Recently my wife and I had the opportunity to sit down and watch Hamilton, the retelling of the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of the men who helped shape the United States around the time of the Declaration of Independence. As with most performances of anything, there were moments and aspects I enjoyed and moments I didn't - but overall, it was memorable and impactful and the performances were powerful.
The key undercurrent of the story (aside from "the bullet" - which was brilliant by the way) that I noticed, was this idea that our impact on our social groups is real, but only in so far as we make small, continuous movement towards real goals.
In other words, we cannot simply wait to see what happens and hope for the opportunity to be there when important things happen so we can "take advantage" and hopefully "be in the room". We have to form convictions, bonds, friendships, love, connections, trust, respect, loyalties, and base all those things on little actions on a scale that is ever shifting. It can be maddening to some, because it means (for those who are inconsistent), that they may find themselves friend-less, without connections, without bonds and the like. However, do this within the framework of a tribe, like a dojo, federation, or friend-group, or the like, and it's possible to create real meaningful change in the world.
Is it because these groups are perfect? Is it because these groups view themselves with a perfect historical lens? Is it because these groups formed with a view more than 5 years into the future? Is it because of anything other than the desire to bring a group of "friends" together under one banner?
You see, just like with organizations, countries don't get to make excuses for all the mistakes made by their citizens, their representatives, policies and the like. Instead, what separates the great American experiment from all others, is the idea that we come together "in spite" of our core differences that everywhere else in the world has been used to create lines in the map. Here we use those differences to create bridges, to create connection points, to create bonds.
Are those bonds going to be clean every time? As a minority 1st generation son of immigrants, I can tell you that it hasn't been for me, it isn't, and it probably will never be to some extent - but to tell you the truth - if you think about it statistically, I'm not sure it would make sense to expect anything else in a diverse population; and I'm proud of our diversity. I'm proud of my wife's diverse heritage from mine. I believe that it adds to the rich tapestry of our human history and I believe we are better for it.
A dojo is meant to be a facilitator, not a limitation. The dojo's purpose is to help its members work on themselves, not help its teacher achieve higher rank, status, seminar instruction opportunities, or other nonsense pedigrees that have been invented to serve our egos. We serve ourselves first and foremost, not for the purposes of advancing some material cause, but "MASAGATSU AGATSU" - True Victory Is Victory Over Oneself. In the dojo, we talk about MISOGI quite a bit, and it's often surprising how often you see or meet individuals who claim to be instructors or "high level practitioners" in one form or another, who do not even keep their own room clean (both literally and figuratively. We would all do well to remember that power and hierarchical structures, more often than not, in the martial arts world, especially in Aikido, and especially in 2020, do little in service of the individual dojo. What serves the individual dojo, is what the SENSEI does each day, behind the camera, off the keyboard/smartphone, in their daily practice until the DAY THEY DIE.
The last concept learned for me from this wonderful performance, was OPEN COMMUNICATION. Too often we avoid making the first move in a conversation for fear of where that conversation might go; this is almost always a mistake. We must always be willing to offend - it is one of the basic premises of freedom of speech. It may not be the goal of our speech (far from it), but how others perceive our speech should not keep us from expressing crucial ideas we have that could benefit our dojos and communities.
To that end, I make this commitment and invitation: know that I welcome all 1 to 1 conversations, regardless of fear of offense based on topic or content, if the goal is to create meaningful and beneficial change in the realms of the martial arts, Aikido, and our general consciousness. We owe it to our shared humanity to take the time to be raw and open with each other whenever possible and that means "getting comfortable where we're uncomfortable".
Know that I love you all and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it ;)