I often hear new students thanking ranking students for their patience. I’ve been thanked this way plenty. I certainly did the same thing as a new (and not-so-new, actually) student. I know that, at least in my case, often what was behind my thanks was a tacit apology: sorry for not knowing exactly what I’m doing in my first classes in a brand-new art that I’ve never tried before. Thank you for not rolling your eyes or berating me for not executing these baffling techniques flawlessly. Surely there’s something better you could be doing with your time; I am grateful that you chose to spend it with me, putting up with my flawed imperfection, my beginnerness, my humanity.
Probably not difficult to see where I’m going with this. We, as ranking students, are not exercising patience when we’re working with you—not in the way you imagine it, anyway. We are not reluctantly bowing to the new student, sacrificing our chances to work with someone who ‘knows what they’re doing,’ and taking one for the team to spend five minutes tolerating your confusion. We know how confused you are. We expect it and you know what? We’re glad for it. We welcome it because there’s no other way to start, well, anything really, but especially Aikido.
What we are doing is time traveling back to the moment we were in your bare, uncertain, overwhelmed feet, learning this technique ourselves. We’re learning something new about the technique: breaking it down differently in our own minds and bodies so we can transmit it more easily to you. We’re finding stuff out about our own technique in this process. We’re rejoicing in awe at the fact that you’re here—another astoundingly brave warrior having made the choice to venture into the unknown to confront their own demons (don’t worry, the demons won’t attack until at least your third class).
If all that amounts to patience—and maybe it does, but not by any definition I’m familiar with—then you’re welcome to thank us for it. But do so knowing that we have more space for you than you can imagine. We’re thrilled at your newness, we know what a long road it is to finally putting your foot in the right place, taking a brave roll that doesn’t hurt, attacking with enough commitment to compel your partner to do something, or yourself doing something other than fight, flee, or freeze when one of those attacks comes your way. We know how scary this is. We know you don’t know. We don’t expect you to know a thing.
So against this vast backdrop of welcome and nonjudgment, be magnificently imperfect! Be bold, be curious. Experiment. Notice what others are doing but don’t get obsessed with doing it exactly that way (except when it comes to etiquette). Put all your focus on getting to the dojo as much as you possibly can. Ask ranking students questions before and after class to get a bit clearer, at least, on who we are and what we’re up to. Get to know us. Feel into the community that wants you so much as a part of it.
Make no mistake: there’s lots we need patience for in Aikido, but mostly it’s to do with ourselves. It takes a behemoth amount of gentleness to be with the fear that comes up, and to stay with practice long enough and steadily enough to begin the process of breaking it up so that it eventually dissolves and evaporates (and usually reveals another layer, and even that is something we learn to work with differently as time goes on). We need patience for the inevitable moments that reveal that we may not be gliding through life as gracefully as we’d imagined—and that perhaps we’re more broken than we hoped. If we can have the patience to allow that level of vulnerability to exist, we can recognize the potential to work with it on the mat.
This is the kind of stuff we as ranking students are developing patience for. New students who are absorbed into this ever-widening spiral, this ever-deepening ground, are welcome to learn from it, template it, try it on for themselves and in their own practice. Patience is one of the many virtues we develop in Aikido practice for the purposes of developing into better warriors and better people. When it comes to greeting you, well. All that is is happiness.
You are welcome.