He weaves, he kicks… GGOOOOOAAAALLLLLL!!!!!!

Jill and Jack
stepped on the mat
to have them some fun.

Jack got thrown down,
stormed out with a frown,
and Jill earned her new shodan.

Not the nursery rhyme you were expecting, I know. And no, this is not a tail about bad attitudes on the mat – although that is a good idea, I may have to write that one. No, it’s not much about attitude at all, but it is about outlook and direction.

Jack and Jill entered the dojo together. Jack did like many students, his attendance wasn’t great, and after three years, he’d still only made it to gokyu (5th kyu). He’d spend his time on the mat chatting, with little or no focus on his training. He enjoyed the company of fellow classmates, but didn’t feel he was receiving adequate training. Eventually, feeling he’d been let down by his senpai and sensei, Jack left the dojo amid a cloud of displeasure, complaints and perceived grievances. He wasn’t given the attention he needed, and some even kept him down, postponing his testing. He started with Jill, and she was doing much better, he should be testing with her. Right?

Jill took a different path in her training. It wasn’t a well-worn path, often overgrown and difficult, but she persisted. Jill, seeing her senpai and sensei before her, determined to follow the road less traveled, the road that many of her mentors had taken. Jill attended classes as regularly as possible, stayed focused on her training and got the most she could out of every class. Sure, she had bad days, and there were times the path seemed to disappear from under her as her training hit a plateau. But she pushed on. She had set goals, and they kept her on the path. So, after three years Jack left, as had many of her peers, even some that had come before her. She found that most students never lasted a year. Three years later, only a month from graduating from college, she was standing before three shihan awaiting the direction and techniques she was to perform for her shodan test.

Six years of training, and it had been a great six years. She started in the dojo and in college as a normal student, with average grades and average attendance. And now, she was sweating, pouring everything she had into her techniques and her uke. She had just graduated Summa cum laude, been readily accepted into the company she interned with the summer before, receiving a larger salary than she had expected, and that morning her sensei had tapped her to lead the new beginner classes they would be teaching at the dojo. Her life was flying, just like uke was about to.

Recently I watched a video shot at the USAF Winter Camp of the dan testing workshop. In it most of the USAF Technical Committee was present and discussing testing expectations, procedures, and giving direction and encouragement. During it, Andy Demko Shihan gave this bit of advice: “We all should be excited about testing and achieving the next level. And so, if you are always working toward your goal, it’s very beneficial for everyone involved. And I can tell you, attendance will increase, participation will increase, and you will have a dojo full of enthusiasm if you are always working on goals. It really pays off.” And I thought, what a great topic to start the year.

As many of you know, I am really into goals. I’m very goal oriented and have been for years. It’s not often that I fall short on a goal, and most of my goals are not easy. In aikido I’ve always had set goals, and I’ve expressed them before to members of the dojo and my family. I did have a goal to reach 1stkyu, one that I met ahead of schedule. Same for shodan. I’ve known a few people in the dojo that have said they had goals, but they were really more visions or dreams. The aikidoka I have met outside the dojo who set goals are all well higher in rank than me, or coming up quickly through the ranks.

So, just what is a goal? A lot of people say they set one, but did they really? Goals are specific, not generalized. “I want to be a shodan” is a dream. “I want to be a shodan within the next five years” is a vision. “I’m going to be shodan in five years, and here’s how” is a goal. It must be specific. It must have a time frame, it cannot be left open-ended. A goal has to have a plan, smaller goals to achieve the final goal. In this case, smaller goals would be attend classes and learn (a min of two a week); push my limits in class each week; test for next rank at next testing; read a book on aikido; continue with plan and test again at next testing; attend a seminar; read one aikido book every other month; test again; two seminars a year; increase my training and ukemi to become one of sensei’s uke; travel with sensei to bigger, harder seminars…

Don’t knock it, it worked for me.

Goals also need to be accountable. Just setting one and forgetting about it will not get you there. You must be accountable for your goals, and for the process to achieve it. Set your goal and tell people. Find those people around you who genuinely support and care about your betterment, and tell them. Ask them to help keep you on track. Better yet, find someone in the dojo who wants to see you progress, and set goals together. And let them push you when you are falling behind, often the difference between climbing a wall and falling off it is the hand pushing you up.

And, to really get the most of it, have many goals, in every aspect of your life. My duty to you is in the dojo, but there is more to life than aikido. Um… forget I said that.

Everyone should have priorities, and I’ve never made a secret of mine, or what I believe others’ should be. For those that live in the area, the top three priorities are simple: family, school, aikido. If you are one of our dorm residents, the list is different: school, aikido, family (after all, your family is miles away). I don’t put aikido so high because I teach it, or because I think you’ll need the self-defense aspects of it soon. I place it so high because it will affect so much of your life, in ways you can’t see right now. And with as much time as you put into it, it should. While I often lump girlfriends/boyfriends in with family, no it doesn’t mean ditching classes to make out. But, do ditch a class to study for the big test in two days.

Goals give you focus and intent. Without them, no matter what you do, you are just aimlessly wandering, hoping you bump into what you’ve been dreaming about. It very rarely happens. Goals must be intentional, as your life should be.

While goals are great, and setting them in aikido will spill out into other aspects of your life, if you really want to make traction on your path, go a step further with a personal growth plan. Just as with a goal, life will just happen, but if you don’t have a path, what are your chances of meeting your dreams someday?

Jack meandered around the mat aimlessly, and eventually left it altogether. He never had a direction, no plan, no path, and he blamed others for his lack of progress or promotion. Jill went where few go, deciding she would be purposeful in her training, which lead to being purposeful in life. She lives with intent. Don’t follow Jack off, be a Jill.

Or, to put it another way, what is the use in waiting for your ship to come in, if you never sent one out?

I look forward to seeing you on the path, and on the mats.