Recently an Aikido student commented to me that while practising at a weekend course, she had approached and bowed face to face to a senior student for practice, only to have the. senior turn away. Naturally, the person in question felt both hurl and insulted by this little exchange.
I found this seemingly small incident quite thought-provoking. I'm not sure how often such an occurrence happens in B.A.F. practices; but that it happens at all is disturbing and needs addressing. I believe the situation can by analysed and the possible explanations identified:
1) a junior grade bows to a senior who simply turns away -perhaps in contempt;
2) a small person bows to a big person (possibly of senior grade), who turns away for complex reasons presumably related to size;
3) a woman bows to some 'macho' male (senior or junior), who turns away thinking that he doesn't want to practice with 'a mere women';
4) two people bow simultaneously to one person: a choice has to be made;
5) a senior bows to a junior grade, who turns white with fright and scurries away (on occasions people have scurried from me!);
6) you bow to someone who has just been tapped on the shoulder by someone else, so he/she turns away to practice with the person who approached first;
7) someone you know and whom you don't like practising with -for whatever reason - bows to you, and you turn and scuttle away;
8) you turn to bow to someone, who promptly vanishes because you haven't washed your keikogi in six months, or your finger nails are long and dirty; or you breath smells horribly, etc.!
Such situations should make us realise and consider that we are practising the Art of Aikido, which is not just a physical art, but one which involves our whole being. We should also consider that the training we need may not be the training we might prefer.
If we turn away from someone who bows to us. for whatever reason, we are perhaps turning away from ourselves and from the training we need.
If we are too impatient to practise with a lower grade, then quite simply we need a lesson in patience and have just missed an opportunity for that practice.
If we consider a person to be 'beneath' us, then look: here is a lesson in humiliation handed to us on a plate.
Of course this kind of approach - one of self-observation and honesty - may be difficult, but we should try! As the saying goes "Practice makes perfect". If we find ourselves training with a person much smaller then ourselves, we have the opportunity to become more sensitive and subtle so that, equally, when faced with a giant, we can again use that same sensitivity to help our technique work. Men and women practising together can provide each other with valuable training. By now I hope the point is obvious: we can learn from anyone.
I have read that O-Sensei urged us to practise with exhilaration: in modern terms, with the 'feel-good factor'. This means feeling good and helping others to feel good.
One of the factors considered in our grading examinations is 'manner and attitude'. This whole question is surely - and very importantly - a matter of attitude. How can we turn away from a practice-partner if our attitude is correct? Maybe the last person we want to practise with can teach us much about ourselves, if we are honest and prepared to reflect on the situation and on our response to it.
Of course, there may be rare times when you know that the person who is about to practise with you has a reputation for being very hard, or maybe you have an injury and feel unable to cope. The answer is communication! You communicate verbally, politely but directly. The martial arts in Japan are underpinned by respect and politeness. To simply turn away from someone who bows to you, without some explanation, is frankly impolite.
My last thought on this subject is that if someone turns away from us as we bow to them, and we become annoyed or upset, then quite simply we have lost our composure, our centredness. The annoyance or upset is within ourselves - we have 'lost it'! If we lose our centre in the face of arrogance or bad manners, how can we possibly keep our centre when confronted with violence? Think about that.