Stepping onto the mat

Posted: Category: Reflections

Sitting in Blagdon with my old and dear friend Renee who has successfully pushed me into action - hence this first entry. I'm hoping to use this as a way of thinking about life, conflict, work, relationships - in fact, everything.

 Nigel Singer

Do you carry a sense of being ‘present?’

Do you own your space? 

Are you able to comfortably share your space with others?

Do you think about how to take responsibility for who you are and how you behave?

Do you ‘show up’?

In his essay ‘On getting a black belt aged 52’, George Leonard talks about the practice that his Aikido teacher requested of him prior to his first black belt grading.

He had been working diligently at techniques and throws and the various elements that need to be in place before taking a grading at this level.   He had identified the areas that needed more practice and was focussing on these.

Surprisingly, his teacher, Robert Nadeau, asked him to practice getting onto the mat. 

In aikido there is a clear ritual attached to this, you turn your back to the mat, slip your sandals off, step backward onto the mat, turn, kneel and then perform a bow.  By the time you take a black belt grading you have spent a lot of time getting on and off mats, even if you can bring awareness to it, there is still  likely to be an element of habitual behaviour  in the process.  What his teacher was asking was that he changed his mind when performing this act; that when stepping onto the mat he saw it as ‘his’ mat and a place to which he could also welcome and invite others.

Nadeau was asking for a change in air, he was requesting a shift in attitude – a way of ownership, compassion and preparedness.

The dojo – the place where we practice aikido – is a defined space; it is treated with respect and there are rituals alongside spoken and unspoken codes of behaviour whilst within it.  The rituals and the codes create a sense of separateness from daily life, a degree of safety, an atmosphere that encourages thoughtfulness and engagement with the practice.  It supports the letting go of what has been happening to you up until this point in your day and stepping into the possibility of new learning and development.

The dojo is no different from any other aspect of our lives, there are defined spaces where we do specific things and those spaces will have their own spoken and unspoken codes, some defined by us, others by our society.

Do we fall into bed when we are tired or can we lie down with an awareness of transition from one place to the next?  When we walk into our place of work, do we ‘step onto the mat’ or do we just shamble into the office or the building site, when we get into  our car or onto our bike, when we step into a friend’s house or walk through the door of our own home, do we notice what we are doing?

I am stepping onto my blogging mat right now and what I hope to do is offer thoughts and ideas that continue to develop this theme.