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A personal view by Vance Karena
In the lead up to Shodan, I thought seriously about where and how I saw myself in my Aiki journey. Originally I was thinking more about my progress and what I thought was required of me, so that I could develop more. One usually looks at things from a personal perspective and it's generally a one sided view, and this is mine.
I began to realise that it was not just me I had to consider, I have a whole Aiki support group to think of and thank. As I reflect on my progress, I must acknowledge all the different styles of Aikido and individuals who have shaped my views and thoughts about what Aikido is. It's also made me recognise the relationship that Mentoring has with Aikido.
When we first start Aikido, our primary role model is of course our Sensei, from them we usually gain, first our interest, then our base platform. Through regular attendance and practice we lift our rudimentary knowledge to new levels and find our niche in the dojo. If we plot our progress when we begin, we pass through a number of phases. At various times we may be in one phase, be between phases and/or perhaps be in all. Recognising and utilising these may help us to increase our self-awareness and provide an insight to how we go forward in our own journey.
During our various phases we may or may not have the benefit of having a Mentor without realising it. So before we look at Mentoring, we need to understand what that is, then understand its relationship with Aikido.
So what does it mean to be a Mentor? One of the functions of a traditional Mentor is to provide help or assistance to a Mentee (the person receiving it, or Uke), the support can be in the form of:
The role of Mentor is more than just producing a clone; it's more like offering a personalised self-development tool that will benefit not only the Mentee but also the Mentor. Generally a Mentor will have a number of key attributes that are necessary for the Mentoring process to be successful.
I liken the Mentors responsibilities to those in the role of Servant Leadership, whereby the Mentor steps back from the Master/Teacher type role and becomes a servant to the Mentee. The Mentee is the primary focus and is lead from a secure position.
So what influence does Mentoring have with Aikido? In an informal way, we all are at times either a Mentee or Mentor in our own lives. Whether we are a father, spouse, sister, leader, partner or friend, we all either receive or give support to each other in a variety of ways. The process of learning never stops and we never learn in isolation, we usually find ourselves emulating our instructors, peers and family. So it only seems logical that when we practice Aikido like-minded people will influence us.
It is the responsibility of us all, to think about how we can create or continue an environment that encourages and develops our students at all levels. Where we foster a 'family' type atmosphere, if appropriate, where we have a neutral relationship that offers encouragement.
The concept of being a Mentor is beyond a Kohai/Sempai (junior/senior) association; it could equally be a peer to peer (Dohai/Dohai) relationship. It should also be seen as a vehicle for accelerated learning. The nature of the mentor/mentee relationship may help some students who find they cannot learn as fast from a teacher/student relationship.
If you were to enter the role of Mentor, you would have to be willing and able to undertake some of the duties which would be required of you, like:
Joint Goal Setting
Mutual Respect and Understanding
If we apply this knowledge in relation to the Wellington Riai dojo, I think the current way that new students are welcomed onto the mat, and the genuine interest in new students is a great start. I do not propose instigating a formal Mentoring process, but rather think about how we can use our understanding of Mentoring to supplement current dojo training practices.
A buddy system may be more appropriate to Aikido training, as it offers an informal yet similar approach. We all have something unique to contribute and the rewards we receive through a partnership whose goals are based on mutual success are many. The interdependence on one another has the ability to build strong lasting friendships.
In my day to day training, I see the meshing of these Mentoring characteristics and if we can recognise and respect each person for what and who they are on the mat, we then foster an environment conducive to learning. This can then flow on to the other areas of our lives and perhaps eventually lead to what O'Sensei experienced as oneness. To finish, I leave you with the words of O'Sensei.