Andrew Benioff, Ee Dan
I had recently moved to Hawaii and although I continued training in Tae Kwon Do, I had recently begun training in Aikido. I was rushing to make it to class on time from my job waiting tables in the Ala Moana Center, but traffic was worse than usual, and by the time I arrived at the Nuuanu YMCA for Aikido class and had changed into my keikogi,1 class had already started.
I thought that I had covered all of my bases (I kneeled at the side of the mat waiting for the teacher to invite me on and then I bowed as I had been taught.) but when the warm-up exercises were done and the teacher began his class, I realized I had once again made a grievous error.
He said that being late to class was not acceptable, and that should we arrive late, not only were we to follow all normal forms of etiquette, but we had to stay toward the rear of the class in order to enable us to leave immediately after the class was over to avoid being late for our next appointment. No talking with friends, no clean up, no extra practice. The message was clear, timeliness is extremely important in Aikido, and for that matter, all of the martial ways.
I took this lesson as I took all of the other bumps and bruises dished out to me, with a bit of embarrassment and a renewed desire not to err again. I had wrongly believed that what our teacher was trying to teach us was aimed at making us more polite ladies and gentlemen. That was only a very small part of the overall picture. Like almost all etiquette in budo, timeliness has much greater importance that simply being polite or for that matter, simply being. It is connected to a much more vitally important concept, that of timing.
A few months after my tardy incident, my teacher asked us a rhetorical question: “How can you master timing to enable you to move your body out the way of an imminent strike if you can’t even master the timing of getting to class on time?” That’s when I realized that it was not only important to be timely for politeness sake but to do so would also help me to improve my taisabaki (body movement), therefore making me a more effective practitioner.
I often reflect on the need for concrete examples of how the Martial Ways can help us improve our lives outside of the dojang, in our everyday lives. The relationship between timing and timeliness is, perhaps, one such example. Its lesson: do not practice etiquette simply for politeness; practice it for effectiveness as well.
Kokoro wo Migaku (Polish your heart).
1 Keikogi is the Japanese equivalent for dobok, the uniform used for formal practice in many Japanese martial arts schools and traditional Korean styles. You may have heard the contraction “gi” which is commonly used in the US.