By Samantha-Kate Robinson
Nidan / AYF Registered Instructor
In Aikido, it is common that everyone starts with a goal set for themselves. It could be to better defend oneself or improving one’s health. The reasons are endless. My reason for starting Aikido has always been to be more confident. To clarify, arrogance is not what I sought. I have only come across a couple of arrogant Aikido practitioners. It was the humble and confident teachers that I looked up to, such as Stephen Ohlman Sensei. Born timid, confidence never came to me easily. I had to cultivate it and help it grow. Through my years of Aikido training, I developed that self-confidence with personal growth and the environment of learning I trained in.
My parents had signed me up for Aikido training when I was just five years old. This was because both realized how timid I was, and wanted me to become stronger and more confident. For the first six years of my aikido training, I had become physically stronger, however mentally I was still very timid. It wasn’t until I had moved dojos to train under Stephen Ohlman Sensei, at Aikido Hiryukan, where my emotional and mental strength was challenged. As an eleven year old timid girl, I was terrified when I began the adult class, training with a man with tattoos, a Mohawk, and three goatees. Not to mention that no one treated me like a child, unlike at the first dojo where I trained, or babied me when I felt a little uncomfortable. This felt like a giant hurdle for my confidence, but regardless of how intimidating this new setting felt, it was at this dojo that I began to learn a new side to Aikido that I had not seen before. It was the mental and philosophical aspects that pushed my confidence to grow.
In Aikido, I have noticed, it is important to have a calm state of mind. When one’s thoughts wander and they lose focus, power is lost. I noticed that when I got caught in my fears and worries, it was much more difficult to effectively use my power. However, by focusing my thoughts on my partner and facing whatever may scare me, my mind could settle solely on that, and my power is directed according to where my focus is. I was intimidated by the men I trained with so I could not focus my power as my mind was preoccupied with our difference in strength. It was when I ignored the worry that clouded my head, cleared my mind and focused on my technique, that I was able to use my power at its best potential. As I discovered this, I trained myself to discard my fears and trust in my technique. This developed a confidence in myself. By no longer concerning myself with worries and my partner’s strength, Aikido got me to focus on trusting myself and finding my partner’s weaknesses.
If I were to do jiyuu waza, it would vary depending on my confidence and state of mind. If I did it with self-doubt and a worried mind, my throws would wind up using too much physical force with little power. That is because I would be too concerned with how weak I am compared to my partner, so instinctively I would try to out-power them with muscle strength. Also, my mind would not be in a state of focus. That will cause my power to non-concentrated. If I did jiyuu waza with trust in myself and a calm mind, I can then concentrate on my movements and how they affect my partner. By trusting my abilities, I can bring out the best in my technique since I would be calmly focusing what I am doing. Since my mind is steady, and I can easier concentrate my power in my throws. My movements would become more sharp and powerful with confidence.
Along with personal development, I have also gained from other people and the environment that is found particularly in Aikido. At Aikido Hiryukan, I was pushed to come out of my comfort zone with the help of the energy of others. In Aikido training, it is taught that the level of energy you send to your partner will be equally returned. This is commonly to encourage enthusiasm in training, and to create a real feeling of commitment in shite and uke’s movement. I found another meaning to that statement. The level of energy can also mean the level of confidence one has with their partner. I had the chance to train with people who gave me energy that told me I was more than what I thought I was. By believing that I am strong, I sensed that energy and trusted in it. It was a positive energy that helped me fight the negative energy that fed my self-doubt. The more I trained in an environment that had that positive and empowering energy, I grew to be more comfortable with confidence. It has only truly been in Aikido training that I have been able to find an environment with such an atmosphere.
Another aspect of the environment that Aikido created that has helped me build more confidence was its absence of competition. Since there was no competition between Aikido practitioners, there was no “losing”. It made the comparison of strength look silly as it had no meaning in Aikido. There was no advantage in being taller, bigger, and physically stronger. As a young woman training mostly with men, this made training fairer and gave more chance to grow. Nor was there any competition between other women to be the best girl in the dojo. Instead, we helped each other get stronger. With the idea of there not being a winner or loser, and only self-discipline and camaraderie to assist in developing your strength, Aikido gave me the best environment for me to feel comfortable and confident in my training.
Now that Aikido had helped me develop self-confidence in the dojo, it was another lesson to apply it outside. I shall use my school life as comparison. I spoke earlier of having a calm state of mind and not stressing about the differences between yourself and another person. In my experience with school, there was nothing but people comparing themselves to others. This, by effect, made those people even more self-conscious and insecure. However, I trained myself to avoid looking for what others have that I do not. Instead I embraced what I have, and only observed others and used what I have learned from their peculiarities to better interact with them. This saved me stress and insecurities during that 4 year experience.
However, the level of competitiveness in Aikido and my school environment differ greatly. As a woman, I have noticed a great amount of competition regarding image and worth in school. It was without a doubt difficult to handle, the other young women who would complain about others or compete against me, especially since I had no interest in that genre of competition. The negative aura that arose from this environment also challenged my confidence. I did not feel this in my dojo though so why did it have to be like that at school? I also asked myself why I did not engage in these competitions. Like I developed confidence in my Aikido, I took what I learned from those struggles and my peace of mind at the dojo to school which helped me find the small corner of people who did not engage in negative competition. It was similar to when I started at Aikido Hiryukan, in that small group I developed my confidence and found my peace of mind.
As to why I did not engage in those competitions, it was because of a message I learned subtly in my Aikido training. The philosophical goal of Aikido is to obtain universal peace. This meant to not look for a fight and not engage in one. However, if worse comes to worse, the fight should be ended peacefully without either party being hurt. This was a lesson I learned in the past couple years of my training, and one that I unconsciously applied to my social life. That is why I never engaged myself in negative conflicts, like those trivial competitions of image and worth. I became satisfied with who I was, and knew that as long as I held confidence in myself, I would not need to find my worth in other people. This kept me from trying to find worth in others, because if I knew my own worth then others could see that and not pick a fight with me. To not seek conflict should be a lesson everyone needs to learn. It not only would bring peace, but would demand self-confidence as it means coming to terms with yourself so you would not seek to solve your inner conflict with others.
To conclude, physically Aikido has helped me become stronger, but it is the mental and philosophical aspects, that I learned through self-discipline and years of diligent training of the art, that helped me build my self-confidence. I learned to stop focusing on the negative differences between myself and others, and instead concentrate on myself to then be able to adapt to others. Keeping a positive attitude and an openness to self-improvement are other lessons that I learned from training with Aikido practitioners. Finally, the non-competitive environment helped teach me to not seek conflict with others, and to only find peaceful resolution. To obtain this, I had to be comfortable with myself and find self-worth. With these lessons, I have been able to take my knowledge and new-found confidence outside of the dojo and apply to my social life. In result, I became happier in stressful environments and saved myself from making a small problem into a larger one. Aikido is a powerful martial art as it not only can make someone stronger, but it also teaches them to use that power to bring peace. It cultivates confidence, but not arrogance. Though some may not learn this lesson or only learn it after years and years of training, I believe the majority of the world would benefit from training Aikido and learning its philosophical lessons.