Permit me, for a moment, to revisit a topic to which it seems I perpetually return for inspiration: game shows.
If you were watching Jeopardy! last December, you might remember a contestant by the name of Cindy Stowell. She stayed on the show for seven straight days, ultimately winning $105,803 before falling in her seventh game—an impressive accomplishment in and of itself that would have qualified her for the show’s Tournament of Champions.
What makes this story all the more heart-wrenching is that, at the time she was taping her episodes, Cindy was dying of colon cancer, and was battling a blood infection and flu symptoms while on stage; she had planned to donate her winnings to the Cancer Research Institute. Sadly, she passed away just over a week before her first show was broadcast.
I am inspired, not by this impressive championship run (although, having been on that stage myself, I can only imagine the mental endurance required to sustain seven straight games), but by the actions of the Jeopardy! contestant community as her shows were being broadcast.
A fellow previous contestant—who coincidentally was one of Cindy’s challengers in her third game—proposed what we have come to call the “Stowell Challenge”: anybody watching the show keep track of the number of correct responses they give from their couch, and donate $1 to the Cancer Research Institute for every correct response they give as long as Cindy remained champion. By the time Cindy was ultimately defeated, previous contestants taking the Stowell Challenge had raised over $12,000 for cancer research. It was a moving experience, watching the tally grow with every win Cindy notched, and thinking of the (admittedly small) difference the funds will make for a research project.
I mention this as an example for which the Aikido community should strive. The Stowell Challenge was a beautiful, if bittersweet, confluence of like-minded individuals for a cause close to our hearts. By the same token, every moment we take to disseminate Aikido—every demonstration; every seminar; heck, even every regular class—can have a moment of community.
One of my sword instructors, Toshishiro Obata, writes in his book Modern Bushido about the concept of dai-chu-sho (大中小), literally “big-medium-small.” It is the sense of scale by which any progression can be measured, and by which goals can be set. Obata-sensei writes: “Do each thing earnestly and diligently to make sho a success—it is only then that you can lead sho to chu and then to dai, making a large success possible. If you skip sho and chu and aim directly for dai, your plans may not progress as smoothly as you wish, and it is easy to fall short of accomplishing your goals."
It is this sense of scale of which we should all be mindful when new ground is broken in the Aikido sphere. If each individual practitioner is sho, the dojo is chu and the community in which it is located is dai. If the dojo is sho, the Aikido community in a given area is chu, and the city is dai—and so on, and so on, and so on. While I’m sure some of us have had lofty ambitions to disseminate Aikido “to the masses,” you cannot disseminate it to the masses without appealing to your immediate community first. The modes of dissemination may be different—demonstrations, workshops, word of mouth, posting flyers in the local watering hole—but if you build it, people need to know about it.
Indeed, the moment a new student finds his or her way onto the mats can be a valuable introduction to a senpai status for newly-minted 6th kyu students. A strong senpai-kouhai relationship could be the key to welcoming an Aikido neophyte into the community. It is up to both individuals (sho) to strengthen the ties that will reinforce the partnership in practice (chu), that in turn will gradually strengthen the ties everyone involved has with the dojo (dai).
I think we Jeopardy! contestants aren’t expecting a drastic discovery in cancer research overnight with the $12,000 we raised. But one thing’s for certain: while we’re all mourning the fact that Cindy isn’t with us to be a part of this community of contestants, we all owe her a great deal for bringing us closer.
by Josh Woo
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