Monday, February 25, 2008

Midorigeiko: Observations of a (temporarily) Crippled Martial Arts Student

By Sean Hannon

I am a student of the traditional, Japanese martial art of Aikido. I train three nights per week at Castle Rock AIKIDO in Castle Rock, Colorado. Yet, I haven't stepped foot on an Aikido mat in over a year. In early 2006, I injured my lower spine so severely that I could not hold up my own body weight and could not walk at all for several months. Practicing Aikido on the mat with everyone else was simply out of the question. Despite my not having been able to get on the mat, my Aikido continues to improve with each and every class I attend because, for the time being, I practice 'midorigeiko.' Midorigeiko loosely translates as "watch and steal" practice.

I am always surprised and somewhat saddened to see martial art students of any style like karate, taekwondo, judo, mixed martial arts (MMA fighting or submission fighting) stop coming to train at the dojo when they sustain any injury, only to return once that injury is healed. Incurring an injury simply means, to me, that I must train differently until I am able to return to the mat. I regret that some students miss out on the total experience of Aikido; that, in my opinion, they don't quite understand or embrace the comprehensive value and benefit of Aikido. I regret that they perceive Aikido only as a physical art and not as a way of life.

In America, students expect to be "taught" Aikido (or any martial art) step-by-step-by-step by a willing and generous instructor. What a luxury that is! In Japan, students never expect to be taught. Instead, they are expected to have to "steal" technique from their sensei by carefully watching them demonstrate Aikido techniques year after year. Observation is in many ways just as valuable as actually practicing the techniques. Perhaps in some ways, it is more valuable. We at Castle Rock AIKIDO are very fortunate to have instructors traditionally trained in Japan who give us the best of both cultures. They "teach," but they also force us to "steal it" from them.

By using midorigeiko, I learn Aikido through OPM – No, not "Other People's Money," but by watching "Other People's Mistakes." I remember how difficult it was at times to learn while on the mat. I was sometimes self-conscious and, therefore, less than completely self-aware of my body position, my body movement and my mind. This self-consciousness adversely affected by ability to learn. In fact, sometimes I was too aware of my mind and that adversely affected my training just as much. It reminds me of a great scene in the movie, The Last Samurai, with Tom Cruise where the samurai say to him, "Arugen-san, you too many mind!" I remember how I would have a tendency to try to break down each technique step-by-step when I was on the mat. And, while perhaps necessary at the time, I would simultaneously lose the "essence" of the technique because each technique is more than just the sum of its parts. That is something I really learned through midorigeiko.

I also continue to learn Aikido by watching OPS – "Other People’s Successes." I learn by watching Aikido practiced well and successfully by other students. By seeing techniques practiced over and over again I learn to see the holistic totality of each technique and the synergistic energy it creates – or as Albright Sensei would say the "musubi." Additionally, I see how to apply the philosophy behind Aikido – entering, blending, and redirecting – off the mat and in my daily life. When I practice midorigeiko I feel as though I get to see the whole forest of Aikido instead of just the trees.

Without a doubt, one must physically practice the techniques in order to fully learn the art of Aikido. But there is another, more philosophic, more panoramic dimension of Aikido to be learned through midorigeiko.

When you have an injury like mine you end up wearing a different set of "glasses" from which you see the world. You have to learn to perceive things from a different vantage point than you have in the past and you have to find value and significance in the things you can do, instead of brooding in the things that you can't do. Even though I am not yet ready to return to the mat, I find my own way of entering, blending and redirecting with the things I can do. That is how I practice midorigeiko. That is how I practice Aikido… for now. I'll see you back on the mat soon.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to come try an adult Aikido class in Castle Rock for free and discover how Aikido can add tremendous power, achievement and depth of friendship to your life.

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