What Aikido Can Teach Us About Learning Plateaus

Categories: Blog

The achievement of goals is important. But the real juice of life, whether it be sweet or bitter, is to be found not nearly so much in the products of our efforts as in the process of living itself, in how it feels to be alive.

~George Leonard

Recently an Aikidoist who trains at AikiLife Dojo, Canberra Australia, James Samana, emailed me some late night reflections on his Aikido journey.

James is a black belt in Aikido and works for the Australian Public Service as an executive coach, course designer and facilitator. I couldn’t help extending his thoughts on Aikido to the way we practice, learn, and attain mastery in any endeavor, including the mastery of conflict and communication–if that indeed ever happens.

James shared with me his admiration for George Leonard, a famous Aikidoist, writer and educator. He quoted from Leonard’s book, Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, where he says those who practice Aikido fall into certain categories, such as:

  • The Dabbler, who leaves as soon as things become difficult.
  • The Obsessive, with passionate bursts of energy that don’t last.
  • The Hacker, who stops trying at the first plateau, thinking that’s all there is.

Learning Trays

Yet like myself, James aspires to Leonard’s fourth category–a student on the path to Mastery, willing to make the art of training the practice, where learning is the primary objective. As James told me, these students learn to “more than endure” the learning plateaus, they accept them. And in this acceptance, they find a Real Love arises.

According to James:

… I have seen many Aikidoka in our dojos that are this fourth type, Masters in the making! They know that there is a real joy in the regular training, in the sharing of our lives together, within our community. When I come to our Dojo… I leave all of the problems in my life behind me. I feel as though, I am entering the “flow” and am being given the tools for not just my Aikido Mastery, but also my Life’s Mastery.

As George Leonard said in “Mastery,” sometimes those that struggle the most are more able to achieve the end goal of Mastery–as they have learned how to accept the struggle and switch from learning about “techniques” to learning about “how- I-am” when I am on a learning plateau… and most importantly, how to keep up the training!

These types are the ones who do not “race” to get to the top–but steadily progress in their art for the love of the journey. They, more so than the ones who pick things up easily, are the ones who will be able to “go-all-the-way”, as they are the ones who have learned how to learn when the learning is difficult!

The Practice is the Art

I had the opportunity to attend a George Leonard training once some years ago. In my experience he practiced what he taught. As he says, the practice is the art.

When I push for my way and forget to listen; when I lose my center in rush-hour traffic; when I forget to think before I speak–the ability to stay present during the plateaus and see them as another step in my learning is the way of Aikido.

Our awareness is always in training. It’s a life skill to be able to see ourselves, appreciate the struggle, and continue even when the learning is difficult.

Thank you, James, for your middle-of-the-night musings. And for your willingness to share them.