Aikido is a constant, delightful study. It challenges me to try my best, and yet constantly displays my errors and weaknesses.
How ironic then, that one of the principles is to “Perform with confidence”.
confidence (kon’fi-d?ns) firm trust or belief: faith: self-reliance: firmness: boldness (Chambers English Dictionary, CUP, 1988)
This rule is most frequently honoured in the breach – most students I know ignore it or forget it. It doesn’t fit with their daily experience of doing the work. Yet, here’s the thing: all the other rules work; all the other rules add their unique flavour to the learning process. So too should this one – performing with confidence offers us a fluidity of movement, an ease, a gracefulness that wouldn’t otherwise be apparent. Why is it so bloody difficult, then? Perhaps because we define it poorly – we make it conditional: I am confident of doing the exercise correctly; I am confident that it will work, that I am right, etc.
To overcome uncertainty is utterly good.
Chogyam Trungpa said of the above statement that “uncertainty refers to doubting yourself or the existence of basic goodness. When you don’t punish or condemn yourself, when you relax and appreciate your body and mind, you begin to contact basic goodness in yourself. So it is extremely important to be willing to open yourself to yourself.”
This statement seems to be making the same invitation as the principle, but from a different angle: Be confident of your fundamental goodness, of your right to do something without having voices of self-doubt judging and gnawing at your single-mindedness. When you have made the effort to line everything else up correctly, suspend self-judgement and criticism. Do the work, then review it.
But, of course, it’s not only about quietening the voices in my head. In those difficult moments where the voices simply will not be stilled, where the doubts are overwhelming, the principle also offers a route in to the fluidity, ease, and gracefulness that I mentioned earlier. What would it be like in this very instant to have a little more ease? What would this exercise be like if I had just 3 percent more grace? A bit more shiny? A bit more noble? A bit more awesome?
For a couple of years I had a very long, very early, daily commute and by 11am each day I was flagging badly. Getting up at 4am can do that to you. This frustated me massively, as most of my colleagues were then just getting up to a productive speed.
I desparately wanted to be able to recover my speed, and usually grabbed a strong coffee and a chocolate bar in order to get the boost I desired. Of course, both coffee and chocolate have their own forms of hangover, and neither could really combat the rising tide of weariness that wound itself around my sedentary limbs.
One day, I realised that the problem was not slowing down. It was the belief that I should be able to keep up my speed. We are rhythmic creatures: loud and quiet, hard and soft, quick and slow. Once I accepted the possibility of being slower, I found that it had other qualities that supported me: I became physically softer, I thought more carefully, I spoke more sparingly, I listened with my body more than my impatient mind.
I learned to perform with confidence in this new way, when conditions required it. I chose to relax into and appreciate this mode, and found that it too offered fluidity and ease. Of a different tone to my busier modes, but with their own value.
Performing with confidence doesn’t have to mean being right. It means allowing ourselves to be okay in whatever situation we find ourselves. It means making way for the richnesses of physical states to reveal themselves when our psychology is overwhelmed.