Who is the Most Important Person at the Dojo?
Go ahead and in your mind choose a person or position at the dojo that you think is the most important one. I suggest to you it is the person that just joined today— the new person that took the plunge to begin something new, maybe even scary and intimidating.
The new student doesn’t know much, if anything about Aikido,,and they are aware that they don’t know! They have what the Japanese call “shoshin”, translated as “white-belt mind” or “beginner’s mind”. They bring this precious state of mind into the dojo for all to witness and appreciate. Their courage and desire to learn something new can inspire us to loosen the self-imposed restrictions in our own training, hopefully to the point we are ready to try what we’ve previously considered impossible!
We can be on guard against thinking what takes us away from the beginner’s mind. For example, when sensei shows a technique to work on, what are our first thoughts? Is it relief? “He’s doing nikajo – oh good! I already know that and won’t be embarrassed” or is it “the technique is nikajo – good, I know that and I can impress [fill in the blank] with my knowledge”?
The student with the white-belt mind might approach the same situation with the excited response and thinking “Sensei’s doing nikajo – oh good – maybe I can learn how to do this without all the straining I’ve done before” or upon seeing nikajo, “I’m going to watch his feet and legs to see what he is doing differently from what I do”. The student with the white-belt mind tends to ask more questions as they explore our Art. They may figure out how to fit a few more repetitions of a technique into their time on the mat.
Several years ago I had the good fortune to train under Takeshi Kimeda Sensei, 9th dan, from Toronto, Canada. He is an outstanding teacher and was generous to take the time to explain. What he said was one of the most important decisions he made to get the most from his training. He said that whenever his sensei corrected another student he took it as a correction directed to him. So when his sensei, Kushida Takashi, would say to another student “Lower!” he would get lower. When his sensei would say to another student “Sit up taller” he would sit taller. This was his way to open his mind to doing more and being more.
I’ve heard senior students (several years ago) complained, “Sensei had me work with the new student and I didn’t get to train”. This kind of comment shows a lack of understanding of the training process on the mat. Our training is a “two-way street”, with both parties learning from the other. It also shows a lack of understanding of the many levels of learning that go on while training as well as who has what to offer. Our approach is that everyone has something to offer and each of us contributes what we can.
The next time (every time) a new student steps onto the mat consider welcoming them with an open heart—there is so much to learn from them!