The late Mizukami Sensei said, “Just train.” I hear his voice when I don’t want to train, when I think I suck, and when I think I’m not good enough. Sensei emphasized this by saying, “… It’s not like you have to get somewhere.” Sensei was the father I needed to become a greater man. Nothing but mad love and respect to Sensei.
O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba said, “True victory is victory over oneself.” I’m my own GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) opponent. Mizukami Sensei reminded in the Dojo, “Make it work.” I make myself work. Just train.
In the bigger picture, Sensei really didn’t care how hard I practiced in the Dojo. Being a good man—a good person outside the Dojo, in the world—was more important. I take what I got from my training and make the world a better place somehow. That was Sensei’s greater purpose.
Opponents confront us continually but, actually, there is no opponent there. Enter deeply into an attack and neutralize it as you draw that misdirected force into your own sphere.
In Sunday morning Aikido practice, I trained with Sensei Bobby. Mizukami Sensei had taught both of us. Sensei instructed, “Apply the technique to yourself.” We practiced kotegaeshi, shihonage, and sankyo (all wrist locks) for the katate attack (grabbing the wrist).
As the nage receiving the attack, I apply the technique to myself. I don’t apply the technique to the uke, the attacker. As nage, I invite the attack. I let the attacker hold on to my wrist. I apply nikkyo (wrist lock) to myself and it occurs as kotegeashi on the attacker. I transition, apply nikkyo to myself again, and it occurs as shihonage on the attacker. I transition once more, apply nikkyo to myself, and it occurs as sankyo on the attacker.
When I apply the technique to myself, there is no fight. It’s only me against myself. That’s the training.
Discussing this with Sensei after class, he said that there’s no fight when I apply the technique to myself. It’s about choice. At any given juncture, at any given moment, I choose whether to finish the attacker or let him go. The attacker chooses whether to take the fall or stand down. It’s about choice. About mercy.
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
In O-Sensei’s greater design: If there’s no attack, there’s no Aikido. In the bigger picture: The best choice is no attack. If someone chooses to attack me, I’ll enter the attack and die with honor, purposefully. What happens, happens.
I choose whether to finish the attacker or let him be. The attacker chooses whether to persist in the attack or stand down. That’s Budo. That’s the Way. Just train.
There are no contests in the Art of Peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.
Regardless of the attack, the circumstance, or possible conflict, I apply the technique to myself. I work on me. Just train. As I make it work on myself, I offer that choice to others, too. Perhaps, they will choose to train, and work on themselves? Maybe, choose to become a better person? Really, it’s their choice.
What often gets lost in our training, whether it’s to have a fulfilling romantic relationship, to make a lot of money, to get that promotion at work: We work on ourselves. Not on others. We just train to be the best person that we can be. Let what outside of us, occur and arise.
After passing my Sandan (3rd-degree black belt) Aikido Test on a Sunday, I was back at the Dojo training with Sensei on Thursday evening. Sure, I was proud of my accomplishment. I believe Sensei was, too. Although, he was old-school Japanese, a man of few words.
Thursday night Aikido practice was about “What’s next?” I worked refining my timing and distance, waiting out the attack a little longer, taking a glancing blow if I have to. That was my new zero. It wasn’t like I had to get somewhere. Just train.
Just train is humility, the life lesson I got from Mizukami Sensei, the humblest man I knew on Planet Earth. Sensei taught me that there’s always something to learn, greater spaces to expand into, something to give up.
Reinventing the greater-than versions of ourselves makes a difference. Maybe, we leave the world a little greater than when we came into it. Still, “It’s not like you have to get somewhere.” Just saying.
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