“Overcoming Barriers to Training” by Joe Cavazos

“Don’t let the things you can’t do prevent you from doing the things you can do.” – John Wooden

John Wooden was one of the top college basketball coaches of all time. He coached the mighty UCLA Bruins and almost every year that he was coaching his basketball team won the NCAA championship. Most of the basketball players on his college teams went on to play at the game highest level – the NBA.

My high school basketball coach used to tell me, “Stop making excuses!” John Wooden’s quote is more eloquently expressed, but both men were sending the same message. My high school basketball coach, Roy Garcia, was one of the most influential people, outside of my parents, that helped to shape the person that I am today. Of course, it is my decisions and actions that have and continue to determine my life’s path and consequences.

What does this analogy have to do with aikido? Mainichi no keiko – and all of the excuses that I have heard over my years in aikido as to why my fellow aikidoka and my aikido students cannot make it to training! They have used the excuse of things they can’t do prevent them from going to train. When I would see my sensei, the late Bill Sosa, at seminars that he was conducting, the first thing he would ask me was how often I was training.

When I first began aikido, the instructor used to teach that aikido is a “way of life.” I have heard many students recite this mantra when asked in their first ever kyu test, “What is aikido to you?” Then I never saw them again in the dojo, some of them ever! In 2007 I celebrated 10 years of having opened my own dojo. Any aikido teacher that has been in business for over 10 years will have seen hundreds, if not thousands of potential aikido students walk through their door, stay a while, then leave. Almost every one of those students enjoyed the benefits of aikido but every one of them found a reason to prevent the continued study of the art. It may be that aikido was too hard, their progress was too slow, training was interfering with another area of their lives, they got hurt, the cost was too high, they found that aikido didn’t work for them in an altercation, etc

The martial arts are not for everyone. If it were easy every student who walked through the door would still be in aikido today and would be instant black belt candidates. I don’t expect aikido to be for everyone. I expect a certain number of beginning students to not last a year. I honestly thank every one of those ex-students that have come and gone. Thanks to them, the serious students have the opportunity to continue training. Those students helped pay the rent and utilities for the extreme few that have continued to train over the years. They have provided us the opportunity to work with ukes of different heights, weights, body structures, attacks and attitudes. It has helped us to forge our aikido into what it is today.

The ones that really bother me are those students that have been aikido for many years, have some rank (nidan or above), then mysteriously leave the art. They found something else in their lives that filled the space that aikido used to fill or they found a reason to stop training. It has led me to a theory: I think that most aikido students are trying to find a reason to quit. They look for excuses not to come to class: it was raining, it was cold, my back hurts (substitute any other part of the body), my hakama was torn, my uniform wasn’t washed, etc. As an aikido teacher, it is my job to nullify the reason for a student to quit or, rather, create a reason for the student to continue coming to class. Maybe this is the real job of any martial arts instructor, making a reason to come to training. Maybe it isn’t enough to have impeccable waza or technique, if we don’t have the students there to hand this down to.

Returning to the idea of excuses for not coming to class, learning to train with pain or minor injuries is part of the martial arts training. If your fingers are hurt, learn how to continue training with the pain. If you shoulder hurts, learn how to roll in that situation. If your back hurts, learn how to move with your stiff back. You just might learn something about yourself when you work through the pain. “Don’t allow the things that you can’t do prevent you from doing the things that you can do.” It’s more than just trying to find an excuse not to come to class, it’s trying to find a solution to train daily – mainichi no keiko. Part of the training is self improvement and finding out the body’s limitations – physically and mentally. When you know what your limitations are, the next step is to overcome those limitations. You can only find this through daily training.

The highest level shihans today trained through pain, trained long hours, overcame all of their limitations to become who they are today. I am pretty sure that many of today’s “warriors” would have never made it through O’Sensei’s “hell dojo” days like our shihans did. Our current aikidokas would have found an excuse to not be there. I would like to thank those shihans alive today that continued training so that they would have something to hand down to us. I will be there – no excuses!

Joe Cavazos
Houston, Texas
A student of Hiroshi Kato Sensei (Suginami Aikikai)


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience, Joe. I feel myself reflected now and then.

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