Dan McMillan is a former world champion gymnast and collegiate coach turned best-selling author and motivational speaker. He is also a Shodan in Aikido. His first book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, while not specifically about martial arts, is well-known amongst Aikidoka because many of its central themes are central themes in Aikido as well.
The book, which is semi-autobiographical, follows the story of a young world champion gymnast named Dan who suffers a potentially career-ending injury and falls into despair. In his darkest hour, Dan finds himself the unwitting kohai of Socrates, a gas station attendant/Zen master who guides him on a journey of enlightenment and self-discovery. In one exchange, Dan is feeling sorry for himself because his injury might keep him from competing at the highest level. He bitterly complains that there is “nothing going on” in his training. In response, Socrates teaches him that there is never “nothing going on” and that there are no ordinary moments. This is one of the key messages of the book.
Two months ago, a building fire imposed an unexpected training hiatus on the students and instructors at Aikido of Charlotte. I always try (sometimes more successfully than others) to see the opportunity that is inevitably hidden in adversity. So, I decided to welcome the break as an opportunity to rest and recuperate. After a week or two, my sore muscles healed and I developed an eagerness to return to training. After a month my eagerness turned to frustration. And then my frustration became malcontent at the fact that there was literally “nothing going on” in my Aikido training.
Last week I happened to spot my copy of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior on the bookshelf and it hit me like a ton of bricks: there is never nothing going on. This forced absence from the dojo isn’t an absence from my Aikido training – it is part of my Aikido training. It has made me reflect on how important Aikido is in my life. Aikido isn’t just something I do for recreation, it is a part of who I am. It helps me define “me” and where I fit in the universe. It teaches me to better myself; to seek balance; to care for others even in moments of conflict. It feeds that piece of me people call the soul.
I miss the dojo. I miss the ritual of practice. I miss the sound of the mat. I miss the fluidity of motion. I miss the comradery of my Aikido family. I miss flying.
Our dojo will reopen soon, construction on the new building is almost complete. We will start the New Year refreshed and rejuvenated. I, for one, couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to resume active training. That said, I am also grateful for the passive training I have just been through and for the important reminder that there is never nothing going on and that there are no ordinary moments.