Permanent. The common notion is “practice makes perfect” but I’m not sure that that is correct. I came across this phrase when I went to visit Aikijuku dojo in Overland Park, Kansas in the summer of 2017 for their grand opening. Sensei Neil Segal, the dojo cho held a 3 day seminar and invited senseis Hiroshi Ikeda, Ryoichi Kinoshita, Larry Graham and Elliot Freeman to teach.
When Sensei Freeman taught, he was the one who spoke about “practice makes permanent”. He was talking about the nature of training and at one point said, “and remember, practice makes…”, the whole class responded back, “PERFECT!” He quickly followed up by saying, “No. Practice makes permanent!” I think that this is a spectacular revelation.
Practice does not make perfect. Good practice begets progress towards the path of perfection. Earnest and diligent practice, curiosity and a want to always improve brings you towards perfection. Being patient, studying the things that are hard, breaking those things down into smaller pieces, and then mastering each of those smaller pieces in concert with the whole brings you towards perfection. We pick up these good habits through diligence, patience, keeping an earnest mind, and sincerity about our practice. We dedicate time and energy towards our practice. These all lend to the path.
Conversely, if we pick up bad habits we practice these things and make them permanent in our art. If we practice Aikido using force and not ki, competition instead of collaboration, and intimidation instead of compassion then we make these aspects permanent in our practice as well. The more we practice things the wrong way the harder it is to break ourselves of bad habits.
Is their perfection? I’m not sure that there is. And I’m not sure this is a bad thing. The human spirit always wants to strive to do better. My sensei, Robert Noha often says that “your best days are the ones ahead of you.” I firmly believe this. When I speak of achievement, I use the term “the path towards perfection.” This is not by accident. We always strive towards doing our best but there can always be just a little bit more that we can do, just a little bit more that we can accomplish. As we live in an imperfect world, our imperfections give us the styles and nuances that make us unique. Other people have called this “perfectly imperfect.”
As I firmly believe that Aikido training is a way of training for life, I also firmly believe that all of the things we learn in the dojo can and should be brought out into all aspects of our lives. Likewise, the notion that “practice makes permanent” applies. Love and compassion are the products of practice. Practicing kindness, appreciation of one’s self and others, empathy and compassion to those who are suffering, forgiveness to those who wronged us; all of these things lend to the practice of living life with a full and loving spirit. Sadly, bigotry and intolerance is a practice as well. It is a practice that we sometimes come into unwittingly due to our social circles or family, but it is still a practice. Thinking that another race, sexual identity or preference is inferior is something that people practice. This practice becomes more and more permanent each day we say, “these people are not the same as us.”
The good news is that there is always hope. Wherever we are, whatever we are practicing, we can look at our practice, become aware of where our practice leads, adhere to the things that allow improvement, and make efforts to change those things that are not serving us. This includes all aspects of our lives: Our time spent in the dojo, fishing, playing music, our family relations, our business associations, anything.
So, whatever your practice is, be purposeful in it. Practice intelligently, sincerely and earnestly. Be curious, ask questions, have the courage to make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, note it, and do not gloss over it. Understand what went wrong and seek to correct it. Most important, extend this to all aspects of your lives. Make a practice of love and kindness, earnestness and sincerity.