In a training rut

by Rocky Izumi

(This was writen as a response to someone who felt that he didn't have any progression in his practice anymore.)

It sounds like you have the proverbial brick wall. Congratulations!

I don't mean that facetiously either. There are many ways of learning and hitting the brick wall is one of them. Our minds are like filing rooms. When we are neonates, our close to blank slates are bombarded with stimuli which we need to categorize to make any sense of them. Probably as babies, we categorize initially in terms of make comfortable and make uncomfortable. We begin to be bombarded with other stimuli and we begin to be able to differentiate other stimuli which do not fit into our filing system of comfortable versus uncomfortable. So we throw them on to the floor or the top of the filing cabinets for later filing. Sooner or later, the room becomes so messy that we just can't function. We then must do something about the unclassified files. If we think linearly, then we are always reclassifying and simply adding further dimensions to the initial two filing rules of like (comfortable) and dislike (uncomfortable). The brick wall happens when we leave this linear track and decide that further expansion of the initial two categories will not be able sufficiently deal with our newly expanding world.

It is at this point that we must seek enlightenment--a full recategorization of our thinking patterns--we come up with a completely new filing system for all of the stimuli that we previously encountered. In other words, before we can have enlightenment, we must have total confusion which forces us into a state in which repatterning our minds and experiences becomes essential. This state of confusion, frustration, sparks of insight that just as quickly disappear is the brick wall. Hopefully, everyone who does any MA will hit one of these brick walls (if not a whole bunch!) since this is the path to enlightenment. Attempting to reach this state of total confusion is the purpose of meditating on the Zen koans. Out of the minds pyre of confusion purpose of meditating on the Zen koans. Out of the mind's ps pyre of confusion purpose of meditating on the Zen koans. Out of the mind's pyre of confusion arises the phoenix of the enlightened mind.

These brick walls can be very dangerous since in our confused state, we often make mistakes that we normally do not. It is also dangerous in that we can give up trying to break through and thereby give up on our enlightenment. I have seen many people give up aikido when they finally hit this brick wall and do not have the determination and patience to break through, go around, or go over/under. Going around the brick wall can also be a danger since it can result in the individual moving off of the track that they first decided to tread and end up in another place. Some roshi have described this as being distracted by evil spirits when the track ends up in dark places. Other people have given up on themselves when they gave up trying to get through the brick wall. Others use up so much energy trying to break through that they totally ignore the other important things in their life or they end up having not enough energy for anything else -- they become obsessed with breaking through. Others, having finally broken through, decide that they have done enough for one lifetime and give up on aikido since they are now enlightened and no longer have to strive for further enlightenment (too bad--it never really ends you know).

All of these dangers, with only a never-ending road as the reward. Aikido can be a rough road to travel if you don't watch out.

Another problem with the brick wall is that while you can force the brick wall to appear through the use of Zen koans or aikido movements, getting through cannot be forced! It is something that has to click inside of you. Your mind has to come up with its own new system of patterning ideas or physical movements--a whole new algorithm of pattern recognition. It is said that sometimes seeing everything done differently can help to spark that enlightenment--perhaps your new chief instructor will be able to do that for you--isn't that why you are really looking forward to the new chief instructor? Another traditional way of achieving this enlightenment is by going off alone into the wilderness to meditate upon a mountaintop--isolating yourself. Another traditional way of achieving this enlightenment is to enter into the repetitive day-to-day humdrum events and to make that your entire world--as in the tea ceremony or repetitive practice of kihonwaza.

From my experience, a new chief instructor has been the least effective way of achieving enlightenment. In fact, it has been the repetitive practice of kihonwaza that has been the most effective for me--iriminage and ikkyo, and ukemi. In fact, it is through this method that I achieved my latest enlightenment--that I not only understood it in my mind but am able to translate it into my body and action as part of my being--that all of the aikido techniques are nothing but joining and doing ukemi without falling. Thus ukemi is the most fundamental part of aikido. And ukemi is really nothing more than furikaburi done while the body is rotating in a circle. And that furikaburi is nothing more than walking. And walking is nothing more than naturally getting your body to where you want to go. So, in the end, aikido is nothing but going where you want to go, naturally. I am just beginning to be able to turn this into action and am having great fun trying to practice this new enlightenment.

Taking this enlightenment and remembering what my other teachers said to me, I am, interestingly, putting new meanings to what they said. Their utterings have much more meaning for me now that I understand what they said in light of this new understanding. The greatest difficulty for me now is to make this into a reality whenever I do any MA. I still find myself trying to do aikido techniques that I learned in the old way. These old habits are difficult to break and reformat.

So, with all that, congratulations again. You are about to hit new heights in your aikido if I interpret your situation correctly. You are to be envied by those of us who are still far away from our next enlightenment. These flashes of insight can be a great hoot! It's like doing a chemical cocktail without all the sideeffects!

Keep practicing and have fun.