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a lesson learned living in the dojo - m. croes

March 25, 2013

When I was asked to write a blog post for the dojo it immediately sparked a sense of anxiety. I’m not much of a writer and prefer doing things of a more tactile and physical nature, e.g. cleaning. So as I started this I began thinking about why I feel a sense of anxiety around this kind of task; what impact does it have on my training ? This points to a larger question that I’ve been thinking about: how to apply what I learned living in the dojo to my everyday life.

The specific topic I was asked to write about was the month I spent living at the dojo. Living there is unlike any experience I’ve had. You start your day at 6:00 a.m. and the first thing you do, before brushing your teeth or putting away your futon, is to light incense and change the Kamidana (Shinto shrine) offerings. You then train Aikido or weapons for an hour, do zazen or misogi, eat breakfast, clean, train at noon class, clean, prepare dinner, train for two more evening classes, clean, get dinner ready, clean up and then hopefully sleep a few hours. The simple list of activities can’t do justice to the kind of life it is. It is something that must be experienced firsthand to understand the personal impact. I can tell you what it did for me. It showed me what is possible when you feel worn down and it taught me to begin letting go, to release some of my obsessiveness. It also brought me closer to seeing within myself how quickly I can give up on something if it becomes difficult or uncomfortable.

At the dojo, you train harder than you think you will. No matter what you prepare for, you won't be truly ready for what you are confronted with. The pain, the discomfort of sleeping on futons on the floor, the emotions that begin to surface. Everything that you can hide behind outside the dojo slowly gets stripped away and you are left to embrace your faults and strengths. You begin to learn from them and hopefully make adjustments that improve you in aikido and in life. Learning this is made easier by the warmth of the people at the dojo and it gives me a sense of calm and centeredness in my life… sometimes. It's a work in progress.

While living in the dojo I also had to work in the mornings at my job in New Jersey. In the beginning there was a sense of relief after such hard training to go to work and get what I perceived as "a break." But as my time progressed I found that work simply became a distraction from what was really important to me – training. And the process began to affect me both physically and emotionally.

In a way I came to appreciate the sheer exhaustion of living there because there was no energy left for much of anything. Every day - on the mat and off - I have anxiety about doing things correctly or accomplishing things. I get frustrated when I attempt even simple movements: left foot here, right there, and then I go to do it and find myself with my feet switched or slouching or hunching my shoulders. That's not to mention being able to do something correctly one day and then not the next. But in my time living in the dojo the anxiety lessened and I was able to do more of what frightens and frustrates me. I had to let go of something. It would have been impossible to function otherwise. In Aikido and in life one has to let go of attachments and desires in order to move on and to improve. The letting go of tension, anger, fear all have to happen. Part of improving - we’ve all heard - is becoming “relaxed with tension"; how to accomplish that has been something I have been asking myself for some time. When I find the answer I’ll post it. If you told me two years ago that cleaning and training in a martial art could teach me about letting go and becoming more relaxed I wouldn’t have believed you. When I first started to train I would look for excuses to not go to the dojo or to not stay as long because of some fear or anxiety. Now, I look for excuses to be there longer or to stay for that extra class that I don’t really want to do. I still have ups and downs and there are times when I don’t want to go, when laziness or emotions win out. It is a work in progress. But I am definitely taking the advice I was given by Sensei when I stopped sleeping at the dojo… “keep going." -Michael Croes

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