by Barry Blumenfeld
When Sensei mentioned that there was testing coming up, I was excited to learn that some of those folks would be people who started around the same time that I started. In some ways, it feels to me like we’re a “class,” and I was (am) very proud of them. That being said, I noticed some interesting feelings well up within me, as I am not testing. It’s not a surprise, since I have not put in even the minimum hours, but, nonetheless, my ego took a hit. I know that rank is not what this practice is about. The de-emphasis on belts and ranking is one of the reasons I was drawn to Brooklyn Aikikai.
For me, the greatest challenge this first year has not been the physical aspect of Aikido (this is not to say it isn’t challenging- it’s exhausting!), but it has been my relationship to the practice. When I decide to take on a new interest or skill, I expect to dive in and give myself over to it. I want quickly to become proficient at whatever it is so that I can express myself through it. Aikido is no exception.
But, now I am a “householder” - the single-income earner for a family that just became four. My time is honestly not my own. I see the young, single people having the time to take multiple classes, meditate, practice weapons and they improve quickly. Frankly, I’m envious. My ego is screaming, “I could be just as good at this! I want to be good at this! I want people to know I’m good at this!” But, my life just won’t allow me the time to do that.
Then, I come into the dojo. The first thing we do in the doorway is to bow - an immediate act of humbleness. We practice with an intense focus, honoring Sensei, our class, and the teachers of the past by coming to our knees in gratitude and with respect throughout the practice. As exhausted as we may be, we take care of the dojo first before even taking a sip of water. The intention the community holds - this is an act of service - is so pure. I see that in many ways we are not here for ourselves, but we are surrendering our own personal will to that of something older, deeper and greater. It is like the old story of the brazen student who does not listen to his teacher. When the teacher begins to fill a cup for the student to drink, he does not stop at the top, but lets the water flow over. The student asks why the teacher did this, and the teacher responds that the student is like the cup. He is already full so there is no room for the teacher to give him anything.
I’ve mistaken the purpose of this practice. At home, I have given up my needs and wants for those of my family. I thought I was going to Aikido to do something for me. But, in actuality, Aikido is a continuance of this selfless service, and it is through this surrender of the individual that one becomes part of something far greater and so much more fulfilling.
I get it now. My inflated sense of self - with the strength of Sensei - is choking me. What am I going to do? I know that I cannot beat it with pure strength. Instead, I have to allow it in, move with it, and drop down. Humbly come down to my knees.
MY Aikido training is a practice in humility. I AM being tested. Everyday.
by Barry Blumenfeld