Some people are so impressed with themselves that they don’t ever change and grow. I’m sure we all know these people who are, a lot of times, big fish in a small pond type people and who are very comfortable in their surroundings. It’s the bully at school, the biggest guy at the local bar, the know-it-all jackass at work, the “darkest” artist at the coffeeshop, the “holiest” person at church, and the list goes on… you get the idea. In their most comfortable environment, these people may be very intimidating and hard to get close to. A lower part of ourselves is so easily drawn to their aura if we’re not watching, and we sometimes do things that are very self-defeating in order to get in their circle. After a while it may work. We’ve made it! We can actually talk with this person, and even though they’re complete asses, it’s cool. Hey, they wouldn’t be as cool as they are if they weren’t like that, and it’s worth taking some psychological (in some cases, physical) abuse just to be in their circle. Until the day we notice (usually after being away for some time) how sad and limited their situation really is. We might move away for a few years, experience life at different venues, come back, and… they’re still there. They may have tried to move away, but “That place just sucked,” they may tell us. But we realize that their circle of minions didn’t move with them. Without their circle, they were scared. Scared to open up with different people and create new relationships. Scared because their tactics may not have worked with these strangers in another place. Going home at night and not knowing who they are without their crew.
Keep in mind that in the above statement, I’m talking about the very extreme cases of these types. You may have known a few of them throughout your life. Take this type a few notches down, and we see people who are not as obnoxious, but still limited by their self-aggrandizement in a lot of ways. I think a lot of us fall into this trap at different times. We find something we’re good at, or a place we’re comfortable in, and we obtain an inflated sense of self during said activity. We get addicted to it. We get comfortable. The ego games then start. Maybe another person starts coming to that place who we think is better than us, and we immediately start comparing. The lizard brain speaks first and loudest, and the survival instincts start kicking in. “Geez, I have to step up my game to maintain my level of respect here,” or,”I can’t get too friendly with this person or they’ll take it as weakness,” or we start gossiping about this person to our close friends and build allies. It’s ridiculous! It can happen anywhere, at work, at home, at the family’s house during the holidays, family reunions, at the gym, etc. Anywhere we frequent kind of a lot and have the potential to socialize with others can be a place where we can fall into this trap. It can happen on many levels from being just a little too comfortable and stuck in your ways, to being completely obnoxious.
Yes folks, I hate to tell you, the Aikido world, surprisingly, has several of these people in its population. Think about it, it’s the perfect environment for it. Usually, people who train Aikido are quite reasonable and somewhat friendly and because it’s a non-competitive art, these people aren’t easily challenged. It takes a good sensei to keep the environment clean of this kind of attitude, and is probably one of their biggest challenges. The more extreme cases usually train in one dojo forever, and are usually seen in their popularity bubble training with people (mainly kohei) who have always been impressed by them, and even if they aren’t anymore, they have to act like it or else they think it may damage the relationship and be very uncomfortable at said dojo. This may work fine for some for a while, but if this power is abused, dojo-cred goes down and they start losing respectable training partners. The dynamics of the dojo are very interesting and kind of resemble the marketplace. If you hurt someone once, it may be an accident. If you gain a reputation of hurting people, people will begin not wanting to train with you.
Again, the above description fits the more extreme advocates of this. Personally, I’ve been guilty at times of training with the same people for too long. It’s really cool to train with someone we really get along with, but the light really hits our technique when training at another dojo or seminar. It’s a very uncomfortable situation, especially if their style of Aikido is different than ours. It’s so easy to get angry at these people who may feel like they’re resisting our technique or blocking us out. Is this the case, or is it just that our friends in our home dojo are just taking courtesy falls for us in order to keep the peace?
Let me be clear and say that there’s nothing wrong with having friends in the dojo and having certain people who we’re comfortable training with. There’s also no reason to always try to obnoxiously resist our partner’s technique to challenge them. I’m just suggesting that we keep our training honest. Humility in training is very important. We should never feel like we’re the best, most powerful aikidoist on the mat. Every interaction should come from a place of mutual respect and experimentation with growth of both, or all, parties being the goal. If we go to the dojo to train with a few of our buddies because we get an ego high from it, pretty soon, those buddies will be gone and our aikido will be crap, especially when visiting another dojo. I experienced this in the beginning of my training. Being young and kind of athletic, I felt like I was really getting the hang of this thing, and then I went to a Saito sensei seminar, and was smacked upside the head with a reality check.
When at work, try getting out of your area and help other departments out a little. Have lunch with different people, connect with those who it’s not comfortable to do so. At the family reunion, try talking with the drunk, obnoxious husband of your second cousin you’ve never seen. Have fun with it. Ignore the lower part of ourselves that is scared to do so. Recognize it, set it aside, and connect with that person. This is one of my personal goals to do this more often. I was a painfully shy kid, and am still that way in a lot of environments. All that is fear, not humility. True humility is being able to connect and experience.
In the dojo, we should maintain humility and always look to grow mutually with our training partners. Reconnect with them every day and feel that every time we train is the first time.