“Practice is the best instructor.” ~Maruyama-sensei
I learned a lot at winter camp this year. I got to practice with some very skilled people from other dojos, and watched a lot of eye-opening tests. My mentor tested for 3rd-degree black belt– probably the most graceful and powerful demonstration of aikido I’ve seen so far. I was proud to see other people from our dojo do well on their tests also.
It occurs to me that camp ends up being a wonderful bonding experience among people within my own dojo. After classes, we hang out together, tell stories and banter, and it’s all in the spirit of community. I imagine other dojos do this as well. While sometimes this results in rather cliquish behavior, where dojos don’t always interact with each other, for me, I’d like to think I take that feeling of camaraderie with me and individually seek out new people through it. Certainly, I’m aware of the politics and conflicts that are always present and come to the forefront whenever these gatherings happen, but I’d rather take a step away from it and move past it.
The last time I was at camp, I was a blue belt– very much at an intermediate stage, where I felt like I was constantly being corrected on my techniques and I didn’t have much insight to offer. This time, as a brown belt, the corrections felt more like friendly suggestions than hard schooling, and I felt like I could offer suggestions of my own. I’m in awe of people who have been practicing for over twenty years– I wonder where practicing aikido will take me then, since I’ve come such a ways already after almost four years. What matters is that I keep practicing for as long as I can.