“Ask questions. Ask question before starting. Ask questions after joining. Ask questions all your life. Question everything.”
So many people would like to make a start, but out of either fear, timidity, unsureness, or a list of other reasons, never do.
If you made it past the wishing and hoping and perhaps occasional enquiring, and have got as far as actually finding and visiting a dojo; CONGRATULATIONS!
That was the first test, “Grasshopper!” Your warrior spirit is showing! Make no mistake about it, whatever anybody says. Any Budo is a warrior yoga not to be taken lightly.
Highly recommended: Watch first. Watch attentively. EVALUATE. The second test of a warrior is to exercise the discernment muscles.
Are the people you see training sincere? Are they sleazy? Are they overtly competitive? Are they happy? Are they enjoying themselves? Are they brutal? Do they talk too much? Are they focused on what they are doing? Are they caring? Do they look safe or slovenly? How is the appearance of the dojo? What is the condition of the mats? Is healthy humor present? Or inappropriate levity? Are people intense or merely angry? Is the training kind or cruel?
Ask questions. Ask question before starting. Ask questions after joining. Ask questions all your life. Question everything.
Make a list of questions and also one of things you feel may not seem right. Write it down. EVALUATE. Be critical. Trust your instincts. Go home. What does your gut feeling tell you?
Wall to wall certificates simply mean that there is a lot of paper on the walls. Nothing more. LOOK! LOOK BEYOND BITS OF PAPER AT THE CONDITIONS AND ATTITUDES YOU CAN SEE. USE YOUR EYES. EVALUATE AND DISCERN FOR YOURSELF! You won’t be training with bits of paper. You will be training with people with attitudes, habits, tendencies and preconceptions.
What do their assumptions, revealed by their behaviors tell you about them?
First impressions are usually correct. Your ideas may cloud over following a sales spiel. Be careful. A sales spiel is a good sign something is not right.
You’ve already made a decision based on your own integrity. You do not need or require a rehash. Explanations – good! Answers to valid questions – good! A guided tour? No worries.
A sales hustle? Be careful.
From the very beginning and throughout your Budo/Aikido career, DRAW YOUR OWN CONCLUSIONS! Think for yourself. Never let bullshit get in the way.
If you start up, from the very start, be mindful to PROTECT YOURSELF. Always learn to take absolute responsibility for your safety. Insurance does not really compensate for the life long suffering a chronic injury will inflict.
People who talk too much are exercising their jaw, not their ki. There is an element of dishonesty in distractive chatter.
Again EVALUATE. Are they voicing things for your benefit as a beginner? To help you understand? Or merely idly chattering about the irrelevant. Or worse, themselves?
Budo/Aikido training must be fully attentive. If someone is distracting, or appears distracted, and not fully attentive, avoid them as they will be unsafe to train with.
You are there to TRAIN. To PRACTICE. Avoid idle chatter. Save it for socializing later if you are so inclined. Now focus on the task at hand and your body-mind connection in action.
Since everyone other than the person who started on the same day is somewhat more experienced, learn to gravitate under the wing of guides, those who show caring for your development, and who honestly make a visible effort to make your training experience a safe and happy one.
Safety is paramount. Avoid individuals who are casual with safety, yours, theirs or anyone else’s. You will recognize these because they want to prove things, unusually at your expense and safety and tend to be unnecessarily competitive. And boastful. If the sensei fails to notice and to scold them and pull them into line immediately, you should consider leaving that dojo.
In any event, know this: You are not obliged to do anything you do not want to do. This includes training with someone you find unsafe, uncaring, incompatible, or is simply and evidently silly enough to be unsafe to train with.
Later, when you have gained solid experience and a measure of skill and fitness, you will find there are ways to sort out perpetrators of unsafe training.
As a beginner, learn to notice early and simply stay away from them. Like the plague. Bow respectfully and move elsewhere. Train with someone else.
If the instructor does not like this, sack the damn lot of them, go home and start looking for a real dojo. They were fakes. Train elsewhere.
If it’s a mix, then learn to change partners to suit YOUR training. Later you will go looking for challenges. Now, look for optimal safety until you know enough to protect yourself.
If you find a dojo where there is conspiring to manipulate a situation to make you look stupid, or to injure you, realise that such people are in fact criminals. They are unskilled and dangerous. Don’t wait for the class to finish. Leave immediately. Before you get hurt.
Before starting, WATCH. During training, WATCH. LEARN TO OBSERVE EVERYTHING as well as what you are doing. Start using peripheral vision IMMEDIATELY by relaxing your eyes and knowing what’s going on all around you. This is Budo, a warrior practice. AWARENESS IS EVERYTHING.
Naturally, there will from time to time, even in the most sincere training, be bumps and thumps of minor importance. You will recover from these, and they improve your immune system as well as your skill and spirit and help immunize you from physical intensity. This is good for you.
DISCERN. Know the difference. Never do something you know will be truly dangerous, or for which you are not ready.
As a beginner, you should be getting special consideration. If you get ignored and feel unsafe, STOP, bow, get off the mats.
In a good dojo, if you are ignored when you are progressing well, that’s a good thing. It means you are advancing on cue because you are NOTICING, copying well and moving well. Good teachers do not badger their students, but let them discover. Safely.
If you are ignored when being bullied, again, I say: Be concerned. Leave.
You will develop strength gradually and true budoka know the difference, how hard or otherwise to push you and show caring and sensitivity.
You will develop “new muscles” too. There will be some discomfort. This is natural. Hang in there and realise that recovery is everything. Listen to your body. There is good pain and bad pain. Good pain, means that change is happening and you are transforming. Bad pain means injury is present. Make it your business to DISCERN and know the difference, This is part of your awareness training.
Warm up properly. You will be dancing for a long time. This is good. Dance-budo/dance-kido is an essential and best way to learn. As you firm, up you will think you are still dancing, so PLEASE be CONSIDERATE of new beginners, in case you dance too hard for them. Be sensitive to their needs.
It is this very sensitivity training that makes you safe in training and can make you dangerous in a real situation. In Budo, sensitivity is everything! Aikido, even more so.
Aikido has the almost endless ability to be scaled up or down to suit the needs of the day and the ability of those present. Learn to notice and tune in to it. This too will make you powerful in a real battle, if needed, as well as safe in training.
From time to time, there may be the occasional shock to the system. Use this for your awakening, learn, correct yourself and step up. Try to never make the same mistake again. At times there will be internal battles with old habits. Be patient with yourself. Persist. You will get there. There is a time cycle that guarantees you will pass through any seeming barriers. You will go through just like anyone else that persists and stays with the regular installments of practice. Transformation barriers are natural progressions and there is no one alive who does not respond to the right amount of regular, manageable installments.
Change. There will be much change. Especially in the beginning. It may seem overwhelming to some new trainees. Persist. It never ends. One of the most empowering things is awakening the ability to adapt to change. Change will never end. It will improve you exponentially in all areas of life. So make friends with change and the discomfort of change.
Eventually, the discomfort goes and a peaceful power that is almost addictive will emerge. A good sign.
The Do or Way is a noble struggle called shugyo.
It will unlock your spirit and you will become increasingly enabled.
Persist. Even if you are never attacked in all of your whole life, the gains will empower you to be a skillful and impeccable in all other areas of life and everything else you do and experience.
Learn the basic techniques well and then enjoy the adventure, the journey and the discovery.
Go well on your journey, Peaceful Warrior!