I’m retiring from aikido.
This has been a very difficult decision to make, and even now, it pains me to write it.
It’s been over a year since I wrote this post, and over two years since I had first felt dissatisfaction with my practice. With the exception of last December, when I took a month off, I’ve been practicing regularly.
Going to practice 2-3 times a week has been my routine for so long. There were days I had to force myself to go, but I had always found it to be worthwhile in the end. There were days when aikido got me through some really difficult times off the mat. It has been a very important part of my life.
The community means so much to me, and if I weren’t moving, I would muddle through at least one more test to stay with them. But I would have left after that, anyway. And now, since I’m moving, it gives me a clean break to just leave.
This is not to say, of course, that I couldn’t have established a bond with another dojo. And it’s not to say that I couldn’t continue to have ties to my community through the seasonal camps that are offered for my style of aikido, for the dojos throughout the world. But it just wouldn’t be the same.
Ten Feet’s comment from the March 2008 post sums it up for me, even more so than I had realized back then:
Another reason is that many MA schools start involving students with degrees in the administrative affairs of the school. Suddenly, the student has responsibilities such as teaching, etc. They are more responsible for their own progress–practicing on their own, taking the initiative to get together with fellow students to do some contact work, etc. Training can stall or plateau indefinitely, and some become discouraged and leave or take a break. Also, the bliss of considering yourself a beginner and receiving a lot of external motivation through your teachers is gone. You start worrying about where you “should be” instead of taking the beginner’s attitude of just rejoicing when you make any progress, you start getting anxious about making sure you’re “good enough” to be teaching others, whereas beginners feel less stress about the things that they have a harder time mastering.
Also, the degree-holding student is more involved with the hierarchy and power dynamics in the school. Now the student has responsibility, and that responsibility often includes acknowledging and deciding whether or not to confront any flaws in school organization and leadership. Sometimes, those flaws (all schools have them) become too discouraging, or students feel a severe conflict between their loyalty to the people who trained them and their need to address or confront the organization’s flaws, and they leave.
In retrospect, I think I was having severe doubts that I was capable of teaching, even though I had received plenty of advice, encouragement, and praise from fellow dojo members whom I trust. I have taught other disciplines before– I had taught private music lessons for almost ten years, with fifteen years of training– and never really felt comfortable teaching, even then. I think teaching is something that I feel obligated to do, and want to do well, but does not come naturally to me. And with aikido, this insecurity morphed into doubts of my abilities as an aikidoist, which was getting in the way of my practicing. Eliminating my teaching schedule did help, but it still didn’t alleviate the sense something was still missing within.
The higher I would go in rank, the more I would be persuaded to teach more classes, or to start my own dojo– and quite honestly, neither of them appeals to me. I wish I had the passion to create a new style, as Nicky did, but I don’t hear that calling.
As for the school’s flaws– suffice it to say that I became privy to more information than I had bargained for, and what I now know does not bode well for the organization in the long run. But in all sincerity, this does not factor as largely in my decision as my own personal feelings about my practice do.
I hope that what I have learned throughout my eight years of practice will stick with me. I continue to hold learning more about myself through somatic practice as a priority, and I’d like to find another discipline to learn, whether it be taiji or yoga or something else. And if there’s a strong community that I can relate to, all the better. I’m going to close this chapter on aikido and hold it close to my heart.