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my back belt in Aikido

October 21, 2011

They say that it takes an average student about 10 years to get their Black Belt in Aikido.

They say once you have it you are finally ready to begin learning

Lance and I on the mat in Shanghai8 October, 2011. Shanghai.

I can’t remember the last time I put on my Hakama. I am not sure I remember how to put it on! I think it was months ago when I was in Malaysia with Lance. Then I said I would not roll. This weekend I have said I will. It should be OK. I have worked towards this for months now. I was careful during the flight over and I have stretched a couple of times a day for the last two days.

This is the second session of the workshop. We have the mats out and the room looks great. We bow in and Lance starts introducing some of the content for the day. I don’t remember the first technique but I do remember getting a whack on the nose.

It reminds me to be present. To be in the room.

The next attack is a simple one. But it requires me to roll out of it.

January 1, 2011. Brisbane.

Some people say that how you spend the first day of the year is a good indication of how the rest of the year is going to go.  If they are right, then I am not happy.

I have a long-standing goal to get my Brown Belt in Aikido. I have had my Blue Belt for almost ten years now and around May 2009 I decided it was time to get back on the mat after a long time away.

I started out slow. Did some general exercise for a month or two to try to improve my fitness levels and then stepped cautiously back into the Dojo. I had forgotten many things including how to put on my Hakama.

I think I lasted about three weeks before my back went.

There was that horrible feeling when you know things just aren’t right, that in about an hour or two it is going to get worse and tomorrow morning is going to be real ugly.

My physiotherapist got me moving again and told me I really should listen to him this time and take up Pilates. Which I did.

For 14 months now I have been continually amazed at how disconnected I had become from my body. If you saw me running down the street you wouldn’t notice anything unusual – but during a Pilates class movements that should be easy to complete are not.

For some of them the right side of my body finds it easy enough to do ten repetitions but the left side of me struggles to do two. More disconcerting (and interesting) are the simple movements that I just cannot do. I understand what I am being asked to do but when I ask my body to do it … nothing happens.

Still, I know I have improved. I can now do many things that I couldn’t when I started, some of which are quite impressive. My core muscles are much more stable than they have ever been.

I felt confident I had a foundation that meant I could get back on the mat and restart the journey.

Until today. New Year’s Day 2011. For no reason I can put my finger on, today things just don’t feel right. Today of all days – the first day of the new year, a day of almost universal optimism.  Nothing seems to be helping and I get the feeling that it is going to get worse before it gets better…

17 October, 2011. Brisbane

Looking back I wouldn’t say it was the most graceful Aikido display ever seen in China but I managed to get through a day on the mat without injury. I even managed a couple of rolls that didn’t look or feel half bad.

With the benefit of hindsight, it was clear that in 2009 I didn’t have the necessary foundation in place on which to build my renewed Aikido practise. My sense back in January that things were going to get worse was right on the money. I had minor flare ups two weeks before I was to be in Malaysia and then on June 4 this year I experienced pain like nothing I had ever experienced before.

But here I am half way through October and things are getting better. My back is not ‘fixed’ just “better”.

It took me almost 40 years of bad habits to create the problem so expecting to fix it with a couple of Pilates classes seems more than stupid now. I figure that another year or two of continuous attention should get me to somewhere near to normal.


They say that it takes an average student about 10 years to get their Black Belt in Aikido. They say once you have it you are finally ready to begin learning.

I don’t have a Black Belt in Aikido but I have recently awarded myself a Back Belt.

I have learned a lot during my time off the mat. About pain, about frustration and about the persistence that is required to get through the inevitable set backs. I discovered that there was much that I did not know about myself.   About where the tension hides in my body. About the way that certain muscles tighten when I am under stress. About the way I have failed to make use of other muscles that have since faded through lack of use.

I learned that I had to do a lot of work before I could even start to learn those things.

I learned that I had to have a solid foundation in place before I could build.

What about you?

Is there some part of your life where you feel you are always failing?  Could it be that you are trying to build something before you have put in the work to create a solid foundation?


I was in China to help Lance Giroux deliver his workshop “The Art of Practice and the Organisational Dojo” You should contact Lance and have him bring his unique offering into your organisation. I have been a part of this workshop in Australia, Malaysia and in China and everyone comes away from them raving about how brilliant they area. You can contact Lance via his website

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Gavin permalink
    October 21, 2011 8:43 pm

    Hi P,
    Is this a case of not preparing right to complete something or more so a sign that it is not the right time?
    The belief in what I can achieve is critical. The title of your blog echoes your belief in what you know you can achieve (My Black Belt in Aikido). Preparation is not always doing specific training required for the goal.
    In some instances I believe I have sailed along ticking off goals and challenges when completed but then stumble on one that I can never get over. It is in these instances that I believe these goals or challenges are not part of a ‘to do’ list. Instead these come naturally at a point in life where I am ready. How do I know when I am ready or have prepared correctly??? Am I an average student or a below average student or even an above average student? If only I knew…….. Most importantly I just keep believing.
    Thanks for sharing. G
    PS The hakama sits well on you.

    • October 23, 2011 11:05 am

      Thanks Gavin for a thought provoking response. I am not sure that it is either but it may be both! I certainly wasn’t prepared and it wasn’t the right time. But also it was that the way that I had been up until that point wasn’t what I needed to be correctly prepared. Also, I think this has all arisen at a point in life when I was ready so that makes it the right time.

      I believe I will reach that goal one day. I know I can do it because people older that I am now have started learning Aikido and have advanced to very high levels. So like you I keep believing.

      As an interesting aside, the title of the piece is actually “my BACK belt in Aikido”. More that one person has read it as “black” which illustrates the challenges we face every day in communicating.



  1. don’t make the same mistake twice (or the difference one letter makes) « finding my own Way

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