May 6, 2002
Four to One
Bill Witt, Shihan, Takemusu Aikido Association:
Sometimes it takes a single act to open your eyes to how far you have to go in an endeavor to gain skill. We take a world class musician for granted as we listen to him play. We watch an artist create a rapid picture and say, "That doesn't look difficult." What we do not realize is that a skilled person had to acquire that skill. It took an interest, a willingness to begin study, and the commitment to a long-term effort. The process of hours turns into days and years. The skill gradually builds-sometimes without our awareness of where we are compared to others.
I had returned to Iwama for one of my periodic stays to train. I arrived at the dojo at the right time, Saito Sensei told me. The annual All-Japan Aikido Demonstration was to be held a short time hence. He said I could take time to go to it and it would be interesting. Or, he continued, I could go with him to a small university on Shikoku Island for a gashuku. I weighed the decision for several microseconds and told him I would like to go with him. It was not a difficult decision to make. An opportunity to be otomo for my teacher was not to be passed up.
The first day we were doing some sword practice and Sensei was running everyone through their paces with the suburi. He then began doing some blending practices and the students were not following too well. By way of explanation he called me out as uke and asked me to strike. I was young, and I thought I would go as fast as I could. I had no idea what he was going to do. I attacked, and he stuck me twice. I was literally thunderstruck. I had seen this before. About four years before, I sat in Hombu Dojo and watched Saito Sensei attack O-Sensei with the fastest sword strike I had seen to that point. Saito Sensei struck once and O-Sensei hit him twice with the same response! It suddenly occurred to me, if Sensei hit me twice and O-Sensei hit him twice, I was now at least four times slower than O-Sensei-and he was 83 years old at the time.
At first I was overwhelmed. I felt I was engaged in a futile endeavor. Later that day as I thought it over, it made me want to continue on more than ever. I knew that at one time Saito Sensei was a beginner. He acquired his skill through dedication and practice as did O-Sensei. I could do the same. Perhaps I would not be on the same level as him-ever-but I concluded that persevering in continued practice was the key to reducing the four to one deficit I currently had.
Since that time, I have set modest attainable goals for myself in practice to keep things interesting. I do not worry about comparing myself with someone else. I am involved with Aikido for my own development. I have more fun with the process than with an end goal. But every so often, when I am alone in the dojo, and the light is just right, I see the two scenes again-Four to one-and I smile.