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I Like Sensei When He’s Angry

The other night at class Sensei came in and looked pretty normal to me. He gave a short greeting, got changed, and started stretching. On Saturday nights our aikido group shares a already too-small dojo space with a karate class. Over the past three years, that class has been pretty small. They have their own world of budo, we have ours. I don’t usually have problems with good karate, but most of the stuff the teacher does with this particular group usually makes me grimace or laugh. I pity his older students who diligently follow his instructions into dangerous techniques, ones that will get them pummelled by stronger opponents in a real altercation. But anyway, that’s none of my business. What pissed Sensei off that night was the abundance of toddlers who seem to have joined his class. For a warm up, this karate teacher was having the children get into uncomfortable positions and hold them for durations of 10 seconds. For example, maintaining a push-up position with their hands as fists. This isn’t even the problem. The problem was, the teacher counted each second with a loud kiai followed by the students screaming counting from one to ten.

“Ai!”

“Ichi!”

“Ai!”

“Ni!”

Sensei looked up from his stretching position with a look of utter disbelief. The second in rank in our class did the same, a few others looked up with a little less disgust, and I kind of just looked on with a more matter of fact reaction. I’m a kids teacher after all; such screaming is a kind of everday occurence for me.

We are all adults in aikido with day jobs where we put up with a certain level of things we don’t want to. When we come to aikido, it’s because we like it. Screaming children changes the atmosphere more towards the “not-liking” section. “I didn’t sign up for this.” is probably what a lot of people in the room were thinking. But the kids were happy screaming as loud as they could, and the karate sensei seemed impressed that he had all the students happily doing what he told them to do, and who’s to blame him, if I had that in my classrooms I’d be happy too, minus the irritating sounds: OK I guess I wouldn’t want screaming kids no matter what. Sometimes when I teach English and have the kids repeat after me they think it’s funny to scream the English as loud as possible … not a big fan.

This infuriated Sensei a bit beyond his normal levels. He showed and explained techniques to us in a raised voice to be heard over the nieghboring chaos, which irritated him more. This isn’t the first time our class has endured background children screaming noise. Two days a week we are in a much larger gym which we share with a children’s karate group on one day and a children’s kendo group on the other. Can you guess where our problem is? It’s with the kendo. Sensei got so tired of trying to talk over the screaming little demons, training has changed locations on that day. If you ever really wanted to know what screaming goblins sounds like, I recommend you visit a children’s kendo class.

Anyway, when Sensei gets frustrated like this he gets very impatient. Wazas are practiced at a much faster pace, but that’s the part that I like. I start pacing when people take too long in front of me, so this for me is just go-go-go and that’s good. Another part is that he usually won’t give anything with uke; which means if you’re not doing the technique right, he won’t just go through it with you. He’ll make you do it right. Usually he focuses on one aspect and tells us to do it. The interesting part is that often the people he tells don’t understand what he’s saying. Given it’s usually easier to see this stuff from the outside, but I couldn’t believe a few of the other students that night. Sensei will give them instructions on what to do, show it on them, show it on someone else, give another example, but a couple people were just not getting it. Finally when someone does something right he gets really happy.

Frustration and budo, so much could be said about this relationship. We all react to negativity in different ways, or not just negativity … what’s the right word? In Japanese I call it “iya”, いや。 ”Iya” is when there’s something you don’t like or don’t want to do. This is frustration. How we deal with iya more and more seems to me to be each of our defining characteristic. When I am confronted with iya I usually react with frustration and activity. The sad thing is how I often deal with this is ingesting things like coffee, food, or alcohol, depending on the time of the day. Zen says to sit with it, but for me the easiest and best way is to practice budo, particularly aikido. I often go to aikido frustrated and it fixes it. Often times I go to aikido happy and come out frustrated, which is weird but OK because I’ll go back to aikido and it will probably fix itself. A big part of this is that aikido takes so much of my physical energy, I’m often too tired to be frustrated. With kyudo, it’s different, but also very good at dispelling frustrating. You don’t exert so much physical energy in movement, but the concentration required takes up all the space in your attention and you just don’t have the time to be frustrated. Then when it’s over, you’re usually OK.

But what about the bigger iya, those bigger issues we plant in our head that aren’t quelled so easily?
For the problems that don’t go away, and always seem to come back, your budo practice needs to be just as consistent if not more. Everyday put the budo in and it will be stronger than the iya just by its time alone. Or maybe not. That could be bullshit. If we have real problems what needs to be done is dealing with those specific problems. Maybe there are stronger problems than budo can help. I don’t know. This post could go on forever.

More to come on budo vs. iya. My life depends on it.

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