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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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March 12, 2014

"Commitment perseveres through low times and high times
and helps individuals overcome difficulties.
Children only can learn about commitment by being committed. "

"Learning Strategies for Musical Success"
Michael Griffin

I am currently reading a very interesting book: "Learning Strategies for Musical Success" by Michael Griffin as part of my other life as a music teacher. We know that commitment and practice are fundamental in obtaining proficiency in any discipline: just like the importance of performing "a thousand sword cuts" in swordsmanship, or as cited in the book, the author refers to a study revealing that world class musicians practise at least ten thousand hours to achieve their level of proficiency! For the young, perhaps getting used to being committed may begin simply as seeing an action or decision through to its completion. Over time through to maturity, accountability and responsibility will also realised.

A challenge for students in Aikido and music is understanding that practice is essential past the initial stage of it being a new undertaking in one's life. Aikido utilises "Deliberate Practice" and "Distributed Practice" to mould the practitioner in a process of self-discovery, overcoming one's insecurities and shortcomings to develop skills and intuition to enable the harmonious engagement of the attacker; which does take time and effort to work through to feel and understand.

Similarly, the eagerness of young music students who desire to play "Fur Elise" but become disenchanted when faced with the prospect of navigating through the middle portion of Beethoven's beloved work. The dramatic middle section of this lovely work does require a certain level of technical proficiency in order to negotiate through. Life is like that: the initial passionate and emotional attraction to someone only to discover the complexity lurking behind and beyond that gorgeous appearance, or the challenge of living past the "honeymoon" stage of any relationship or marriage. It doesn't get any easier, but it can result in fulfilment, maturity and satisfaction, past the seemingly insurmountable barrier.

When commitment does become a chore, there is an exercise one may use: this is for clergy who may have lost their way in a religious vocation. It requires going into Retreat to rediscover the motivation and inspiration behind one's initial vocational calling and commitment - to go back to the beginning and retrace one's steps. As I watch students struggle with intermediate and advanced techniques, I have offered a similar advice - to rediscover performing a proper Ikkyo, or basic Irimi - go through first position into second, third and so on...

Once, out of the blue and with no prompting from me, one of my younger students shared how she has had to tread carefully with one of her parents as their zodiac signs are incompatible. A little concerned (because that is not a reason to avoid or disrespect one's parents) and amused at the same time, I offered that perhaps within the stated incompatibility of the signs lies the challenge that those are the very attributes she needs to work through to resolve within herself and within that relationship in order to grow, mature and learn from.

Commitment to remain steadfast through doubt, uncertainty and adversity is a challenge. The challenge to transcend "how I feel today" brings to mind coming for class through low periods, waking at 4:30am for swim or hockey practice, or being there for a loved-one through grief and pain, even after an argument. Hence the frequent encouragement to attend class especially when one does not feel like it, or to perform a task when one feels lethargic and not in the mood to. This should not be confused with intuition or the "gut feeling" that warns of impending or potential danger; although some may use that as an excuse to avoid classes or performing a task.

Of course, the presumption here is that there is the desire to excel in the craft. If bashing through to fulfil one's commitment results in resentment, then perhaps a time of inward reflection is necessary.

I share in Michael Griffin's belief that anything can be learned, and it isn't just sheer talent that propels one to mastery. Initial interest may motivate a person to practice five to six hours a day without a thought of rest because it is invigorating, exhilirating, fulfilling and novel. Commitment extends that further through times when practice seems fruitless.

So keep practising those thousand sword cuts. That is indeed the first response for Ikkyo.
Ikkyo is from a cut, it is a slice, and not a grab.

See you in the Dojo.

In peace and harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.

(© Copyright March 2014: Rafael Oei)

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