Light bulb moments

Hiroshi Kato Sensei

Doesn't everyone who went to college have at least one professor who stood out from the rest? Someone you really identified with, who inspired you, challenged you, and at the time, you even wanted to be like them someday?

Well, maybe not everyone. I did, though. In the graphic design department at the University of Central Oklahoma, it was Dr. Jim Watson. The guy is crazy, but wonderfully so. You either hated him, or you idolized him (there were more of the latter than the former, but the former shouldn't have been in the program anyway, which I believe was the point). I could write post for months about him.

Anyway, he always used to describe the point at which the "idea" for a design becomes clear as a "light bulb moment". Now, obviously, he's not the first one to coin the term, but he was the first one to give it meaning. I always thought it meant you got an idea or something simple like that. In fact, it means much more than that. It's an awakening, the light coming on and now everything is visible. You struggle with a design and work to find the best solution. At some point, sometimes early on, sometimes after a lot of work, something magical happens. The answer reveals itself, the planets align, the universe sings, etc, etc.

That happens, it seems, a lot in life, in various practices and arts. Sometimes, I've noticed it takes being exposed to the same truth a couple of times before "the clouds part and the light is shed upon my understanding."

So what's my latest epiphany, you wonder? I'm coming to realize just how personal our training is, or should be.

The other day, I posted an email letter from a BJJ instructor whose newsletter I subscribe to about taking responsibility for your own training. Oddly enough, it didn't talk about anything that I wasn't already doing myself, but I always thought I was just, I don't know, overly obsessed with budo, or something.

But then there's this quote I came across this morning from Hiroshi Kato Sensei: "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one’s own choice."

Yes, you need a qualified instructor to show you the way, and in many instances (though not all) you need a partner with him to train (hard to learn to throw a guy with a guy to throw), but ultimately, no one can put the knowledge or skill inside your hand and in your hands. It's all you, baby. You get out of it what you put into it, you reap what you sow, the greater the investment the greater the return, and so on.

What amazes me still more is how many people I see haven't taken their training that far. They show up to class, do what they're told, and then leave. I'm not sure how much they think about budo outside of the dojo walls. It's as if they hope that just by showing up, they'll absorb it all like a sponge and be able to do what the masters do someday.

Now, I also realize that there can be and are various degrees of interest in budo, and that's okay. If it's only a "nice way to spend an evening" kind of casual hobby, great, good for you. My only concern is what people expect from that kind of training. Do you think making a few hours of class a week is going to make you some sort of invulnerable bad-ass "on the street"? I spend a lot of time on this stuff, and I still don't think I'm anything close to a bad-ass yet!

But even if you're looking for something else outside of self-defense, what are you getting out of it from just showing up? Is it the health aspect? The philosophical aspect? Sorry, but benefitting in those areas takes some homework and study hall time, too.

More on Kato Sensei: "In his early years, he often used to practice weapons by himself through the night, greet sunrise the next morning, and then go to work again. Before every class, Kato Sensei has the practice of coming early to the dojo to meditate. Since he was young, he visits mountain shrines and stays up all night practicing weapons and meditating."

Of course, I don't expect anyone to go those extremes exactly. Heck, even I don't go that far. But at the same time, I'm also feeling the need to do more. Much more. To push myself further, to intensify things, to increase my "investment".

Meaning while, I look at my peers and wonder why they don't follow along. I see a young man you has promise, good ukemi. But he seems to prefer sitting when it comes time for lessons, or groaning when it's his turn to take a fall. It's kind of sad to think where he could be.

In the end, I can't worry about anyone, either. Just me.