Winging It

When traveling, I have been in the habit of simply showing up to a dojo, introducing myself, and asking the teacher if I may practice. This has always worked well for me. I started doing this when, in Japan, I got turned down by a dojo in Matsuyama, Japan, when I called ahead and asked if I could practice.

I figure, if I get turned down, I at least get to see who is turning me down.

I have actually never had a problem come up by just showing up. I show up before class starts with my uniform in my bag, say a friendly hello to the teacher, smile, ask to train, talk about how much I love Aikido and how I’d love to practice with him and his students, and I’m in!

This week, I’m in Vancouver for meetings. For yesterday’s practice, against my usual policy, I gave advance notice, emailing the teacher beforehand to say that I was coming. He remembered me, and gave me permission.

Practice started with one of the senior students because Sensei was late. Sensei entered as we were doing breakfall drills. We nodded at each other from across the room, I bowed toward him, and continued with the drills. After sensei finished changing and stretching, he took over from the senior student.

Practice was great. There were some elements that I experience, but had not yet incorporated into my training. However, I could sense a certain edge to Sensei that I hadn’t sensed before, like he had his guard up a little more. My instinct tells me that this guardedness was due to my relying on my email and his memory of me, and not introducing myself at the beginning of class.

So much for the importance of advance notice. This tells me that a face-to-face introduction is the main thing, and email is an extra. Speaking with him after class, it was clear that while he did remember me, he didn’t really – he was asking me questions he’s asked before. This also makes it clear that the point of going to practice is not to talk… because the body remembers movements, but the mind doesn’t remember conversations!

Speaking of words not mattering, I was out dancing Wednesday last week. There was a free class, and people stayed after to dance. There were some women looking hopeful at the edge of the dance floor. I watched as a few men asked tentatively “Would you like to dance?” Let’s think about this. She got dressed up. She came early to participate in the dance class. She stayed after class. She is standing at the edge of the dance floor. OF COURSE SHE WANTS TO DANCE. In fact, the look on the women’s faces had an incredulous “why are you even asking?” expression that they were trying to hide.

So, I made this my approach: look around. Make eye contact. Approach directly from the front with a relaxed smile. Raise eyebrows and gesture to the dance floor. We’re in! NO WORDS NEEDED. With women I’d already danced with, I could take drinks out of their hands, set them on the counter with a smile, and they would let themselves be led to the dance floor. They didn’t feel this was rude; they liked it. They were just waiting for someone to ask them to dance.

I’ve been giving thought recently to the layered nature of social interactions. There are verbal and non-verbal layers. Humans are educated to think the verbal layer matters, but it doesn’t matter as much as the non-verbal layer. What’s more, the verbal layer often doesn’t matter in terms of content. Monkeys groom each other. Dogs play and snuggle. Talking is the human means to the same end. Thank goodness for Aikido and dance. They make for non-verbal conversations.

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