Posted by: balladofyoko | April 2, 2008

The Elusive Spark

I talked at length with my mentor and with the head instructor, and a lot of ideas were thrown out there. Cross-training? classes with other instructors? teaching a class elsewhere? I don’t know.

That erstwhile spark is still not there, but the other night, when I went to 2 back-to-back classes, I felt it was just beyond my reach….

I’m still pondering over the idea of living aikido, off the mat. I still don’t grasp this.

My experiment right now: continue teaching, go to a couple Saturday morning classes, cross-train with yoga. Continue until June. If I can’t reconnect with that something, then I really do have to give myself a break. If it’s meant to be a part of my life, I will gravitate back to it. If it isn’t, then there are other things for me to pursue. I need to be honest with myself.

This is the best I can do for now.



  1. I approve of this plan. Sounds good.

  2. For many of the more dedicated brown belts and black belts I know, living aikido off the mat has become the major focus of the work, and aikido classes are an opportunity to experiment under laboratory conditions in order to further illuminate the off-the-mat work. From that stance toward aikido, the spark comes from one’s enthusiasm for that which one is in the process of becoming.

    If you’re having trouble grasping the idea of living aikido off the mat, that may be a big part of why you’re finding the spark elusive on the mat. Or not – but it’s certainly worth exploring the idea of living aikido anyway. I recommend doing some reading on the subject: George Leonard’s THE WAY OF AIKIDO, Richard Heckler’s AIKIDO AND THE NEW WARRIOR, and Thomas Crum’s THE MAGIC OF CONFLICT are good places to start.

    I’ve found the idea that “If it’s meant to be a part of my life, I will gravitate back to it” is invariably false and spiritually toxic. Gravity, inertia, and entropy (or their equivalent forces in human consciousness and spiritual life) lead on gradually downstream into swampland. Movement toward one’s higher potentials always requires conscious acts of will, always requires working upstream against an endless flood of temptation and distraction.

  3. “If you’re having trouble grasping the idea of living aikido off the mat, that may be a big part of why you’re finding the spark elusive on the mat.”

    I think this may indeed be true. Thanks for the book recommendations, Nick– I’ll check those out.

    “I’ve found the idea that ‘If it’s meant to be a part of my life, I will gravitate back to it’ is invariably false and spiritually toxic.”

    I have not found this to be the case in my life so far. The things that are vital to my life come back to me and kick me in the butt as a reminder that they shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed. Sometimes, it’s a matter of getting some distance from the subject in order to see things more clearly. And sometimes, the message that’s being sent to me just comes back in a different form. My thoughts on this are probably worth expanding into a full-fledged post for further discussion.

  4. You know, I don’t really believe in that dominating-yourself-into-a-better-you or that “grit your teeth and bear it, trusting that one day you’ll thank yourself” approach to trying to become a better person. Perhaps having come from an East Asian family which is also fundamentalist Christian, I find it a destructive approach that is too often about bludgeoning the self into compliance with what it cannot and should not be than about applying the will necessary for the self to do what it needs to become a healthier, happier, more conscious version of itself.

    I do think that the thought pattern”If I’m meant too… then…” is too often an excuse for giving up for many people. However, I don’t perceive that you have a fundamental lack of discipline that would make that so in your case.

    Given that a lot of your questioning on this matter seems to be about the role of aikido in your life, about trying to disentangle the value of AikiDo from issues about your training trajectory, school, etc., and also about trying to discover which aspect of AikiDo you want to pursue as The Way or Ways of AikiDo that speak to you, it makes sense to me that you’d see it as “If it’s meant to… then I will know.”

    I also think it’s OK to not have your MA training be the most important thing to you, to have it and its lessons be only one of many guiding principles in your life. I do know that most martial artists pass through a phase, long or short, in which MA becomes the most important thing to them, and everything else in life is viewed through the lens of MA. I find this to be very true in Korean and Japanese schools, for various cultural reasons in the origins of those arts, as well as in the more Buddhist-oriented Chinese styles, whereas the more Daoism-based styles seem to take a more complex and less dictatorial approach to self-development and the role of MA training.

    At any rate, I have come to a point in my life in which I feel that self-improvement should bring people joy. That’s not to say it’s all happy and fun–there will definitely be self-sacrifice involved, difficult times, and effort. But there should also be a fundamental joy experienced in what these difficult things yield. If those difficult things yield dissatisfaction, especially if it’s dissatisfaction due to not being further along or more accomplished or advanced (as opposed to feeling a desire to become better/more accomplished and seeing a need for the same), or, worse, if those difficult efforts yield what feels like nothing, then I think stepping off that particular path, whether temporarily to troubleshoot your relationship to that Way, or permanently, having decided that that Way leads where you don’t wish to go–well, what is laudable or productive about sticking to it for the sake of sticking to it?

    My personal bottom line:
    MA should be a path to self-improvement. If one’s school, teacher, or the training itself is not leading one in that direction, then one needs to figure out whether it’s the school, teacher, or activity itself that one needs to change. I think any mentor/teacher who is interested in one’s welfare vs. that of the school or him/herself, will agree that it is important to do this. And as you’ve mentioned in past posts, one can see better once one gets clear of the dust.

    And it’s also important to remember that overarching discipline in one’s live involves both maintaining healthy moderation as well as giving everything its proper place, including MA training. Sure, there are other versions of discipline that one can follow, some a bit more ruthless, but I personally don’t see these as compatible with your mode of being, based on what I know about you.

    I hope I’m making sense.

  5. Oh, meh. I don’t have it in me to write a coherent post right now, so let me just comment further here:
    Again, I have to agree with you, Ten Feet. I have an alarming tendency to be really hard on myself– not just being critical, but pushing myself mentally and physically beyond my limits, to very rapidly diminishing returns. That kind of brute-force attitude is something I’ve been working to change in my adulthood– not to do away with it completely, but to realize that it’s just one viewpoint in a myriad of views.

    I don’t think I lack discipline at all. I don’t believe that everything I do has to feel good all the time. I don’t believe that I am governed by fear to the point of paralysis. I believe myself to be pretty strong-willed. I can work through (and have worked through) a high threshold of pain over a long period of time– the more experience I have, the more I realize that that’s not always productive. Worse, I often find myself creating situations to cause some resistance just to feel something to push against.

    I’m reiterating this mostly for myself– my perspective right now on aikido is murky and I can’t see clearly. Is it aikido itself that I’m no longer motivated to do, or is it indicative of a greater malaise in my life? Do lack the passion because the spark is no longer within me, or because I lack external encouragement? Are there other roads to self-improvement that are more aligned with where I am right now? This is what I’m trying to find out. My laboratory is right here all around me.

  6. Yoko,

    I think that kind of brute-force discipline can be necessary at times, since the world can be a pretty brutal place, and it’s good to train to have it on hand when needed. However, I agree with you that it’s a formula for excess and the resultant burnout if you live your whole life according to it. I think of it as more of a survival strategy and not a way of life.

    I don’t think it’s possible to cultivate your energies and your self if you’re constantly at combat with yourself. I know a lot of people see discipline and progress as achieved through agony (in the ancient Greek sense of a combat), but I find that paradigm extremely unfruitful at best and downright harmful at most. People too often forget that cultivation requires a less glamorous form of discipline that is nonetheless discipline.


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