I have Aikido training simmering on the back burner.
In chef terms, this means it is not a priority. Front burners are for things that require immediate cooking– quick sears, finishing sauces, or stirring a delicate temperamental custard. Front burners require attention and care. You can’t walk away from them. I have three things in my front burners right now: work, my graduate studies, and the Studio.
The back burner does not mean I’m not paying attention, though. A common thing simmering in the back burner are stocks. A stock requires a large pot and takes hours to make. It’s a slow process. When cooks leave stocks simmering in the front burners they get scolded. To leave something that does not require constant attention on a front burner is careless and inconsiderate. In fact, you may jeopardize the success of another dish that required that front spot.
The stock won’t stay back there forever. If it stays there too long it may actually get ruined. Simmered for too long and the yield is compromised, the flavor unbalanced, worst yet, it may actually evaporate. On the other hand, if moved to the front too early the stock is weak and flavorless. I really want to use the stock and make a big pot of soup with it, but it’s not ready. If the stock is not good, the soup will not be good.
For the better part of my last 20 years, Aikido has been the driving force, the north star, of every decision I’ve made. The first time I ever got on an airplane was to do Aikido. When I moved to the US mainland to go to college I chose a state that had an Aikido dojo near me. I met my wife at the dojo. What once was a sauté pan sizzling and flambeing in the front burner naturally turned to a slow cooking stock that needed to be pushed to the back.
That’s because Aikido training had reached the last stage of its life cycle. It needs to transform. The bones are roasted, the vegetables are caramelized. But to make a good stock, water has to be added and let simmer.
Everything in life goes in cycles. We are born, then we grow, mature, grow old and die. This is the cycle for everything.
Businesses go through a similar cycle of life. Companies and organizations are founded, then they grow and formalize. Eventually, they reach an elaboration stage where stagnation arises; facing the threat of decline.
Training is no different.
The first stage is discovery. I discovered Aikido is 1995 and began my training. Discovery is the birth of your training. It is those early days when you’re overwhelming your brain with new knowledge. You spend hours reading about your new found love. You buy every book possible, and spent every free minute you can practicing. You go to the dojo 6 nights a week. Discovery is when you are hungry.
The second stage is enthusiasm. If we are hungry during discovery, enthusiasm is when when we taste the food and we want more. Enthusiasm is intense interest. You just can’t get enough. You know what you’re in for. You’ve done the research. Now is go time. Train, train, train. My enthusiastic stage happened from when I was a blue belt to Nidan (second degree black belt). It is common in Aikido to get a boost of enthusiasm when you reach your black belt rank. It’s such a big goal everyone looks up to that once you finally get there, you’re pumped again. Unfortunately this doesn’t linger much for most people. The biggest student drop in Aikido happens shortly after they’ve reached black belt. Enthusiasm is when you nurture you training. You’re still probably training as much as you did when you discovered your new passion, but now you have some understanding and realized the depth of training.
The third stage is formalization. We’re not hungry anymore. Our bellies are full. We reached a comfortable place in practice. We’re not training 6 nights a week anymore. During this stage you’ve defined your training purpose. Why are you training? Why is it important? You have formalized your training. Training is a routine. You’ve given it a definite structure, reason, and meaning. Your style is developed. If you’re strong enough you can stick to it, but many people won’t. At this stage, there’s only two options: quit or enter plateau.
The fourth stage is plateu. This is where I was in my Aikido training before I decided to move it to the back burner. I was training (teaching class) once a week. It was a monotonous uninteresting event. “I’m doing the same thing I’ve been doing for 20 years”, I told myself. I’m not learning anything new. I’m not teaching anything new. I’m not contributing nor experimenting. I’m not discovering anything I feel enthusiastic enough to formalize.
Plateu is the beginning of decline. Here is when those of us who’ve made it this far eventually quit. Here is when companies start to fail. When organizations start to decline they begin to implement emergency procedures and damage control tactics. They downsize or change industries. To avoid going out of business, companies need to innovate and implement drastic changes in order to turn things around. However, either way, whether they shut down or trasnform, the old ways are no longer vital.
Aikido is so deeply intertwined in the fabric of my life that I can’t quit. I can’t imagine my life without Aikido. But I see the threat of decline. I’m aware of it.
This is why Aikido is on the back burner. It is there to transform itself. Over time it’ll find its way back to the front burner, and when it does it would be something new and magical, no longer a pot full of raw bones and crunchy vegetables, but a magical flavorful liquid that can be used in anything life throws at me.