Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Feel Sorry for the Natural!"

From Sensei Corner for Aikido Training
Featuring David Ito Sensei of Los Angeles, California

Many students new to the art of Aikido often become frustrated in their first few months of training. They feel awkward as they struggle with what sometimes they feel should be the most basic of techniques. In fact, many students often erroneously conclude that they aren't "naturals" and just don't have the aptitude for Aikido. Of course, this belief is usually untrue and students will begin to see progress if they will just stick with their training. The following article by David Ito Sensei should comfort students who don't quite feel like "naturals."

Shoshitsu Sen, the great tea master said, "When you enter the way of tea, no matter how you think you may disgrace yourself, it will not be taken as disgrace or shame. Make mistakes, be rebuked, stand corrected and learn." This wisdom has many applications, and certainly in Aikido you have to put in the work in order to develop yourself and improve your technique. Nobody wakes up one day and finds they can suddenly do Shomenuchi Ikkyo correctly. No matter what your skill level, you have to dedicate yourself to your training and work hard. Or do you?

Some individuals at first seem naturally talented while others seem unskilled by comparison. Interestingly, the unskilled or uncoordinated beginners usually emerge as the best students, a pattern which probably gave rise to the old martial arts saying, "Feel sorry for the natural."

The natural never has to learn the techniques fully and often jumps from stage to stage without any struggle. Yet, contrary to popular belief, the struggle itself helps us. Our struggle with Aikido can lead us to overcome our ego and to learn the infinite details of the techniques. Often, (my instructor) would identify someone as a natural and overnight they would seemingly pick up the technique, but before long something would happen to their practice.

That something bubbles up from the ego. Those naturals would get from A to Z and know a vast number of techniques, but what their practice had in variety it lacked in substance. Somewhere along the way they would lose the essence while retaining the form. The naturals tended to think of themselves as something great because they happened to look good doing Aikido or had attained the rank of black belt. Similar to fast food, in Aikido, looks can easily deceive, especially if we let our ego get the best of our practice: this thing may look like a burger, but it tastes like a shoe! Naturals too often forget that Aikido training is a privilege and that most students only earn their black belt long after the day they receive it.

The other day I spoke with a friend who teaches Kung Fu, and he had some sage words: "Students should train everyday with the heart of a black belt." These words to my ear sound profoundly correct; whether you took your Shodan test yesterday or you began practice yesterday, to get any lasting benefit from Aikido you must dedicate your heart and soul to your training.

I think our dojo has always worried less about rank and more about training, and rightly so, simply because training happens daily and testing amounts to just one day designed as a tool for you to gauge your progress. Furuya Sensei used to say that the great thing about Aikido is that it is completely egalitarian because no matter who you are or what your ability, anyone can learn Aikido if they dedicate themselves and work hard. I believe such dedication and discipline allow us to flower fully as martial artists and human beings. Enjoy your practice!

David Ito Sensei is the chief instructor of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles in California. He is a friend of the Colorado Aikido community and has been very supportive of Castle Rock AIKIDO this year. Should you find yourself in Los Angeles, be sure to bring your uniform with you and go train with Ito Sensei. You can visit the Aikido Center of Los Angeles website: HERE

Article published with the consent of David Ito Sensei. Castle Rock AIKIDO offers traditional Japanese martial arts for adults only. To find out more, please visit

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