It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought, that if you become a teacher, by your pupils you'll be taught.
-- Getting to Know You, The King and I
I love the truth of this song from The King and I. I always learn more from my students and from the people I coach than I impart. Yes, I'm the instructor. I share concepts, tools, skills, and experiences from Aikido. It's the student, however, who is the expert in their life. Only they have the wisdom and ability to implement what they're learning. They understand the difficulty of their conflict in ways I cannot, and how what they're experiencing on the mat might apply in their everyday life (or not).
Recently I was privileged to work with college students whose professor assigned them the task of journaling about their experience on the mat after the class was over (we were fortunate to have real mats and practice physical Aikido).
As I read through their journal entries, I knew what my next post would be. I hope you learn as much from the writing of these young people as I did. Names have been changed. Sentiments are real.
To the students:
Thank you. I'm very grateful for my experience on the mat that day, and for your willingness to share your gifts with me.
This morning, I consciously practiced starting my day centered—I breathed deeply to feel the ki through my nose, head, and deep into my abdomen, feeling the stream of energy flow through my fingers, just like our unbendable arm exercise. It is beyond rewarding to see how a simple conviction of intention can allow me to extend my ki and set me on the right track throughout the day.
In the traditional language of conflict, we are often taught that there is a victor and a loser, and that the victor wins by overpowering the other side and asserting their desired outcome. But Aikido introduces a new narrative that resolves conflict through observation and collaboration. Two opposing sides can work together, joining their energies to produce a mutually beneficial outcome and learning from the experience.
My roommates never wash their dishes, and they leave food and crumbs out. This is always the first thing I see in the morning and often frustrates me, because I end up cleaning up after them. The past two days, after I woke up instead of walking straight into the kitchen, I've been staying in my room and taking some deep breaths to prepare myself to see the mess that usually causes me stress.
I anticipate having a conversation with them about this, and using what I’ve learned from Aikido this is how I think I would approach it. I'll start by making sure I'm calm and not giving off negative or frustrated ki. Then I will ask them how they feel about the state of our house. Maybe we have different standards on what is clean, so I think I should address that. After I hear about how they feel, I will tell them what was usually expected of me and how that resulted in how I act.
We can try to redirect and find a middle ground with regards to putting things away and the cleanliness of the house. I know that my preferred outcome is having everyone clean up after themselves in a timely manner, but I acknowledge that there will need to be compromise for both of us to get through the uncomfortable situation.
I have many interactions with pharmacists. My physician and I are testing a series of new and different medications. Due to insurance company barriers and sometimes poor communication, I have on occasion caused poor pharmacists a lot of grief.
Recently I had a prescription pick-up, and the technician was not pleased to see me at the last hour on a Friday afternoon. The new medication was costly, and it was difficult to get insurance coverage, so my doctor was kind enough to use college funds to cover a month’s test supply.
When I arrived at the counter, the technician started the process of authorizing the new medication, but when it came to the payment, which was supposed to cost me nothing, the computer system said the full $400 was due. I started panicking--I wasn’t supposed to be charged. The technician was affected by my contracting ki, and asked if paying would be an issue.
I paused to re-center and took some deep breaths to calm down and try to figure out what to do. I knew I would have to advocate for myself, and I calmly stated my doctor had told me the test prescription would be no cost to me. The technician, not budging, told me the system didn’t show any such authorization.
I felt attacked, belittled, and angry, and was about to start demanding there must be a glitch in her system. However, instead I proceeded to ask whether it would be all right to make a few calls and come back in a few minutes to give both myself and the technician some space to try and spare a confrontation.
Instead of blaming the technician for getting charged, I called my doctor and quickly explained the situation. She realized she'd forgotten to sign the necessary form. She apologized, filled out another form, sent it through, told me to wait ten minutes and check with the pharmacist again.
Meanwhile, I heavily leaned on advocacy and acknowledgement. Patiently, I approached the pharmacist with a smile and said, “so sorry to have you go through the process once more, but my doctor realized she made an error. It should now be resolved so that I can complete the transaction.” Though the technician was skeptical, she seemed to recognize my genuineness and thankfulness for her cooperation and started ringing me up again. She was shocked when this time the total was 0, but she seemed more relieved at the prospect that I would be able to leave, and we finished the transaction and went our separate ways.
This situation could’ve been a lot messier. Anything that involves money seems to instill the most stress in me, but thanks to strategies and mindsets I learned through Aikido, I was able to stay centered with less effort (I was an effective unbendable arm!) and successfully advocated for myself despite wanting to simply apologize and run away as fast as possible.
What are your take-aways from the students journal entries? Can you think of a recent situation that didn't go well, one where you might have centered yourself instead of reacting? No self-judgement, please, just learning.
Where might you have caught yourself in that situation, like Jordan did, and stopped for a moment to breathe, center, and extend your ki in a purposeful way? Taking a moment of mental and emotional reflection after a difficult moment is one way I practice everyday Aikido, so that the next time I'll be more likely to choose the centered approach. And I guarantee there will be a next time. You (and I) will have many more opportunities to practice.