In the early days of running a full time Aikido dojo (Japanese for training hall), I encountered some challenges with teaching children. I had no experience teaching Aikido to youth, but I felt it was important to provide a space where families could practice together if they wanted to.
Although the idea of a family oriented dojo appealed to me, I was seriously considering dropping the youth program because it was too demanding on my psyche to deal with children. During a conversation with one of my mentors about teaching youth, he asked me if I were as happy teaching kids as I was teaching adults, would I do it. After a bit of reflection I couldn’t say no.
Without knowing how to teach these little ‘monsters’ and having been struggling up to this point, I decided to go for it. This simple commitment changed everything.
Two weeks after I had genuinely made the commitment to teach Aikido to children I found myself in the middle of the mat, with a dozen kids running like crazy everywhere. This was not an uncommon experience, but what happened next was new to me.
I found myself observing them and everything slowed down. There was nothing else, just me observing a bunch of kids doing what kids do.
I felt free from the grip of the usual chaos and delighted in the lightness I experienced. I felt calm and relaxed and the children appeared to me as bundles of joy and energy.
Shortly after that experience, I made a lot of changes to the youth program that felt not only more natural to me, but also acknowledged my ‘aiki-juniors’ with their own unique presence.
Over time I was able to build a strong connection with the children, allowing me to challenge them more. It was a win-win situation for all, true to the wisdom of Aikido.
The impact of the event that day on the mat left me with the knowledge that I don’t have to control the situation and that it is safe to trust events will turn out fine without me interfering. I refer to this knowledge as ‘Ren’.
I intuitively know that I can’t lose ‘Ren’, and I have found that practices like natural breathing, somatic movements, and a state of wonder help facilitate ‘Ren’ to arise.
I am curious to find out if you can relate to my story and if you have a similar experience. And if so, how do you know your ‘Ren’? What brings it out for you? How does it serve you?
Last week my girlfriend and I attended a Systema Russian Martial Art seminar. We learned some simple breathing exercises and developed skills that allowed us to be calm and relaxed under stress.
At one point during the seminar the teacher stabbed me with a training knife. In my Aikido training and teaching we sometimes work with practice knives, but physical contact with the knife on the body in Aikido is rare.
The four stabs I received were quick and very powerful and felt like a heavy punch with a bite to it. The knife even cut the skin and left some bruises and I was aware of some fear.
Because of the work we had done all morning, I was more in touch with my body and breath. Even though the stabs were extremely intense, I was surprised to see that the attacks hardly disturbed me. I just moved, continuing my breathing and being aware. The exercise left me feeling more confident, energized, and inspired about what I had just learned: “Being able to handle ‘stress’ with skill.”
Most of us don’t have to deal with ‘knife stabs to the body’, but to me they represent the challenges we face in our day-to-day life. Critical feedback, monthly bills, and the tons of emails we receive on a regular basis, can stab at us with unforgiving power.
This martial experience confirmed my belief that through proper breathing anyone can be more empowered and inspired to deal with the challenges they face.
There is an old Chinese proverb ”Running water never goes stale” and it points to how life can be experienced as an effortless stream of changes.
We often get stuck and are attached to our ideas and beliefs about how life should be, which creates a tremendous amount of suffering. We can experience this condition in our bodies as tension and in our psyches as fear.
By paying attention to our breath in every moment and learning how to continue to breathe when the stakes go up, we make it possible for our minds to be calm and our bodies to be relaxed. And this sets the ground for being more skillful in our actions.