Misalignment of One Millimeter Each Time

In leadership development, I often talk about “Misalignment of one millimeter each time”.

If there is a misalignment of as much as one meter at a time, it is obvious to anyone. It is very difficult, however, for anyone to notice if the misalignment is only one millimeter each time, and by the time we become aware of it, the gap is irreversible.

We adhere to rules we set for ourselves pretty well in the beginning, but then we start saying “Well, this much is probably ok”. One compromise leads to the next, and by the time we notice, compromise becomes our norm.

Looking back at myself, that was how I was with cleaning when I was a Uchideshi (live-in apprentice).

At first, I was carefully cleaning every nook and cranny, but one day when I didn’t have time, I cut corners a bit, thinking “Well, I guess this is enough.”

Then the next time, too, became “this much is good enough”. I gave myself more slack each time, and by the time I became aware of it, I was doing a sloppy cleaning job.

Seeing this, Koichi Tohei sensei taught me about the ” Misalignment of one millimeter each time”.

One example of this is an assumption that we already understood something.

Once we humans believe we understand something, we stop learning. Because we are exposed to the next experience with this assumption, the misalignment we create each time adds up and becomes bigger over time.

We end up with ridiculously misguided understandings.

The best way to prevent this misalignment is to check ourselves every time. It is precisely what we think we understand that needs checking.

I consider this state of thinking where we “understood” to be equivalent to an illusion/false feeling.

The feeling of having understood something is pleasant, so all people seek that feeling. That in itself is not a bad thing, but we must remember that it is not the goal, but the starting line.

Because I am in a position to train leaders, misalignment of just one millimeter that happens to me would affect many other people.

Preventing this from happening is an important responsibility as the successor of the Way.

Another example is “leader mindset”.

In the beginning, everyone wonders “Is it OK for someone like me to become a leader?”, and have a beginners’ mind, thinking “I want to be useful to others by doing my best.”

But as we are treated as a “teacher”, we come to falsely think we are great.

 “The Way” of Shinshin Toitsu Aikido is not about a hierarchical relationship in the first place.

As we are all walking on the same path, “those who are ahead” help “those who begin to walk the path”, and we learn from one another with mutual respect.

However, as “misalignment of one millimeter” occurs each time, and people around us treat us as their “Sensei,” we misunderstand it as a hierarchical relationship, and we come to have a self-centered (superior) mindset.

This serious misalignment can be prevented by “continuing to learn”.

By stepping away from the standpoint of a teacher and having the standpoint of a learner, we can reflect on our words and actions. There are also many things we notice when we work with other leaders.

More time to teach means relatively less time to learn, so unless we consciously seek out a learning environment, misalignment of one millimeter occurs each time, and we become a leader who only teaches and does not learn at all.

Koichi Tohei sensei strictly warned me against this and taught me that it is imperative for those who are in a position to teach to learn more than anyone else.

For this reason, Shinshin Toitsu Aikido teaching certifications are renewed annually, and can only be maintained by those who continue to learn, regardless of rank or how long we have been practicing aikido.

“Misalignment of one millimeter each time” is by no means an issue of individual’s quality or ability as a person, but a common problem that could happen to anyone.

I am the president of Shinshin Toitsu Aikidokai, and by being treated as the “President,” if I don’t do anything to consciously learn each day, then I will become just as misaligned as anyone else.

That is why I keep learning, too.

Translated by Mayumi Case
Edited by David Shaner
Eastern Ki Federation

Original article in Japanese: 1ミリずつのズレ (Ichi Miri Zutsu no Zure)
July 1, 2023