Ei Mei Kan - 2005

Not Such a Difference

by Iona Ellis - Shodan

During my early years, one of the biggest influences in my life was farming. I spent my first 18 years, with my family on a livestock farm in the hills of Mid-Wales.

After the age of 18 and since I moved to Birmingham, one of the biggest influences in my life has been Aikido. I first began training in October 1995 at Aston University. As the years have passed, I have begun to understand that farming and Aikido are not as widely different as one might expect.

The more I practiced Aikido and became involved in the dojo, the more I could see the similarities with being part of a dojo and my upbringing with my family on the farm.

One of the first things which I discovered was that the dojo is a family. As with families, each has a leader, and each person has their place. There are good times and hard times, but family members support each other through it all.

There is the hierarchy in the dojo, just as there is on the farm. Sometimes there is discussion, sometimes discussion has no place. Sensei is always the leader, and each person knows their position behind him. Respect is shown to all, and especially to elders/seniors.

When learning farming/Aikido, the apprentice need not always know where he is going or what he is going to do. Sometimes the apprentice needs to go to places he has not gone before. He must follow and copy without hesitation. Trust is placed in the teacher not to harm. The apprentice does not need up-front explanations, nor does he stop to ask questions, as is common in our society. There is a time and a place for explanations.

They way of Aikido is passed on directly from teacher to student, as farming is from father/mother to son/daughter. Then over time, the son will take on more of the day to day work, and later, the day to day managing of the farm. Likewise, the senior students start to take more of a prominent role; they may start their own dojos. But ultimately, Sensei is always Sensei.

The dojo, like the farm, requires constant work. On the farm, you cannot one day decide that you don't feel like milking the cows — you have to do it twice a day, no matter what. Aikido is not something you can pick a chose what you want, when you want. To be true to the art, you must take it all. This requires discipline.

A farm is a place which requires hard work, strength and determination. It is also a place where nurturing and compassion must exist for the farm to survive. Ruthlessness has no place. Neither does selfishness. The farmer must care about what he is growing, or it will not grow, no matter how much he wants it to. The same is true for Aikido. Hard work is required from both teachers and students. This does not mean that uke is not stretched, or even gets hurt at times, as it is at those points where true compassion is shown. It means that each student must train honestly and with vigour. If aikidoka are self-centred and ruthless to show their power over their uke (in or outside of the dojo), this behaviour does not follow the principles set down by O-Sensei.

Farming is such a varied occupation, that no two days are the same — this is very different from some jobs in the modern world. Aikido is the same. The routine is often the same, the techniques are those which we've practiced for years, but it is different each time — it must be, as each time is a new time.

Farm life is influenced by nature — seasons, weather, life. There is a certain order which must be followed — this is not to be viewed as a restrictive thing, it's just the way it is. Likewise, Aikido is an organic thing. It changes, things change and we change with them.

Farming cannot be described as merely a job or a profession; rather it is a way of life. It is not like a job, where you go to work at 9:00 and leave a 5:00. Each moment of one's life, while living on a farm is affected by the farm and what is to be done.

Similarly, Aikido is not just the physical practice on the mat when you go to a class. It has principles which can be applied to all areas of life. The more I practiced, the more integrated Aikido became into the “rest” of my life.

Living on a farm is a hard life. You have to do things which you don't want to do sometimes. You have to go out in the cold, rain and wind and work. You have to work every day, if you feel like it or not. This is not to say that the farming way of life is a misery. On the contrary, it was truly a blessing for me. (I have only realised the extent of this since I left the farm.) I cannot think of a better upbringing. It is a hard life, but each person makes the choice to lead that life, it is not imposed. Such is the way with Aikido. Some times things are really hard, but this is not to say that the experience as a whole is negative. It is hard to be stretched, but this is the way to learn and progress.

My farm upbringing, gave me experience of a life, which, from the outside, may appear like the life of a slave, but from within, is actually more like the life of a king. This gave me the curiosity and determination to find out what Aikido is from the inside. Become involved, enter in, have a go, do what you need to do if you feel like it or not! I have discovered that the way of Aiki is a hard way of life too, but one which provides me with some key things to live a full life: physical, mental and spiritual stimulation.


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