There is usually a reason that people practice Aikido beyond the simple fact that it’s a martial art and they like it. I always ask students at some point early in their training why. This is not to be able to target marketing for classes, as one might expect, but to see how much their perception will change in the future. If a person understands why they are training it helps them focus on the now and here rather than some far distant future, or somewhere else in their life.
The reasons that people bring with them when they start training are numerous and change significantly because the practice of Aikido is something quite different to what they initially expected. The most common reason is self-defence. This becomes a by-product of the training rather than it’s goal. In this modern world there are so many ways that someone can defend themselves that the practice of an art like this is only likely to assist if they are looking for trouble or are an unprepared victim of a random crime. (I am sure there are plenty of exceptions to such a weak generalisation, however there is little point debating them now.) Another common reason is to achieve fitness, however this is better and less expensively achieved in a modern gym. The third most common reason is the mystique of the arts in general. Someone has seen a film or read a book that has inspired them to practice the art. Often such inspiration can be short-lived depending on the personality of the student and their ability to persevere.
To me the practice of Aikido is something that has evolved over time and is still evolving. What I create in my dojo is a place where through Aikido you are able to come and express a philosophy. The philosophy does differ amongst the students and must be broadly guided by the principles of Aikido however it is allowed to evolve into something very personal. As long as it does not interfere with the training of other students then it is welcome onto the mat so that it may be expressed as fully as the student is able at the time.
The environment of the dojo becomes a sacred place for the individual’s interpretation of the Aikido philosophy and their practice. In the journey to the dojo they will already be preparing themselves for this. The rituals surrounding the practice assist them to focus, at the same time reminding them to respect the other students who are giving themselves to their training.
The dojo environment is critical as it is a space that allows the student to leave the world outside. The world is a place where we have to deal with in our modern lives and often find that we are torn in our priorities and forced to compromise or goals and principles. Many of us live in a corporate culture where deceit and competition are rewarded. There are current social taboos that teach the inability to admit fault else weakness will be shown and that control is king. Pressures of friends and family are constantly upon us as we strive to keep a place that supports us and those around us as well. This is all left at the door before the commencement of training.
Over the years a number of people have tried to bring a destructive and disrespectful attitude onto the mat and being very honest with myself I do not welcome it and will seek to remove it where possible. They are often transient students or those of the butterfly variety. I have found that this is not in those who study with me as I believe I have led by example and attracted similar people.
I work very hard to keep the dojo a haven for the study and practice of a philosophy that can grow in a student. This is a part of my expression of the Aiki philosophy and what I have learnt from the pan-cultural heritage that has become Aikido.
Over time the student will grow with their philosophy and find that this philosophy will manifest in their daily lives. This is the time when they become an ‘Aikidoka’, and can honestly say that they have become an expression of the art, and are simply learning to refine this further.
In the end this is why someone would continue the practice of Aikido and eventually learn to master themselves and their expression of the art. Hopefully to then go on to teach others with the same respect that was shown them in their learning, and to express it in their daily lives, improving the quality for themselves and those around them.