Motivation for the New Year

December 31st, 2010 by twistingwrists Categories: Words One Response

We martial arts addicts are a strange bunch, I’ll be the first to admit that.
From an outsiders perspective, we train over and over how to beat someone up or respond to a violent situation. Of course to us “insiders”, our training is much more than that. We are training our bodies and forging our spirits. We are concerned not so much with winning or losing but about learning and deepening our understanding of the arts that have been passed down for decades and in some cases centuries.

It was thinking along these lines that got me wondering. What motivates some of the long term practitioners and instructors to keep training day after day, year after year?
I put this question out there to 4 people that I admire and respect: Ellis Amdur, George Ledyard, Joe Thambu and Seishiro Endo. Here are their replies:

1) Ellis Amdur (instructor of Araki Ryu & Toda-ha Buko-ryu)

I practice because its what I do.  I like it.
And – I’m still on an upward curve.  Why would I not do something that I continue to improve at, after 40 years?

Since I’ve started doing some BJJ, I’m learning the rudiments of grappling.  I’ve been training in core body mechanics with some good teachers (Internal strength training) and it’s had a radical effect on my power and speed in Araki-ryu.

On the downside, my joints hurt (knees in particular) and some things I could do before, I can no longer do any more.

See more on Amdur sensei @

2) Joe Thambu (7th dan Yoshinkan Aikido)

I will try to answer your question as best I can. If I sound a bit vague it is because I believe one’s motivation and purpose changes with time.

I first put on a dogi 38 years ago at the age of 11. As a kid I didn’t know any better than to give my 100% in everything I did, unfortunately this only ever applied on the mat and never in school. Motivation was an non-existent concept, I trained aikido because I did it was simple as that, every chance I got I was in the dojo(much to my mother’s disappointment). It was the sheer pleasure of training that inspired/drove me.

As a youth training in my uncle’s dojo in Malaysia I came into contact with many a great teacher. Learning from them and being in close contact (the dojo and my family home are on the same block of land) with likes of Donn Draeger Sensei, my first teacher Thamby Rajah Sensei, visiting teachers from the Yoshinkan and many other teachers of various martial atrs were pivotal in shaping my understanding of Budo.

At the age of 19, I moved to Australia and this is where my true challenges in Budo started. What kept me going during this time was my experiences as a teen and I was often guided, inspired and motivated by thoughts, words and most importantly images of my teachers performing a technique or teaching. Going to Japan and staying at the Yoshinkan hombu dojo for a few months in the early 80s was also inspirational. Meeting and training under the legendary Shioda Gozo Kancho and other teachers at the Yoshinkan was invaluable. From time to time motivation also came in the form of positive remarks (almost never outright compliments) from respected teachers here and abroad.

More recently, my motivation has come from a belief that I have been given a remarkable gift (of Budo) by some very special teachers and that I do not own this gift but am merely the custodian and it is my job to pass this on as best I can.

Admittedly, I have also been motivated by negative comments. When I first started a fulltime dojo in Melbourne, I was told it would not succeed and was also referred to as an upstart who wouldn’t last. This kind of motivation (although handy) never lasts and can often lead to blind stubbornness rather than correctness.

Motivation can come in many ways and is an integral part of our being. However, if we wait on motivation then alas we will stagnate. Motivation and effort go hand in hand. Personally speaking I am the laziest person I know, if I didn’t enjoy Aikido now as much as I did when I first began I wouldn’t be doing it. I guess my prime motivation in continuing Aikido is the same as at the beginning……….. the enjoyment and sheer pleasure of Aikido.

See more on Thambu sensei @ Aikido Shudokan

3) George Ledyard (6th dan Aikido under Mitsugi Saotome)

Very little in our modern world is conducive to one having a personal practice. We’ve allowed ourselves to define ourselves by our jobs. As Americans we get less vacation time than any other industrialized nation and we don’t use up the time we are given. We have been defined as consumers of goods, we work ever harder to keep consuming. Our entire economy is based on this model.

Aikido for me is about stepping out of that assigned role. It is a practice which focuses on what I call “old knowledge”. This kind of practice runs entirely counter to the general flow of our modern society. We do it because it’s difficult rather than looking for the easiest, quickest way of going forward. There is no quick solution to the practice. It takes years to acheive even an average level of mastery. It is the process of the doing that is really important, not the arriving at some goal. There is no point at which one arrives, when one says to himself “I know Aikido.” Rather, the more one trains, the more one realizes that there is even greater territory ahead to be explored. There is virtually no financial gain to be had through the practice, it is strictly about trying to reach for the unreachable.

Every aspect of Aikido training is about learning to relax, being able to stand in the midst of chaos and know precisely that regardless of where you are, you are at the center. Aikido practice is about freedom… the freedom to act as needed, when needed, to understand that no one can stop that movement unless you let them. As one relaxes on a deep level. one realizes that the perceived separation between individuals is really an illusion. Aikido is an art that is all about connection and for that reason, it has spiritual implications and the power to fundamentally improve ones life in some very profound ways. Every principle operating on the mat technically has an analogue in ones daily life. That is what makes the practice worth spending ones whole adult life pursuing.

I have trained for 35 years and I have never once been bored. Every day I get a bit better and understand something I didn’t understand before. I personally believe that this is why we are here. Man is the only animal that we know of that has the capacity for personal practice, we shouldn’t waste this tremendous gift we have been given. That’s what motivates my training.

See more on Ledyard sensei @ AikiEast

4) Seishiro Endo (8th Dan Aikikai Aikido)

[I train] because there are many things I don’t know.

See more on Endo sensei @ Saku Dojo.

So there you have it. Now the question goes to you. What motivates you to continue your training? As we enter 2011, now is the time to reinvigorate yourself. Set your goals and work hard to achieve them!

  1. Rafael Oei says:

    Endo Shihan has the best answer, to my mind.