Keep looking under the basin

aikido training sydneyIn mid-2012 I spent two months in the UK. While I was away my landlady renovated the bathroom. I wasn’t consulted on anything other than the timing.

I returned to a new bathroom with every fitting replaced. There was just one niggly-naggly little problem: the new basin had a mixer tap and I couldn’t get more than a trickle of hot water from it.

It seemed churlish to complain when every other aspect was amazing. I assumed it was just one of those things, an old building, maybe the pressure just wasn’t there.

I had a few house guests over the next couple of years: intelligent, practical people, much more experienced in home renovation and maintenance than I (not to mention holding quite a few dan grades and PhDs between them). No-one mentioned the lack of hot water in the basin.

A couple of months ago it occurred to me to look for isolator valves to adjust the flow – perhaps you’ve guessed I now enjoy an abundance of hot water in my bathroom basin?

It puzzled me that a bunch of us simply accepted things as they were. And it made me reflect on how much we take for granted in our training.

As students we tend to assume that what we are first taught is definitive. This is especially true of students who believe (or have been told) they are learning the “one true way”. I’ve been an enthusiastic advocate of a number of these one-true-ways. Many thanks to those teachers and colleagues who have dumped me, along with my assumptions, on my arse.

As instructors we realise we can initially transmit a provisional understanding only. We have to present something that can be built upon and that doesn’t impede future development.

So, how to avoid the abject mediocrity of assuming we already know? I don’t believe the answer lies in challenging and questioning. It seems to be the fullest cups who challenge and question the most. I wonder if the answer lies in simply being curious, allowing the possibility that there is more we don’t yet know. This requires not “knowing” the outcome ahead of time in every single partner practise.

I was discussing this with Dan James of Aikido Republic, co-founder of Great Ocean Aikido Community. I related that a former teacher would speculate whether people claiming 20 (or whatever) years of training had twenty individual years of development, or just the one year twenty times over. Dan’s comment was that if we are still doing what we were doing 12 months ago we are stagnating! While it’s essentially the same comment, it made me think hard about my last couple of years of progress, and commit myself to continue looking under the basin.

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