Unlearn it day by day

I returned to Aikido last night. I still find myself fighting the urge to evaluate and quantify, both what I see and my ability to reproduce it. But if I’ve learned nothing over years of fighting how it’s taught, this is a losing battle. I am perhaps misled by my facility with texts and music. When I first took up an instrument in the 3rd grade (the clarinet), I was able to learn by ear. While this got in the way of learning to read sheet music, it kept me far ahead of my peers. I learned early on to trust my instincts conceptually, which was both a blessing and a curse. If the goal is competition, then all is well and good. But if the goal is openness and receptivity, problems arise. I become easily entrenched in how I hear things (or see them, or think them, &c.). Learning to read sheet music would have forced me to wrestle with systems other than my own, which, incidentally, would open me up to a wider reality.

In the early years of Aikido I would always hit the same wall: I never quite knew what to pay attention to, what to reproduce, how to demonstrate that I had understood and mastered what I saw. As a competitor I found myself consistently losing. I would blame the instructors, the system, the philosophy–anything but myself and my misconceptions.

Now I approach it with a different attitude. I do not want to learn a martial art. I do not want learn a technique. I do not want to win a fight. I do not want to demonstrate my superiority–if I did, I would simply go with what I already know, what I am already capable of. I know my abilities, and that I can win most fights. And this is precisely not the point, while simultaneously being my Achilles heel.

I want to be open to what I do not know. I want to embrace my inability, my confusion. I want to have my convictions opposed, even destroyed. I want to learn from every partner I train with, even (perhaps especially) the most clumsy, frustrating Aikidoka. I want to submit to a reality that is greater than myself, to be in harmony with Dao.

To pursue learning, learn more day by day / To pursue the Way, unlearn it day by day / Unlearn and then unlearn again / Until there is nothing to pursue / No end pursued, no end ungained

Laozi, §48

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