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Mindfulnes in Training: Some tips for those that might be interested (and for those that keep getting yelled at for touching their belt during class).

This Article was first published in the Aikido Shudokan E-Magazine 2015. You can download the full magazine here.

Aikido has always been a big part of my life. For the last few years, working full time at the dojo has taken up most of my attention, with little time or energy left for much else. Recently I’ve realised that life is always going to be busy and crazy and If I don’t make time and space to pursue the other things that interest me I will simply never get around to it. Either way, this year I have spent a lot of time working on my life outside the dojo, paying attention to myself and working on being the kind of person I want to be, living the kind of life I want to live, rather than just getting swept along, out of control.

For me this has meant spending a lot more time in the garden, re-evaluating, reading, and consciously examining the choices I make. One of the things that I have been reading about is mindfulness. My somewhat simplistic understanding of mindfulness is that it is about training yourself to pay attention, to be focused and present in the moment, to try and not think about the past or what is coming in the future, rather purposefully concentrate on what is happening around you. Which is basically what training aikido involves.

When you are training at the dojo you should be focused on the present moment. Don’t think about what you are going to do next, what might be comng in the next five minutes, the next step, just think about the step you are doing now, taking each moment as it comes. Secondly you should be aware, of your own body, your partner’s body, the teacher, the space around you. Present and conscious in the current moment. If you are training properly, Aikido is a mindfulness exercise.

I see some people in the dojo who lack this element in their training. They listen, but they don’t hear, they watch but they don’t see. They have pre-formed ideas about how things should go, or what they are doing, and this obscures their view, their ability to be in the now and to accept things as they truly are. Their own impression of their technique is not matched with reality. The impulse for judgement is an impulse so ingrained in us that we can’t see what is real from our own opinions.

Training can be therapeutic. I walk onto the mats carrying the worries of my day and I walk off the mats at the end of a class lighter, and much better equipped to deal with stresses that I may face. Mindfulness may be something that I have only learned about this year, but it is something that I have been practicing at the dojo for a long time without it having a specific name.

Learning more about mindfulness has helped me to see its relevance and importance in training. I think other students could benefit from some of these lessons on the mats too. Here are some exercises or things to think about on the mats if you are interested, some of them might sound simple or silly to you, but I have found them useful:

1-Listen without assumptions: When given an instruction about where to line up, or who is doing the technique first, are you often mishearing or misunderstanding? Try to focus on what you are hearing as if you are hearing it for the first time. We often (myself included) make assumptions about what is being said based on past experience (e.g. we always line up this way) and don’t fully listen or take in what has actually been said. This means you are not fully present or in the moment. Check yourself, listen, absorb then do, don’t assume you know what is going on.

2-Observe the detail: Again, our own assumptions about what we think we know/don’t know can hamper our learning. I have done ikkajo many times. So many times. When the instructor demonstrates, am I really seeing what he/she is doing? If they tell me to focus on one aspect of the technique, or to “try it like this” am I actually focusing on that, or am I just doing it the same way I have been doing it for years?

3-Practice awareness of your entire body. You concentrate on your hand work and your heel comes off the ground, you concentrate on keeping your heel down and you lose your centre-line. This is very common. It is difficult to do, but try extend your awareness to your entire body. Think about your breathing.

4-Notice your habits. You can’t change something you’re not aware of. Many of us (myself included) have movement habits we don’t even notice. Do you touch your hair or dogi. Try and be aware of these times, once you bring your awareness to them it is easier to make changes to your habits

Good luck and have a mindful 2016

Fulori Smith

Fulori started training in 2002, and began teaching and working at the dojo in 2009. More about her here.