“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” — Oscar Wilde
In Aikido, Sensei Dan always told us, “You don’t have to do [the technique] like I do. Make it work for you.” Sensei said to me, “Make Aikido your own.”
Mastery isn’t about merely imitating your Master or Sensei. During my years with Sensei, he taught me to recreate Aikido for me. I had to grind it out to make Aikido work for me. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?
Your Master, your Sensei gifts you what has worked for them, their reinvented Art. My job is taking that Art, and recreating that as My Art. In part it’s an imitation, but it’s really grinding it through and discovering what works for my body, my mind, my spirit.
Being part of Sensei’s legacy, I give away my Art to the next generation. They, in turn, take what’s useful, discard what’s not, and recreate Their Art. That is the Cycle of Mastery.
Years ago, I had complained to Sensei that there are so many versions and styles of Aikido. Sensei reminded me that had Aikido Founder O-Sensei been alive today, his Aikido would not look like it did “back in the day”. His Aikido, his Art would have evolved, much like he would have. So there’s no good or bad Aikido. There’s no good or bad Art. There’s just different Art.
That influenced even the way I watched Sensei demonstrate Aikido technique. I looked at his feet and body movement – the foundations. I observed Sensei’s timing and distance when he waited out the attack. I worked on what I might do because he was taller and older than me. When he demonstrated the technique on me, I got his feel and power.
When I practiced the technique I altered the structure for my body and my speed. When I threw my opponent, it looked different from what Sensei did. Yet, I finished my throw breathing out, and feelings out. It was “one time”. I made it work for me. I created my Art.
Instead of imitation being the “sincerest form of flattery”, let it be the inspiration. Sensei was my inspiration in Aikido and in life.
Although, the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Denver Nuggets, Lebron James surpassed Michael Jordan’s 32,292 career points with 32,311 career points. Lebron is now the 4th All-Time scoring leader in the NBA.
After the game, Lebron spoke with the press. He was profoundly moved, and humbled. He said, “We all wanted to be ‘like Mike’.” He never dreamed in his career that he would surpass the career scoring of his Hero – Michael Jordan.
Lebron touchingly confessed, “MJ was my inspiration.” As the kid of the single Mother, growing up in the deprived part of Akron, Ohio, he admitted the chances of him making it out were astronomically low. Much less emerging as the Greatest Player on Planet Earth, today.
When he was the kid playing basketball, he wanted to shoot the fadeaway jump shot like Mike. He wanted to dunk the basketball with his tongue hanging out like Mike. He wanted to wear shoes like Mike. He wanted to “be like Mike”. Lebron said he started wearing MJ’s No. 23 when he was in 4th grade.
MJ is the GOAT, Greatest of All-Time. No doubt. And Michael Jordan inspired Lebron to be the best version of himself. Lebron is the physical phenom at 6’ 9”, 255 pounds. On the court, he dominates with his quickness, strength, and basketball acumen. Lebron is the basketball savant. Although MJ was less physically imposing, he was the fiercest competitor, the historically clutch player. MJ won 6 NBA Championships. Lebron has 3 Championships. At age 34, it’s unlikely Lebron will catch Mike.
Of the comparisons to MJ, Lebron said, “I’m me.” Amen, Lebron. He works on the best version of himself. He creates his own Art. Granted, Michael lived in different and less racially enlightened times, even in the 1990s. Lebron has emerged as the most influential athlete of his generation with a political conscience. Lebron’s greatness transcends sports and race, for the most part.
Lebron said his proudest accomplishments are the ones off the basketball court. Therein lies his legacy. Lebron established a school for underprivileged kids in his Hometown of Akron. If these kids keep up their grades they’ll all attend Ohio State University tuition free. Lebron is giving back of himself to his community.
Lebron is the devoted family man. He attends his sons’ basketball games. Although, the Greatest Player on the Planet, he inspires his boys to be their very best. He doesn’t want them imitating Dad. Amen, Lebron.
The pursuit of Mastery is about me being me, you being you. You’re not trying to be someone else. I believe Mastery is dedicating to become the greater versions of ourselves. Like Lebron was inspired on the mastery path by Michael Jordan. I was inspired by Sensei Dan.
We are thankful for the men we’ve become, because of our inspirations. Amen. Amen.
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