By Greg Dickenson

As I sit here on Boxing Day writing this article with a cup of coffee, I am challenged as to where to begin. Aikido has been the most constant activity in my life for the past 21 years with the exception of a 3 year deployment to the Torres Straight for work in 2012 and a year off after my daughter was born in 2006. As a kid in Dublin I was always drawn to Martial Arts over the usual Irish kid pursuits of Soccer and GAA Football (Similar to AFL) I graded to green belt in Judo and brown Belt in Bushido Karate Gendi, a form of karate / kickboxing. One night Eddie Ince our Sensei was telling us a story of how he used an Aikido lock (Sanka-jo) to control someone who was looking to fight him in a pub (It was Ireland after all). He showed us the mechanics of Sanka-Jo and I could not believe how the whole right side of my body was locked up from wrist to elbow to shoulder. This technique also lends itself well to a quick transition into a ‘Goose Neck” hold when the arm is placed behind the back. This technique is used all over the world by various law enforcement agencies and security staff to control and restrain offenders.

In Dublin in my early twenties I too worked in the security industry and found these techniques (with some practice) very effective to eject drunken punters who were refusing to leave the pub. I then began to seek out some actual Aikido lessons. Then I was hooked. I did a couple of Aiki-Kai lessons in Ireland before leaving for Australia in 1998. I then ran into the Economidis brothers through my work who were the senior students at Yoshinkan Brisbane training under Mori Sensei a former Hombu Dojo instructor in Japan and a truly amazing Martial Artist! I began my Yoshinkan Journey in 2001 at the Brisbane Yoshinkan Dojo (where I met Ryan Slavin Sensei) and have loved it ever since.

So, why am I still here after so many years and what place does Aikido have in my life? That’s what I am trying to articulate in this article! Yoshinkan Aikido is a non competitive Martial Art where you train to learn techniques and then with the aid of an Uke (training partner who receives techniques) you practice these techniques until proficient, you then attend grading sessions and show Sensei and your peers how you have progressed.

The bit that is less obvious to an audience at let’s say – an annual demonstration is the culture and cultivation of spirit that we encounter as students of Aikido. When we train we treat The Dojo (training hall) as a place of respect. We bow both on and off the mats to the Shinsa (a small Shinto Shrine) front an centre in our Dojo. In doing this we pay our respects to all Aikido teachers and practitioners past and present. Even though there is no actual fighting (with a winner and loser) we commit 100% when attacking the student performing a technique to give them the best chance of defending a realistic attack whilst maintaining a safe environment to train in. Aside from the physicality of the art, its about personal growth for me as this is not an easy skill to master mentally or physically. The more I use strength to subdue my opponent the more I move away from the principle of Aikido – Use your opponents energy to subdue them. This has been a constant battle for me and if I’m honest it’s my ego wanting to do the technique in place of my skill level.

Aikido for me has, and continues to be a metaphor for life,  meaning – I only get out of it what I’ve put in. Ryan Sensei once addressed a group of us after a class (as he held his hands up forming a small circle) then went on to describe something that really resonated with me. The Circle of Confidence – This is when you are self aware of your limits then you gently and consistently expand them. It’s a feeling of being mildly outside your comfort zone constantly, a bit like compound interest to use a financial example. In essence “Be consistent and just add time “ you will be better off for it.  Even the grading structure (syllabus) supports this approach. In the lead up to my 3rd Dan grading (Sandan) some friends of mine outside the dojo were curious how long the grading would take, I replied “Not long at all” however the work began from the first lesson after 2nd Dan (Sandan). At black belt level gradings are short and frequent designed to focus on a particular technique with some freestyle application. These gradings are known as steps and there’s 12 of them followed my a pre-blackbelt grading and finally the last in the sequence being the Dan level grading. The point I make here is that we are always seeking  to improve our skill level and again small consistent steps over time help us to keep those promises to ourselves building both confidence and resilience. I have found that these skills are fully transferable in our lives outside the Dojo!

The problem in todays society is that we are being groomed to want everything “Now” and encouraged not to do “Hard Things”. Technology while it has many benefits , often just makes us lazy and steals our attention in order to market to us as consumers. When we apply the Circle of Confidence we learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and to keep those promises we made to ourselves (even when we don’t want too) this I believe is the key to success. Society on the other hand encourages us to want the reward instantly – prompting us to jump in the deep end straight away where we inevitably drown and subsequently give up! I personally have had a very challenging 2 weeks in the lead up to my 3rd Dan grading and even considered postponing it. Ryan Sensei simply said to me “There will always be hard times and other things to deal with” the choice is ultimately yours. Well, I am happy to say, I’m writing this article because I made the correct choice.

In closing,  I would like to thank Ryan Sensei for being a solid role model and mentor through the years. His hard work across many disciplines and service to the broader community is nothing short of inspiring.  I look forward to many more years on the mats!


Greg Dickenson

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