On Commitment - Sandan Essay by Terri Rzeznik

When co-workers discover that I train in Aikido the first thing they ask is “are you a black belt?” Or another common response is, “wow that’s amazing, can you beat up a bunch of guys if they attacked you all at once?” As many times as I have heard these questions, I always have the same thoughts, “What do they think I am, part of some covert special ops unit?” Or that I was just cast in the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” Even though it would be fantastic to fly over rooftops, unfortunately I did not learn this as part of my training. This made me think about the misconceptions that people, including myself, have of what it means to be a committed martial artist.

I believe people often have a skewed view of what this kind of commitment actually means. They may imagine that I live in a small room, sleeping on a hard wood floor, eating nothing but hot gruel for my meals. And of course let us not forget the intense training under the strict tutelage of some omnipotent sensei as well. Even though this may sound like some uchideshi programs, some people think this is what it means to be a committed martial artist in any dojo, anywhere.

Throughout the years of my training I have seen many people pass through the door of Brooklyn Aikikai. Till this day I can never figure out who will stay or who will leave. There have been people who have trained intensely at the dojo for many years and then one day quit, never to be heard from again. And then there are people who only come once or twice a week, but have been there since the beginning of the dojo. So who is to say which one is committed? So now I find myself more confused than ever; how should I define being a committed martial artist? Would I even consider myself one?

The more I think about this question, the clearer the similarities between my study of theatre arts and aikido become. When I first started training in aikido I was a professional actor. I felt passionately about theatre and still do. Even though I have been studying theatre arts for over 20 years, there still remains a fire, a hunger to learn more, to refine my craft and explore other related areas as well. Every art form, whether it is dance, music, painting, or of course, martial arts, is learned by doing. If one wants to become proficient in their art form they must practice for endless hours. One must possess a desire to keep going even when feeling frustrated, defeated, even when people tell you that you have no natural ability. I have experienced this intensely, especially with aikido.

My relationship with aikido has not been an easy one. It has been an arduous journey from the beginning. It took me many months to learn to roll and sometimes I still stumble with basic footwork. There are times when I do not want to go to the dojo, I feel tired or I am in bad mood. I constantly struggle with my own resistance. Sometimes I leave the dojo feeling as if I do not know anything about aikido. But of course there is a balance, within the struggle there also exists a deep joy, times when I feel exhilarated, present and alive. Regardless of what I am feeling there still remains the passion, the desire to explore deeper into this practice. I believe this is what it means to be a committed artist of any kind. To be able to ride the ups and downs of your practice and to sometimes take a step back in order to move two steps forward.