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The Path Toward Nidan
Nidan Essay

This essay is about my personal path in Aikido. Each individual must find his own way, and mine has been characterized by exploration, training, discouragement, training, perseverence, training, highs and lows and plateaus, nearly quitting and choosing to go on. I have been inspired, motivated, and encouraged by many people including those at my dojo and at seminars, but especially by my Senseis, including the founder of my dojo Steven Atkinson, his successor who is my current sensei Calvin Koshiyama, and by Frank Doran who is the teacher's teacher and whose continued instruction at our dojo and at seminars is invaluable.

It began initially with exploration of movement. I wanted to pursue some physical challenges, and my husband had a "family membership" in our dojo. I became entranced by the movement and its grace, but not being naturally as physically gifted as many others who have trained at our dojo, even learning to roll required a significant degree of perseverence. (Just as I took up skiing, despite fears of heights and of speed, and have found joy and reward in developing skills which have enabled me to be comfortable at increasing levels of speed with control, and to go to literally greater heights than I would ever have thought possible; similarly, given my limited natural abilities, I know that I have made more progress than I ever dreamed I could in this martial art). Although not nearly as coordinated, centered, balanced, or graceful as some, I have outlasted many with far more native talent than I, who came and trained and advanced quickly to a point, but did not persevere.

Then came reading and learning more of the history and meaning of Aikido. I have been inspired by the values and goals of O'Sensei, the desire to achieve peace and harmony in the world. These goals have been expanded upon now by generations of teachers. I hope they can extend into my own realms of family and friends, work and colleagues. Applying some of these principles in everyday life is often more challenging than mastering specific techniques on the mat. Some of the lessons are akin to advice on raising children. We must listen (perceive and acknowledge the intent). We may try to understand the mind of the child, but ultimately we must redirect.

I have continued to train in large part because of the philosophy. This is a martial art, a form of Budo, the purpose of which is not to endanger others but to be among the forces of good; to join with and harness the power and turn it into a way to improve life, even protecting the aggressor. Aikido is a physical and spiritual martial art practice that is compatible with my sensitivity to others and with my goal as a physician of "Primum non nocere:" "First, do no harm". I appreciate the need to see uke's point of view, to blend, to try to dispel the negative power of an attack. What has been harder for me to learn is that to avoid the greater harm, there must sometimes be an assertive response. To achieve a peaceful and healthy resolution may require actions or techniques which can cause discomfort or distress. Extrapolating that principle to my profession, I think of immunizations which can prevent the tragedy of harmful and fatal diseases, or of other treatments which may be temporarily uncomfortable or even disabling, but can vanquish life-threatening illnesses. On the mat, I translate this to the need for atemi as well as throws and pins.

On this path toward Nidan, the greatest challenges of my recent training have involved the lessons of assertiveness. I do not know why I have such reticence about self-assertion. In some cases there may be insecurity about my abilities and knowledge, or on the mat a doubt about the proficiency of my techniques. I have generally not been overconfident of my knowledge or ability, unlike some others I know in various aspects of life who jump in and try to take charge whether they really know what they are doing or not. Even in the medical arena, I tend to politely ask rather than order nurses to do things for my patients. But I know that when it is important, when my knowledge or skill could change an outcome or save a life, I can and do take charge and perform or command rapid action as appropriate. I am learning to bring that same self-confidence and assertion of authority to the mat.

One of the most important goals, in this training and in life, is to continue to learn and to strive to improve. Over the years, there have been injuries and frustrations, training partners who have come and gone, and these have all contributed to my growth in various ways. Continuing to train has sometimes been a challenge, as other priorities in life intervene. And even ongoing training plateaus from time to time; but with perseverence there has been progress. This lesson, the value of perseverence and continued training, is an important one.

I owe a great deal to my Senseis, whose dedication and generosity of time and energy and spirit have been inspiring; and to my training partners, who also have shared their time and talents, insights and friendship.

Preparation for this landmark has expanded my consciousness of and appreciation for the art of Aikido, and has given me the additional gift of many more challenges to work on and train at for years to come.

Respectfully submitted by

Phyllis Kiehl, July 15th, 2000, Aikido North