Polishing the mirror and grinding the stone

by Dennis Hooker

It is very difficult to understand the motives of all the people we come into contact with in our training. We may misjudge someone's character or desire. We may be so caught up in our own abilities we look down on those we do not know or understand. Mostly this is done out of inexperience, not true malice.

Let me relate this story to you: Several years ago I had undergone severe surgery related to a chronic illness. I had been put on a medicine called prednisone, which caused me to gain weight, 160 pounds to 210 pounds in two months. My body would not respond to normal commands. My mental state was severe depression. I was ready to give up life. My students, some older than I with greater life experience, understood the danger. They knew my Sensei was teaching a seminar several hundred miles away. They chipped in and got me a plane ticket. One stayed with me on the flight.

They got me to the city and to the dojo. Someone helped me get dressed and onto the mat. I listened and watched as Sensei taught. Several times young Aikidoka came up and asked me to train. I politely refused. Several times I heard. "Why is he on the mat. If he doesn't want to train he should get off the mat. Who does this guy think he is." By the end I could only smile at these remarks, because I knew why I was there and how much I had gained. I know there are others of you that have experienced similar situations. There have been many times over the years that this type of situation has occurred with me.

Compassion, love and understanding will serve us well. Especially if we don't know what is going on around us. We may unknowingly, at any time, be witness to a life and death struggle. A kind word, tolerance, a gentle touch and the strength of our compassion may be the aspects of martial valor that are the key to someone's victory.

Some of us, given our physical condition, must train, metaphorically speaking, in the valley, or on the mountain. We are very seldom allowed the luxury of a plateau. When in the valley we seek to polish the mirror, and when on the mountain we grind the stone. In the valley we may lack the physical attributes necessary for vigorous training as defined by the "normal" martial artist. When we are in the valley, we are at a physical low point. At this time we polish the mirror of our inner self. A teacher being aware of the situation may structure the class so as to give necessary training to all students.

For instance, much detail may given to the attack so it is as physically correct as we are capable of doing. Good body posture and extension of energy and a solid foundation with a firm center are some of the things we are looking for, in our self, and those people assisting us in the learning process. The same thing applies to the technique being studied. A good deal of emphasis is placed on correctness and going only as fast as correctness, and physical ability, will allow. By doing attack and defense in this manner we can learn the proper technique. We can begin to polish the mirror of Aikido within our self. We work on the exactness of the technique until the realness of the technique is reflected in our heart and body, in our movement, and in the ability to harmonize with our partners. By polishing the mirror in such a way we become a reflection of proper technique, both as uke and nage. By being a good reflection of exact application we eliminate much of the danger involved with each technique. That is, we reflect the innate correctness of Aikido. I have often seen Sensei teach technique in such a way, in regular class and at seminars. I have often heard the young lions growl at such unrealistic training. I have seen some of the old warriors light up at being given the opportunity to polish the mirror a little more. This type of training has seen some of us through many a valley. It helps develop and prepare the body, mind and spirit for the ascent back up the mountain.

Back on the mountain we are now ready to begin the process of grinding the stone. Grinding away the rough edges of our ego that sits like a jagged stone at the center of our being, causing pain and discomfort to our life. Grinding the stone means to work hard and fast with our mind fixed on the task at hand. We can grind the stone in relative safety, providing we have spent sufficient time in polishing the mirror. As uke and nage we work together grinding off the rough edges. I give myself to you, and you give your self to me in total trust. I assist you in the grinding and polishing process. In turn, you assist me, and when we are finished we are smoother, happier and better for the effort. We continue to practice polishing the mirror and grinding the stone until the mirror of our spirit is a perfect reflection of true self and the surface of the stone is as smooth as the mirror. We are in harmony with ourselves and our environment.

So don't be upset if the techniques are hard and fast, or slow and exact. We should not be upset if we do not understand why techniques don't look like those we have become comfortable with. We should not be upset with other students whose motives we do not fully understand. But we should ask ourselves where does the true value lie in this training, because there is value in all training.

This is my way of training and it has been a process of necessity with me. It was a long time ago that Sensei taught me to take advantage of the valleys. When we are physically unable to grind the stone we must polish the mirror. We must work on those things spiritual and reflect proper and positive attitude. By doing this we will also be helping the physical side of our being grow. By polishing the mirror and working on those things spiritual we will find the physical growing stronger. As the physical side grows we can grind the stone.

Some people that have a great deal of physical prowess only grind the stone. They forget to polish the mirror, or just don't see the value of it. Others only polish the mirror, and see no value in grinding the stone. I say polish and grind for all your worth because you may lose the physical ability to grind, or the spiritual patience to polish.

I once asked an Aikido Teacher (who I considered to be strictly a stone grinder) why he did not work with people less than physically correct. His answer was that he was not a salvage worker. He took good people and made them better. I don't know when or why he changed but now his life's work is salvaging people who are outcast of society, and some quite dangerous.

If you have people come into your dojo or club who have some type of physical malady, please do not expect them to be less able than the other students. You may find that they do indeed have a good deal of strength and spirit. I have had students missing limbs, and students with various illnesses. They may be able to learn only a few techniques, but they understand the value of what they have learned. They can grasp the concept of polishing the mirror and grinding the stone, and they know when to do each. I have a friend who is an accomplished Karate teacher. He has an artificial ankle and steel rods where bone used to be in his leg. His knees are scarred from surgery. When I see him come to Aikido class and sit in seiza I know he has paid a price much dearer than that paid by most on the mat. Wearing a white belt and humble soul he comes to polish the mirror. He, like many we find on the Aikido mat today, spent his younger life grinding the stone. I would caution the young lions who show little tolerance for those who train differently. You may have a warrior standing before you. Compassion, love and understanding will serve you well.

O Sensei discovered Aikido for all of us, not just those of us who are physically correct.