Eric Delarge from Belgium has been practicing at the Tendokan in Tokyo for many years now. He tells us how he came to Tendoryu aikido and what keeps him going on.
I must have been 21 or 22 years old when I saw an aikido demonstration for the first time. It took place in the gymnasium of my University in Belgium. A young kid (surely less than 12 years old) was being attacked by an adult who he eventually send flying away in a very nice “tobi-ukemi”. When I saw that, I thought of it as a nice circus show off. How could a weaker youngster throw away such a well-built adult like that! It was a trick, I thought, and as such, I disliked it.
It was only 20 years later that Aikido came back in my life. I was posted in Tokyo and we were finalizing an important business deal between my Belgian based company and a Japanese big Pharma. On a visit to our Belgian manufacturing facilities, a nice fellow from the big Japan Pharma, in charge of purchasing, talked to me with enthusiasm about aikido he had been practicing for years. He actually invited me, back in Tokyo, to see, for myself, what it was about and to train with them.
I started to discover my huge misunderstanding back then when I was student.
My friends were practicing on their company premises. Scheduling and location were pretty unpractical for me, so I thanked him and told him that I had found a nice dojo located nearby my home in Tokyo. This is how it really started for me at Tendoryu!
I had been practicing Judo and Karate before joining Tendoryu. The first thing that impresses me when joining Tendoryu, was the welcoming atmosphere. I knew about the kohai/senpai relationship and the sometimes unpleasant feeling it may create in some dojos. But Tendoryu was a different story.
Nobody was ever pushing you to your non-comfort zone, accepting that each of us has its own rhythm, own body flexibility and own pace to acquire skills, knowledge and the spirit needed to discover and finally embrace this wonderful martial art.
Interestingly also, not much emphasis was made on learning by heart the name of the waza and no test was imposed to get to the next kyu! On the contrary, Shimizu Sensei and all the other Sensei from the shidobu were carefully monitoring each of us, giving valuable advices, correcting our movement relentlessly like father or mother would do for their offspring. In other words, I always found a very caring attitude from our teachers at the dojo.
Quickly also, I learned that kindness and care were not at all signs of weakness at the dojo. I felt also that this attitude at the dojo went along some sort of severity and discipline.
Shimizu Sensei is demanding to his students as he is demanding to himself. I respect that and actually I also apply it within my professional and personal life…
Aikido has been the martial art I have practicing for the longest period in my life and I came to ask myself why it was so!
I joined Tendokan in 1998, and then left Japan for 5 years with a 4 years blank period of practice to return in 2007.
In the beginning, I guess I had been attracted to Aikido by the technical challenge it represented to me. It is still somehow the case today. However, practicing under the guidance of Shimizu Sensei and the shidobu made me realize several important aspects I had not perceived initially during my first years of practice at the dojo of Sangenjaya.
Nobody in the dojo will blame you or criticize negatively your “level” of progress in aikido. Sensei will however repeatedly remind each of us the importance of regular training and self-discipline in order to develop ourselves better.
Why is Sensei constantly reminding us all the time of the importance of training regularly?
I thought because of doing so, our technical skills would improve and the “waza” would become a reflex or a natural reaction by our body which would have integrated it. Maybe, it is part of the answer.
I found personally an additional element of answer which I believe goes far beyond the technical skill improvement. Sometimes, when practicing, we have the impression that we are making really tiny improvements or no progress at all. It may be discouraging at first. Fortunately, most of us do not give up. And after sometime, we feel we have made progress. This process of continuing practice, whatever the outcome, makes us stronger from a mental perspective; it contributes to strengthen our inner will, our character, our personality and it is equipping us with resilience and courage to face whatever adversities we may face during our life on earth. This is a teaching of great value. This regular practice discipline is a constant challenge between for me.
It is up to me to take this regular challenge. It is between me and me (so to say!)
Another lesson from practicing Aikido under Shimizu Sensei guidance is that we have to be every time in the state of mind of a beginner.
Beginners are always alert, paying extreme attention to the other person with whom they are practicing. By doing so, it forces oneself to remain careful, focused, to adapt oneself as much as possible to the other practicing person as to be in “harmony of movement and “Ki”.
It makes also each practice a new happening where a lot can be learned each time if one pays attention and avoid to practice as a simple repetition or worst as a routine.
Retain the beginner spirit. Great learning!
By the way, when cultivating this state of mind, I have the feeling of remaining somehow younger!
What Shimizu Sensei is also trying to send us as a message of humanity, is that his dojo is not merely a place where we come to learn, practice and nurture Aikido. It is also a place where mutual respect, support, networking and friendship could develop among all of us as we share this common enthusiasm for Aikido. It is also up to each of us to respond positively to this invitation to know each other a little bit better and bring our regular practices encounters beyond Aikido, making us better people to the service of each other. This is a dimension I have not encountered in any other dojos…
Finally, the depth of this martial art is keeping me humble as the more I have the impression to learn, the more I realized there is yet a long way to go. This is making of Aikido an endless challenge and I like that a lot…