by Justin Coletti
The other evening, I was driving down Flatbush Avenue on my way to drop my son off with my mother-in-law when a speeding Dollar Van ripped off my front bumper. A Dollar Van is an unregistered form of public transportation - just wave down the van, give the driver a dollar and he’ll take you and the rest of the passengers up and down Flatbush Avenue.
I must admit that I am a little vindictive when it comes to these vans because of their lack of courtesy on the road. With that in mind, my aggression met with the other driver’s aggression and I lost. It was pouring rain out, and my front bumper was lying on the ground between our cars. The look on my face was a cross between disbelief and complete rage. He was yelling at me and I put a finger in his face as we exchanged some very colorful words.
I felt very tense and agitated as I squeezed my busted bumper into the trunk of my car. We both just pulled away from the scene. As I drove away, I replayed what had happened in my head. I was angry with the Dollar Van, but knew I could only blame myself. I allowed my hostility to take control of my actions.
I train aikido at Brooklyn Aikikai regularly and have been for a few years now. Beyond just training our bodies to remember techniques, we are there to “polish our spirit” and to quiet our minds. Sensei has reiterated that our actions outside the Dojo and how we apply the principles of these techniques in our daily lives are far more important than just learning how to fight. The concepts of blending; being soft when confronted with hardness and visa versa; timing and distance; being centered physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually; and accepting things as they are - these are the principles we try to do our best to practice daily on the mat.
That evening in the rain, amidst the confusion of the frenzied street, I exhibited none of the above principles. I lost my center, became mechanical in my obedience to my unbalanced emotions and perpetuated more negativity in a city already brimming with it. Is my training all for nothing? Am I developing any of those qualities that help me be a more conscious human being, or will I remain a slave to my emotions and immature desires? I have no one to blame for my broken bumper but myself. That evening I acted unconsciously and without attention or regard for others. I had an opportunity to exercise my training in my daily life and I failed.
I believe one of the purposes of training at the Dojo is to change something in us. By placing ourselves in situations that demand constant attention, we hope that it can drop that thing in us that is constantly drawing us away from awareness and toward something more habitual and mechanical. If, through daily training, I cannot take those principles into my everyday life, then my training is superficial and means nothing. It goes without saying that I need much more training. However, the important question is, what will I do with that training?
by Justin Coletti