Why is this called ‘Failure is the key to success’?

Picture of Morihei Ueshiba

I have just realised that after over 18 months, I have never explained why my blog is called ‘Failure is the key to success’.

One of the sayings of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of the Japanese martial art of Aikido, is ‘Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.

When I was looking for a name, this seemed very appropriate. Everyone has failures in our lives and only by learning from them do we improve ourselves and succeed in our goals.

My connection with aikido goes back to the 1988. Several of my friends had joined a local martial arts club and talked me into coming along. Now, I had never seen myself as the next Bruce Lee or anything like that, but thought I would go along for a few weeks to keep them company. One of my friends, Dave Long, was a 1st Kyu (brown belt) in Shotokan Karate, so I figured that if he thought it was worth going to, it was probably worth looking into. I turned up the first night not even knowing the name of the martial art that they were doing.

What I found was a martial art that didn’t rely on strength or flexibility (although the latter comes with time). It uses a combination of wrist locks, pins and throws to deal with your opponent. You take your opponent’s balance and use their strength and momentum against themselves. I never saw myself as a slugger in a fight situation and the almost analytical approach to how the techniques work appealed to my logical mind. So much so that I outlasted all of those who talked me into going.

When training, you take it in turns to be uke, the receiver of the technique, and tori, the person applying the technique. The relationship between tori and uke has been similar in all clubs and courses where I trained; uke provides a honest spirited attack and then, if necessary, helps tori to understand where the technique is failing to have them falling to their knees in pain. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that, the wrist locks, twists, pressure on nerves can all be quite painful. You have to be mad; you pay for the privilege of having someone else inflict pain on you.

Anyway, after I had been training for about 3 years, when I was a 3rd Kyu (green belt), I was asked if I would be a reserve uke for Joanne, one of the club’s lady 2nd Kyu (blue belt) who was taking her 1st Kyu (brown belt) grading. I was second reserve, so there was little chance of being needed. That was until, in the same week, the first uke twisted his knee on a building site and the first reserve had a hospital appointment for an operation on a longstanding shoulder injury. Suddenly it was real and I was going to be thrown around in a grading. After getting some extra training in, we discovered that my breakfalls weren’t quite correct and it was a small miracle that I hadn’t broken anything yet. So in the months before the grading, not only were Joanne’s techniques polished, but my breakfalls were completely taken apart and relearned. This took me from turning up once a week and enjoying myself, to seriously getting involved and travelling around the country to courses.

So, that’s how I met my wife Joanne; she spend several months throwing me around a mat before her grading to get her brown belt. We eventually ended up running the local club for a few years and learnt from and trained under many instructors from the UK and abroad. During my time training I received technique many hundreds of times. However when being thrown, I can count on one hand the number of times when I was thrown without being aware of it. What I mean by this is the attack gets so redirected that you feel no force when you are thrown, one minute you are attacking (grab, strike etc) and the next you are flying through the air thinking ‘what happened?’ This has happened once with Jo and twice with Sensei Tony Sargeant the head of Takemusu Iwama Aikido Europe, another time was from Sensei Mike Smith who was the head of our association the Kai Shin Kai.

Aikido is not a quick martial art to learn. It is only at dan grade (black belt) that you really start to understand how to use it effectively. I am sure there are some people that would disagree with this, but this is my personal opinion. I stopped training about 10 years ago due to other commitments. I renewed my membership annually for another 3 years, before I accepted that I had stopped training for the moment.

Anyway, as you can see, aikido has had quite an effect on my life and so it seemed natural to look to the sayings of Morihei Ueshiba, known as O-Sensei, for a suitable name.

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