who no doubt does many things wrong, what would be more effective: talking to them about “energy”, “aiki”, “center” and other vague meanings, or a clear “put front foot back left hand up” and leave the vague terminology to later on. Would the teacher think it’s better to correct all the 28 mistakes and state each and every one, or consider what is the one most important, or perhaps what is actually achievable by the student, and teach that. If I’m teaching, should I only follow my way and my way of thinking, or should I consider the culture, experience and capabilities of my students?

2. “there is only Aikido that matters!”

But what is Aikido and is there only one of it? Is My Aikido, which I spent a lifetime to study “the one”? I have sacrificed many things to achieve it. It would feel very unpleasant if someone criticizes it.
I am open to different versions of it, or at least make myself pretend it is so, and would accept a different view or a different way of practice, but not a critic or a patronizing attitude if someone came to my place and I do not see this person as someone who has “earned” the right to criticize me.

“there is only Aikido that matters!”

Perhaps, we can change that sentence just a tiny bit to “People are the only thing that matter”. So what is Aikido? It is the result of interaction between people. People first. Aikido second. In practice and in teaching.

Looking forward to reading your farther insights and experiences about Aikido around the world.


26 01 2012

Aikikai, I forgot to reply the comment here.. as well!!
Maybe you stop following me (after all, I’m having holidays in Italy and writing about Italian Aikido these days!)..

..but at least the beginning of my reply to your comment (thanks a lot by the way!) is in one independent post..


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