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Friday, March 18, 2011

The Changing of the Guard

But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards

- Bob Dylan, "Changing of the Guards"

This year has been marked at the dojo by the loss of instructors.

One sensei, a former football player and judoka, finally needed to get a hip replaced after a lifetime of abuse in sport and the martial arts. He'll be back, but we don't know when. Another, well into his seventies and a recent veteran of two surgeries, is simply not physically capable of training (at least  as we do in the dojo) on a regular basis anymore. Still another, our primary weapons instructor, is taking a "leave of absence", though I don't know why or for how long.

We do not have a shortage of instructors. We still have three who were teaching before this momentous turnover, two yudansha (black belts) who joined us in the middle of the year, and one more who has recently earned his black belt and begun teaching. Still, the change hit many of us hard, especially beginners like myself.

I'm still learning what aikido is, how it works, and what it means in my life, and half the people who were teaching me that are gone. They've been replaced by capable teachers, but teachers with different ideas about aikido and different methods of teaching it. It's been confusing, to say the least.

Frustrating, too. Two of the lost instructors I mentioned above were the head instructors during the classes I came to watch when I was considering joining the dojo. It was their aikido that convinced me I would be learning a martial art and not a meditative dance. Under some of the new instructors, I haven't always been so sure. There have even been times I've (briefly) considered quitting aikido altogether and finding something else.

Of course, there is nothing else. There is nothing else so modern and yet so clearly connected to a historical tradition. There is nothing else with a philosophy and morality that shine through so clearly in every technique. There is nothing else that provides such a wonderful workout without requiring practitioners to be star athletes  at the outset.

And more practically, there is nothing else so inexpensive and yet so convenient.

By the end of my last post, I had resolved, on account of the above, to suffer through aikido for now and decide somewhere down the road what else was needed in my journey as a martial artist. The same night that was posted, I attended the first class that was taught by one of the dojo's new yudansha (the one I mentioned here).

It was a magnificent class.

His knowledge is astounding, and his understanding of weapons training and its connection to the rest of aikido is something I have been positively craving. Training under his direction was an absolute breath of fresh air. It made my future in aikido seem a little brighter, and made me appreciate what I already had in aikido a little more.

Suddenly, all that whining in my previous post sounded silly and melodramatic. Poor me, I have a dojo full of friendly people trying to help me learn a martial art. Alas, I can only get five-and-a-half hours a week at one-third the price that would get me two or three hours at many private places. Oh hell, three of my six quality instructors are new quality instructors rather than old ones.

To think the prospect of remaining an aikidoka seemed like such a chore only a week ago. What a baby I was.

Right now, aikido is asking me to ride the waves. And an instructor turnover, at least when the turnover provides me with good instructors, is a small wave indeed. All I need to do is approach their teaching with an open mind.

Less whining and more training probably wouldn't hurt, either.

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