When we begin training, both at the start of the class and when we are about to practice a technique with a partner, we bow and say “Onegai shimasu.” This phrase roughly translates as “please help me learn.” Each time we train we are asking the people we train with to teach us something, to help us understand something, and every time we train with something we have an opportunity to teach and to learn.
Our approach to training needs to be focused but remain open to opportunities. Sensei will demonstrate a technique, and possibly point out a particularly aspect that we are to pay attention to while training. This becomes the focus of our training for this technique. However, each uke and nage you train with will be different in a multitude of ways. Some will use strength, some will flop, some will be frustrating and some will flow with us. This is opportunity. Each uke will require slight changes in how a technique is performed. Each nage will move us in different ways. While we remained focused on the point Sensei has made, we must also be open to learning how to apply the technique to a particular uke, or receive it from our current nage.
As we progress through training, gradings and seminars, we will find partners who we love to train with – because they move the way we move, or we understand how their balance works and our aikido simply flows. We will also find partners that we dislike training with – they may move differently, or we fear the power they use may hurt us, or the simply seem to be elsewhere, or techniques just don’t work on them. As long as we honestly and openly ask them to help us to learn, we will learn from them – it may be that we learn to overcome some fear, or we can learn how to add power to a technique, or we learn when to say “nope, this isn’t working, let’s stop and try a completely different approach.” We can learn from higher grades as they have knowledge to give us, and we can learn from lower grades as they make us step back to basics and look anew at the techniques, and we can learn from ourselves about how we train, and how we can push ourselves to excel and how we can slow down and contemplate previous lessons.
This attitude also flows over into every day life – in any situation we can look and find things to learn. All we need is a focus and openness. As long as we are focused on a positive outcome, and are open to opportunities each situation we are in can be dealt with. While we may not always achieve our focus, we can always learn from the opportunities presented to us. In this way we not only practice aikido in the dojo, but we can also practice it in our thoughts and our interactions with others.