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Failure as a Guide

In 1992 I first entered into an Aikido dojo and took my 1st class,at the time I was in the best physical shape in my life. In my first class of doing Aikido I was horrendous, I couldn’t even do the most basic of movements. I had always considered myself athletic, I had been an athlete in high school and in college- playing football, wrestling and doing a variety of marital arts  so for me to go into an Aikido class and fail stupendously caught my attention.


The hardest part of Aikido is that it is unnatural, when you move to the right it is done by first shifting your weight on the left. In Aikido the 1st motion is to defend and not to strike, to move back instead of forward and this is unlike other sports where moving fast, forward and with power is required. In my 1st year alone I must have taken over 300 classes and was only marginally better after the year. When I looked around the mat,  I always noticed how gracefully all the senior students moved. It was only on further inspection that the majority had been training for over 10 years. It was the time, work and consistency of practice that made them good. And as such, I emulated their regimes and after 10 years I finally became a black belt.

If I had known starting out that it would have taken over 10 years to master Aikdio I probably would never have started. It would have seemed too long, too time consuming to master, but after 10 years in training I became a black belt. The joke in Aikido is that once you obtain your black belt it is only then your education really begins. For me getting my black belt in Aikido only left me with the feeling how inadequate I was in the sport, and that was the paradox of the sport. It is analogous to reading a book on a subject you think you really know only to realize how little you do know.

To get good at any technique in Aikdio is a long arduous process as at 1st you really can’t do anything; but it is the process that really helped me understand success. In that in order to get good at something I first had to risk to be really bad at something. Most people never master Aikido because they don’t want to look foolish but it is this vulnerability in any new endeavor that makes us grow and become better versions of ourselves.

We see this all the time in business where the media loves to portray people as overnight successes but when the veil is uncovered we usually find out that person had  put in lots of time and effort to become a success. Success takes time. In the realm of business, owners find out right away what works and what does not and are punished for the mistakes they make. It is the process that makes them become good at their craft. In a sense it is rewarding to get that instant feedback if your efforts are being fruitful or not.

Contrast this to politics where failure and continued failure is rewarded.We all seem to understand that success in business takes skill and mastery but when applied to the field of politics we all seem to throw out our common sense. Take the latest government foray into health care otherwise known as ObamaCare. Crafted by Barack Obama who is not a Dr and never worked in health care or for that matter the private sector. If he tried to implement this plan in the private sector he would have been laughed out of the room for one reason— he had no experience and thus no way to gauge if his plan would work. But yet in politics, people can fail miserably time and time again and be rewarded for their failures. Why else would he have been re-elected? His signature piece of legislature was a failure. Our collective political biases allows us to  hope and believe in a certain political party will enact  plans that work. But believing in political fantasies can have disastrous results.

Detroit has been governed by the 1960’s by radical leftists and have not elected a Republican candidate in over 50 years. Detroit use to be one of the most prosperous cities in the US but it is now considered the worst. Houses that use to fetch thousands of dollars now can be bought for less than a used car. Entire areas of Detroit are now being destroyed and being given back to nature because no one wants to live there.  One would think a change in party might bring a different result but that is not to be as people would rather believe the political fantasy that Democrats are for the people.

Better to bet on people who failed, lost and then succeeded as they all give us guide posts on how things can work.

Steven Clark

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