Pushing the Limits

by Dmitriy Ovsyannikov

It was a cold and stormy evening. Three of us - me and two other members who were more junior than I was – were walking together after practice. The topics of discussion were the difficulties and experiences that were new and interesting for them. For me, however, they were neither new nor interesting. By this point, I had realized that everyone who outranked me had gone through all the stages I had, and, lacking an interesting story about joining the Dojo and lacking thoughts on quitting (anymore than quitting my profession) or unanswered moral or ethical dilemmas, I had nothing new or original to contribute to this blog. However, I thought it would very impolite to refuse a second request to write an article.

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Soon after Sensei awarded me fifth kyu, I started feeling that classes were an exercise in futility. Although my muscles and joints weren't sore anymore and my breathing was only lighter than that of a steam locomotive, but lighter than that of many (newer) members, I felt no improvement in technique, sense of balance or accuracy.

Several months passed. Then, I was volunteered to sweep the sidewalk in front of the Dojo. This was my second time doing this task. Having finished, I realized that the area that I covered, as well as the cleanliness level, grew two-fold compared to the first time I swept, which was during my first week of training. At this point, it dawned on me that the change in my perception of what is “good enough” was enormous, but - it was not good enough.

Over the years in academia, I have acquired a “good enough to pass the test” mentality. If a top grade was given for an exam, the effort was appropriate. If a job was offered after an interview, the effort was appropriate. If a certificate was given after a fifth kyu test, the effort was appropriate.

However, both aikido and life in general are quite a lot more than a series of tests. To progress, one has to adopt a different mentality, something along the lines of “this effort was only good enough for yesterday” to push the limits on a daily, or at least weekly, basis. An obvious and simple way to push one's limits is to annoy a senior student (one has to be careful, of course, not to raise the annoyance level above mild). Unfortunately, it only works so far, especially since with sufficient practice one can avoid that particular senior student on the mat (not to mention that skipping class becomes an ever-present temptation).

Thus, and it sounds extremely banal and trivial, nobody will help you unless you help yourself first. Stop minding the exhaustion and the pain, which always come when limits are pushed. Actively seek stronger, meaner practice partners (they usually have cold, dry eyes). Attend seminars, for people you know tend to be more and more forgiving. And, eventually, you will be rewarded by becoming a better person - overall.