Recently, especially with the work of translating Endo sensei’s writings, I’ve been thinking about the difference between “one’s aikido” and “one’s keiko”. Is the difference of substance or not?
A while ago, a friend commented to me that a problem with many American aikido teachers was that they confused regular, everyday practice teaching with seminar teaching. They would go to a seminar by their shihan, experience this condensed period of ideas, explanations, theories, and principles, and walk away from that thinking that that’s what they should be doing on a usual, everyday basis. This is in contrast with everyday keiko being a continuum that you’re usually a part of and always returning to, with something like a seminar or other inspirational, eye-opening experience being the exception.
As for the semantic and practical difference between “one’s aikido” and “one’s keiko”, I think “one’s aikido” refers to the finished product. It’s what only that individual can do. It’s what manifests when that individual isn’t thinking, does spontaneously, or else does when they need to act outside of whatever frame or “box” they’re familiar with. It’s also what can be expressed when that individual chooses to act outside of the “box”. For aikido teaching, we see it when the instructor shows what some principle “really” looks like.
I can certainly understand the urge to speak on the “why” of our practice, that is, the point of doing all the repetitive, unglamorous practice. The grass is always greener on the other side, as they say. When you see everyone around you operating on a “low” level and you feel you’ve touched the “higher” levels, you understandably want to share what it’s like to have your eyes opened. Which leads to the most obvious way of expressing the “higher” levels, or the point of practicing: showing the results of practice. The difficult balance here, relative to practicing as well as this inspirationally-oriented teaching, is between getting lost in the mundane practice, possibly reframing it as glamorous or abandoning the concept of results altogether, and getting lost in realizing the result, likely dismissing the relevance of mundane practice.
At this point I think it’s very easy to become addicted and habituated to the inspirational side. Instead of serving as an occasional reminder or wake-up call, it just becomes entertainment. It can even be a self-gratifying illusion if a person thinks he is actually doing it on a regular basis. The only way to keep the illusory aspect in check is to continually test yourself, which most normal people don’t and can’t do owing to the limited pool of practice partners they access.
How to practice in a developmentally beneficial way, then? I think you have to straddle the beauty and depth of the mundane and of the spectacular and novel. The nature of the struggle of this straddling is inevitably personal. How much of the wake-up call do you need for it to be beneficial, and how much of the mundane? Every person must be continually mindful of this. Every person needs to be continually mindful of being lulled into complacency by the comfort of the familiar, even/especially when it’s a familiar struggle, trial, effort, etc. – in this case, the effort of forging oneself in mundane practice.
Within the usual, mundane practice, you need to constantly wonder, speculate, doubt, and test yourself – are you able to do other things? Are you free to do other things? Are you in the here and now without being trapped in it? or trapped in an effort to be in the here and now? Regarding testing, specifically: do you need to do it often? Do you try other actions, other variations? How much? At this point, I think the need to test, whether like this, internally, or externally, such as by putting oneself in unfamiliar situations, when done properly, is something you need less and less to calibrate whether you’re on the right track.
The situation of aikido demonstrations brings up a conundrum: do you try to show something spontaneous – a double-bind – or do you show what you do usually and possibly presume something individual and spontaneous “leaks” out? For someone who often thinks outside of the box and consequently has many ideas of that kind, then perhaps it’s easy to do the former – it requires less trying. The problem might be for such a person who doesn’t have the ability to match their ideas – in this case, it may look artificial and the audience needs to do some work speculating or figuring out what the person is trying to show. Conversely, a person whose ability at doing “inside the box” material is low may look stilted when they try to demonstrate the same. That person who is operating usually “inside the box” and their ability is high, their demonstration of “inside the box” material is inevitably going to appear, at first glance, typical and usual – extremely boring, even. What’s interesting to me personally is when something unexpected happens, such as an accidental stumble by the person’s partner – the person’s response to this is very revealing of their capacity.
Addiction, or dependence, as touched on above is interesting. Are you addicted to getting external inspiration? Are you addicted to testing and calibrating using external reference points? internal reference points? Are you addicted, or attached, to seeing yourself as free of needing the fancy and spectacular? We humans are frequently finding things to be dependent upon. Even what we consider to be internal reference points are artificial, non-here-and-now constructs. The struggle to be oneself, to see inwardly, while still being in contact with and engaged with the external environment is the bigger task. (And I’ve heard, it’s not really a task at all, because we’re really not separate from the external environment – it’s only an issue when we do this “turning inward” and perceive some separation.)