I had heard a lot about Nakayama and of course I wanted to make a good impression by doing the techniques well. However, the first day I felt that I was doing everything except for ukemi (the art of falling safely) terribly. The seminar lasted three days, and the first day -- Friday -- I went home a bit frustrated.
The next morning, I wasn't doing much better, so I decided I needed to change my attitude. I was looking at this all wrong. It was a good thing that I felt incompetent in nearly everything we were doing; it showed that I was learning about areas that I was weak in. Instead of trying to get away from the discomfort, I needed to go deeper into it and relish the opportunity to learn so much. You never improve by just going through the motions and doing what you are good at over and over.
So, I smiled and let myself be bubbly like I was when I was in Germany surrounded by black belts, unable to tell the difference between forward and backward, but constantly learning from them with joy. That decision transformed my experience of the seminar and allowed me to bring energy, life, and my signature sassiness to the mat. It turns out the Nakayama is also very sassy, so when I started by myself we got along wonderfully, which ensured that although I was just a yellow belt from the middle of Kansas, he would remember me and keep an eye out for me at the next national instructor's seminar. It also allowed me to be grateful for all the lessons I was learning from a master of his craft instead of feeling sullen that I was doing poorly.
The next seminar was with Bieszk Sensei and Casey Sensei, both of whom are from Chicago. This seminar was completely different, and I felt fairly competent at most of the techniques they were teaching. I quickly realized something: I missed being terrible and struggling to execute the techniques. What I was being taught at this seminar was good, but familiar territory, and I walked away from it having had fun, but not changing my principle understanding of aikido techniques and movement.
Once again, I brought my energy and sassiness, and once again the instructors noticed it. Bieszk told me "You definitely bring a unique energy to the mats that I can't say I've ever seen before, but it's good. It shows that you are able to do aikido while keeping your personality."
In the last month I have learned so much about aikido, but even more about learning. Learning is messy and uncomfortable, but if you approach it with joy and the sincere wish to learn, you stand out more than if you executed everything perfectly. People are used to seeing things done well but they are not used to seeing the excitement that learning and failure brings. That is more impressive and useful than any correctly done iriminage.
Nakayama Sensei told us that our dojo was one of the best in the country, and he's been to a lot of dojos. He also told us that he doesn't give compliments unless he really means them. He told Brandon, my sensei, that he's not really sure what it is about this dojo, but something is working. I think I know what it is. We all enjoy practicing with one another and we are not afraid to be goofy while one the mat and still learning; I think that little sparkle of joy is the magic dust that makes our dojo such a wonderful place to be.
Feeling good about feeling stupid,