What do YOU do when you make a mistake?
(Note: A topic came up in class the other night and it was worth writing about it so everyone that wasn’t in class can also profit from it and learn more about the Art of Peace- Aikido.)
We’ve seen it a million times- both with others and ourselves. I saw it the other night in class, a student was involved in a series of cuts with his sword and he made a mistake. That he made a mistake was not a big deal, he’s as human as you and me. What is important is the response to the mistake. As a student of martial arts, Aikido in particular, it could be a matter of life-and-death. At a minimum it is a matter of training to develop our mental/spiritual/physical health.
Let me say it again- there is nothing “wrong” with making a mistake. It is what we do frequently in this world. If we engage in anything new and/or complex (which Aikido certainly qualifies!) we will make plenty of mistakes. What we can do is, through deliberate and intentional training, is learn to take control of our minds so we can consciously choose our response to a mistake.
The samurai investigated this in minute detail because they understood the importance of it. The most famous Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Mushashi, in The Book of the Five Rings offers advice to “Again, unfetter your mind and, from beginning to end, be intent on one thing; smashing your opponent.” From another direction, he counsels that to defeat an opponent “…it is essential to agitate your opponents. Take advantage of the situation while their minds are unsettled”.
It is easy when we make a mistake, to shake our heads, chastise ourselves, think thoughts like “Here I go again”, “What is wrong with me?” or “I can’t do anything right”, etc. We have all done it at one time or another. The result of such behavior is to take us out of the moment, breaking our connections to others, the environment (and ourselves) and putting the judgmental part of our mind in charge of our thoughts. We have “fettered” our mind. From a self-defense position, this is suicide. From the perspective of studying Aikido to become strong through unifying our body, mind and spirit, it is self-defeating. Much of what makes it self-defeating is that when we are thinking judgmental thoughts we are operating out of our ego. And our ego will fool us.
So how can we learn to do otherwise? The key word is “do”. We have to use our body, with its movements and sensations to avoid the tyranny of the ego. You cannot “think” your way out of the problem. The answer is to train, moving your body under your control in a relationship with someone else. When your thoughts begin to wander, bring your attention back to your physical sensations- even pain is good for this. When your body is pretty well under control, focus of the other person. When you make a mistake, just relax and come back to your body and what is happening in that moment. If the thoughts keep intruding it may be useful to learn to say something like “That’s over and done- move on” or “That’s past now” as a way of letting go.
It is a “letting go”. It will take practice- a lot of practice. IF you keep practicing you will get good at it. When you get good at it, you will know freedom.
In gratitude to my seniors,