Contributed by Dan Nishina*
I remember hearing Ikeda sensei often say that we each had to make aikido our own, that we couldn't just imitate, but that we each had to find and do aikido that was respectively unique to us. I have also heard on numerous occasions how Japanese culture is supposed to be group/society-oriented, as opposed to individualistic like Western cultures. I would like to tell of a conversation I had recently in which these two ideas came together and left an impression.
One night after practice, Yasuno sensei was speaking about how important ukemi was with respect to nage skills. This statement could be a topic of discussion in itself, but the one here is instead the result of a question I asked afterwards. Instead of answering my question, he replied, "You're looking for a 'correct' answer. I think you have to find that for yourself. I can tell you what I think is correct, but that's all it is. I'll have my own reasons for believing in it, but you'll have to find your own reasons for believing whatever you end up believing in." At this point he made a bit of a jump, perhaps because of the similar sounds of the words "correct" ("tadashii") and "joyful" ("tanoshii").
"You should just do what brings you joy, what makes you feel good, what you find suits you. That comes first. But then I think you have to consider the people around you. If you're having a good time, but nobody likes you, then that's a problem. If you're pleasing everyone but you yourself are unhappy, then that's bad also. So first you find and do what suits you, what makes you feel good. Then let that something begin to include consideration for the people around you, so the thing that brings you joy also can make other people feel good as well. And of course that which makes you feel good isn't necessarily the same as what makes me feel good, so it's difficult."
This conversation, regarding the point that you had to find your own unique trip, made an impression because of its characteristically Japanese nuance that you do your own thing, BUT with consideration for others, or more accurately, you do your own thing, but that thing needs to begin to include other's happiness and comfort at some point.
The selflessness of finding one's individuality should be a worthwhile endeavor for us all, everywhere.
* Dan, an eight-year aikido student from California, is currently studying at Aikido Honbu Dojo in Tokyo. Please see our Back Issues for other articles and seminar reviews he has contributed to this newsletter.