Doing what doesn't come natural
Like most Americans, I took my son to watch fireworks this last 4th of July. He's four, and it was his first time to see fireworks live and in person. Outside of the mugginess and the residual heat, we had a pretty good time.
Until it came time to leave.
As you might expect, or as you might have experienced yourself, when the show was over, everyone wanted to leave at the exact same time. Which makes for quite a traffic jam. In my case, the fireworks were held on the north side of town, which meant that everyone also wanted to head south.
We sat in the parking lot without moving an inch for about 20 minutes. That's an eternity to a tired 4 year old. Even when things did start to crawl, it still would've taken another hour to get anywhere.
Finally, I decided to try something. Instead of pushing relentless down the two main streets that everyone else was going down, I decided to drive north. No one was headed that way, so I had the roads to myself. I drove up a block, went east for a bit, then went south again on a parallel road that was largely empty. In the end, I probably got home a lot faster than everyone who insisted on driving south because that's where they wanted to go.
Along the same line, I'm also somewhat puzzled by parents at the playground who don't allow their children to climb up a slide. On the face of it, I can understand their concern: if your kid is climbing up, and another child starts sliding down, then there's a chance your kid could get hurt. As is true in much of polite society, the "rules are there for your protection."
But at the same time, I want my son to be able to think creatively. So many people get stuck in ruts, in a singular line of thinking, that even when safety isn't even an issue (such as with the 4th of July example), they simply can't think of a new way to approach a problem. By golly, that square peg will fit into that blasted round hole!
As for the slide, I tell my son that he can climb up, but he has to keep an eye out for any kids who want to come down. If there is, then he has to turn around and slide back down. Most of the time, the playground just isn't that crowded anyway. I also remember, when I was a kid, the point where I discovered I could climb onto the jungle gym on the outside, rather than take the steps built into it. Sure, it's not as safe, but I have a strong suspicion that our collective fear of getting sued has made us too afraid to try anything. But that's another post for another time.
So how in the world does that relate to budo? Plenty. Have you ever tried to snag on osoto gari in judo, but the other guy won't let you in? Try stepping away from what you want. Uke has to take a step. When he does, turn him a little and throw your osoto gari.
A good chunk of aikido is based on doing things that don't come naturally. When someone grabs you, the natural reaction is to try and pull your hand free. A struggle ensues. But when someone grabs and you go with it? They eat their own energy and fall down. Most of us aren't born reacting like that.
Any time you get stuck in a paradigm, be it in budo or life, you not only become limited but often stuck. Learning techniques and principles are just the beginning; the best players I know come up with weird movements and strange combinations all the time, often on the fly, stuff that shouldn't work, but does. Students' eye grow wide and they ask, "What was that? Can you teach me that?" But the instructor has no idea what happened.
And just because you study under one teacher or in one school, that doesn't mean you can't learn anything from another. Just because you study one art also doesn't mean there's nothing to be gained from another. Frankly, the applications are endless.
So, tomorrow, try driving a different way to work. Watch a TV show or movie you'd normally never watch. Attend the services of a completely different religion. Travel to a country on the other side of the world. Eat something you've never tried before (especially something from the other side of the world). Make friends with someone you have little in common with. Climb up a slide.
If you see everyone going one way—especially if they're not making progress—go the other way. See what happens.