originally posted March 31, 2002
More than anything nowadays, we like the break rules, not keep them. Breaking rules expresses our freedom, I suppose – at least, this is how we think nowadays. As a teacher, it only means the student does not understand the purpose of these rules – especially in Aikido and especially in a Dojo. Rules are not to oppress or humiliate, rules are there to create a good sense of harmony among all members and to create a sense of order in which we can study and practice. In Japanese, this is referred to as “etiquette,” or “saho.” “Saho” is made of two kanji characters, one “to make” and the other, “order.” In other words, “to make order.” This order is very important to create a good atmosphere in which to train. We should never forget this.
However, order is not simply “following” or “mimicking” various rules – bowing when you have to bow, saying ‘hai!” when you have to say, “hai!” More than anything this saho is a spiritual practice. Saho is practice of the mind and spirit. If you cannot bow with the proper mental attitude and spirit, it is not a bow, no matter how much you lower your head. It is something you must practice with the proper spirit. It is like someone telling you, “thank you,” although it is obvious that he really doesn’t mean it. You don’t feel that your kindness was appreciated at all, in fact, you may feel badly that you efforts were neglected or unappreciated. This bad feeling is always the cause of dis-harmony.
To show proper spirit in saho is a very difficult part of practice. This is only because we think of ourselves too much and not others. Thinking of others, we learn how to appreciate their efforts, only thinking of ourselves, we never have time to care for others. We become selfish people and this is not Aikido at all. In fact, it is contrary to all Aikido principles.
Practice saho in the Dojo and learn to practice it with the proper mental attitude and spirit – maybe this will be the most difficult of all to learn – more difficult than the hardest throw or pin. Once you master it, then practice it in your daily life.
I once had a student who never said “thank you” for anything. One day I asked him, “Why don’t you ever thank a person when they do something for you?”
He replied, “My mother never taught me how to say ‘thank you.'” (Blaming everything on your poor mother, how sad!)
“How silly” I thought to myself. Later it turned out that he never appreciated anything from anybody, he was much too busy thinking of himself. It is not any pleasure at all to teach someone like this – they would never appreciate it anyways. What a waste of time!
When you know that someone appreciates your efforts – you feel good and warm and you feel like doing more and more for others – this is what we mean by “harmony.” When people think only of themselves, it creates an atmosphere of selfishness. “If he only cares for himself, I might as well think only of myself as well!” What kind of world is this we are creating?
Saho means to create order. Ultimately, we create this order by thinking of others. What is so bad about this? How silly to break the rule of such a wonderful practice!
In all practice, watch your “ma-ai.” We see Aikido as an exercise or sport, this is why we are not conscious of our spacing. We only appreciate this “spacing” because we are practicing a martial art. Please be careful in this!
We do this because this “sports” consciousness permeates our present culture so deeply. We must be careful at all times not to bring this attitude into our practice. This is how martial arts is changing today. . . . How sad!
When someone attacks with katatetori or menuchi, for example, we start talking so busy gossiping away or wait for the blow to make contact – this is sport. As soon as we “sense” his attack, we are already blending with him and moving out of the line of attack – this is martial arts.
After we throw, we pat him on the back or begin yakking away again, this is sports and exercise. After we throw, we try to maintain our spacing and timing and focus our zanshin on the opponent, this is martial arts.
When we come to the Dojo, we chit-chat away in the dressing room so it takes ten minutes to put on the uniform, this is how we act is a sports gym or health club. When we come to the Dojo, we change into our uniform as quickly as possible to get onto the mat to begin warming up, this is the proper attitude in a martial arts dojo.
When we come and go in the Dojo, we always make a proper greeting to the Sensei, this is a martial art. When we come to the Dojo, we always treat the Sensei as a waiter or janitor or clerk, this is a health club or spa.
When we come to the Dojo, we bow with the proper spirit of respect and modesty, this is a true martial arts Dojo. When we come to the Dojo, we are too busy yakking away with others and finding out the latest gossip from our classmates, this how we act is a fancy beauty salon or coffee shop.