Feast and Famine

by Scott Ashen

Recently, I went through a period where I had to significantly cut back on my training. This was immediately after a four-month window when I had been training very frequently and spending a lot of time at the dojo. The sudden change was a shock to my system. I realized there was a hole in my life that I had not expected. While I knew cutting back on my time at the dojo wasn't what I wanted, I did not know how much it would impact my frame of mind.

The last 6 months has been a period of training feast and famine for me. After I was laid off from my job in April, I started trying to get to the dojo at least once a day. I didn't always succeed, but when I did, it felt great - both physically and spiritually. I was able to attend classes I hadn't in the past, like the noon training. I was also able to finally sit zazen more than once in a blue moon. The energy from the dojo was magnified within me the more time I spent there. The spirit and energy I was receiving from Sensei, my sempai and everyone who trains at Brooklyn Aikikai was overwhelming. I found that the more I experienced this, the more I wanted. In a period of great stress in my life - being unemployed - I found a lot of peace and serenity; even while I was getting thrown across the mat.

And then it pretty much stopped. I found a new job in late August, and due to my new work hours, I was only able to train once, occasionally twice a week. It wasn’t that unusual when I wasn't able to train at all. Suddenly, a significant source of energy and drive in my life was reduced to a trickle. The old adage of you don't know what you have until its gone was true for me. I had not really appreciated what I was receiving from spending so much time at the dojo, until it was barely there. I could feel my stamina going, my energy level was reduced and generally my spirits were not as positive. Despite being busy with work and my family, I still wanted more and could not find a way to get it. I relished what little time I was able to spend at the dojo during this period. When I trained, I felt like I was putting more energy into those classes than I had before. I injured myself a couple of times and it was crushing spiritually. How could I ease up on my training or even skip any classes? With so little time available to me, I just had to persevere. My wife and kids were fantastic during these months. They understand the importance the dojo has in my life and helped me find ways to get to class. Because my son trains in the kids classes, he and I spent some time talking about our training and what it means to us. At one point I was a little jealous of him and his regimented class schedule - he makes most Monday and Saturday kids classes. For me, I just kept looking for ways to stay connected and focused whenever and wherever I could.

So now I’m back to a regular schedule. Yet another new job has allowed me to start training at a more “normal” pace for me; 3 or so classes a week plus weapons and maybe I’ll be able to get to the occasional sit. After those months when I wasn’t, it feels really good to be training regularly again. That energy level is back and getting stronger. I’ve come to realize how much I learned about myself during this up and down period. I don’t want to do it again, but as with any experience, look at it as having provided me with a learning opportunity. And what have I learned? I’ve learned that the dojo gives me more than I realized. I have learned how much my family supports me in my training. Probably most importantly, I have received new clarity on how important training is in my life which has given me new focus in my training. Recently, a friend asked me if it wouldn't have just been easier to stop training since I had to work so hard to get to the dojo at my old job. Without pause, I was able to tell him no - it was much easier to keep going. Quitting would have been the harder choice.