It isn’t news to many people that I am currently taking a sabbatical from Aikido, but I thought it might help to have my reasons why in one place. It also helps to get feedback from other ninjas who might read this blog.
At the end of 2011 I sent my two Aikido Sensei an email explaining why I wouldn’t be returning to Wits Aikido in the new year. I am happy with my decision, as I was not enjoying my training and I have my disagreements with the federation and the way it is run. It is always difficult to leave some things behind, but I was able to do so because I know that there will always be another dojo and another opportunity to train again. In my endless narcissism, this was also my protest against the general mindset in AFSA. No one will likely pay attention, but I also could no longer bring myself to be affiliated with a federation that did not make me proud. The politics started at the upper levels and impacted the rest of us in terms of bullshit grading rules and favouritism. I sat in enough bloody AGMs to see it. It is unfair and unfortunate, but that’s just how things were going. And I will willingly admit that the federation can only improve as long as the good ninjas stay, but I’m also so tired of how chauvenism and general rudeness is tolerated on the mats. And the fact that there’s always no money is a bit suspicious. I have enjoyed learning with Sensei Jawaid and Sensei Umesh, as well as black belts Daniel and Phil, but there are other factors behind my departure I’d rather not go into here.
So, promising myself that I would return to Aikido at a better time, I have decided to focus purely on Goju Ryu. Anyone who has trained with me knows that I’ve always been better at Aikido despite the fact that I’ve been stuck at pitiful 4th kyu for 4 years for a variety of reasons. Now after a month of only doing Goju Ryu, I can already see a change not only in my movement, but in my mindset.
I have tried, for most of my life, to be a Jane of all trades. So I have been for many years the organiser (despite being inherently disorganised), an aspiring artist, a baker, a masterchef, an Aikido-ka, a Karate-ka, a violinist, a writer and leader. And then I left university and realised that I didn’t actually have to do all that shit for approval. I actually hate cooking, but I used to do it because other people liked my food. The same goes for baking, but I still enjoy that on occasion. I ended up running dojo admin for4 years and to this day I still can’t file anything or have a useful system of any kind. The best I managed was keeping club receipts in a grubby envelope. I used to draw and try and get better at it, but fuck it. Violin fell away because lessons are expensive and I hadn’t learned enough to practice effectively by myself. But when I found that I could be dedicated to martial arts and writing, suddenly I had more time. I had less stress. And even when I was doing two arts, it was manageable because I did not have as many distractions. I don’t have internet or a TV at home. It frees up four extra hours a day at least, so its not that I never have time to be a great writer or ninja. I don’t have kids and most of my friends are busy most of the time. If I choose to, I can write five or six thousand words a night, or do some supplementary training. Having a martial artist for a partner does make it much easier, since he won’t be perturbed by strange flailing.
Now that my time and energy is divided between writing, reading and karate, I find that I can actually make improvements at a noticable rate. Sensei Mary never told me to stop cross-training, but she was right when it said it would slow my progress to a crawl. I also believe that where passion leads, opportunity will follow; my current job is the best proof of this. Ideally I’d like to one day train by day and write a martial arts encyclopedia by night, but that’s something that I’ll need to work towards for a few years more. (And preferably win the lotto.)
I still miss Aikido. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about it. Every time I sit in seiza or walk past my jo and bokken in my flat, I think about it. I remember the times I felt weightless and graceful and strong at that perfect apex of a throw. But this is part of the process I feel I need to go through right now. I feel like I’ve let Denzil-Sensei down, but I think he would understand. And I know I will do Aikido again one day, but perhaps it will help to focus on the next Goju Ryu belt first. After that, I can start shopping around for a new dojo with another federation. Also, money is tight this year and I’m not sure I can afford another set of fees. I know a few people who have taken breaks in their training and it has done them good. Goju Ryu has become a large part of my life, not just because of the art but because when I go to the dojo it feels like going home. The other NKA ninjas make me laugh and they encourage me to do better. No one teases me or makes me feel small or hurts me. That counts for a lot in my book, especially when I thrive when encouraged. I didn’t really feel that way in the Wits Dojo, and that isn’t the dojo’s fault. That’s just the identity it grew into. Every dojo is different, after all. I tried for two years and it didn’t work for me. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the art, and that I didn’t learn anything; it just wasn’t a good fit.
Anyway, before I ramble off in another direction; I love Aikido, and I hope to return to it before the year is out. But I have also learned a great deal about myself in the meantime, and the big step it took to stop doing something I loved was worth it.