Summer. The beginners’ course is eight weeks long. It has been years since I’ve done anything remotely physical not counting my weekend warrior yard work. I have wanted to take a martial arts course for years and I finally stumbled across BCA while surfing the internet. There were other schools, schools that were closer to home yet I felt compelled to come, observe a class and then sign-up.
It’s okay to lose your balance, but never lose your center.
— Lyons Sensei
Sweat oozed out of my pores then slowly trickled down from the top of my head down the side of my forehead and into my face. The past few days have been brutally hot, made even hotter by the weight of our cotton gi. We start every class with a series of warm-up exercises. We’ve been practicing how to roll and learning techniques ikkyo, nikkyo and sankyo—what have I gotten myself into? Most evenings I feel lost, I’m not getting these techniques and I am frustrated at myself for not getting them. “Stay with it!” a voice in my head demands, “No! This sucks!” the defeatist in me replies. After class, all my body wants to do is rest from the physical work-out and summer heat but mentally, I replay what we did in class over and over again. Why DO I come?
Failure is the key to success; each mistake teaches us something.
Fall. One night, at the dojo, one of the senior students said I must be crazy because I kept coming back to class every week to which I replied, “Then you must be totally insane because you’ve been coming here for years.” [shared laughter] On October 27th, I passed my 5th kyu test.
My partner and I were sitting on the floor, doing kokyuho. I was muscling my way through the technique again. There were nights when it felt like I was not getting even one technique right no matter how many times we repeat the steps. Just when I thought I was at the brink of getting something right another technique gets introduced. It was as if a wave that just barely receded back into the ocean was back to drag me down underneath it again before I can catch a breath. Yet, I keep coming back to shore— the dojo. Where is this voice in my head coming from that it successfully convinces me to come spend another hour or two falling and being thrown onto the mat time and time again? Am I becoming crazy?
“Why Aikido?” a friend of mine asked and the answer is just as elusive as this center Sensei mentions. Perhaps this is part of the pull, finding this center. There could be a million other things I could be doing yet I chose Aikido. When I stumbled across BCA’s website, the welcome page headlined with: Start by Assuming Nothing. “Hmm, this sounds familiar,” I murmured. I took subsequent clicks and read through the dojo’s website, its content echoing some sentiments I have been trying to apply in my life. Aikido has relevance to my life and I didn’t even know it? What else can Aikido offer me?
A soft autumn breeze brushes strands of hair away from my face as I sit near the dojo’s sliding door overlooking rows of lavender below. I was early and decided to sit seiza so I can get used to it. I have come to realize that it is not one voice but a collective voice (and events) that draw me back. Years ago, I read this quote: “For when you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink and paper which determine the result as much as your own hand.” Without Sensei, without my classmates, without the dojo I cannot be nage or uke—positions that allow me to apply or take techniques so that I’m afforded a chance to unfold what I have learned or yet to learn. It dawned on me that I come not just to learn about techniques, but also a chance to learn about myself through others, through my mistakes and from past experiences.
A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.
Winter. My shoulder ached when I swung my arm at certain positions. I messed it up in class while trying to roll. It was my left shoulder again. I am now convinced that this is one of my weakest points. I should be more attentive to it. I had an accident some years back, catapulted off a scooter and landed hard on pavement. I had deep scrapes and bruises: ribs, leg, arm—all of which were on my left side.
My state of mind was all over the place—I confess to this. Right before my partner applied the end of jujinage, I remembered my mind not being in the now and was pre-occupied with the dull pain I was experiencing on both my arms after a session of practicing blocks. “I’m going to get some good bruising tomorrow,” I remember thinking to myself; then—SLAM! By the time I got back in the moment I landed incorrectly and jammed my shoulder into the mat. Sure it is weak, but that is not the reason I injured myself. I simply wasn’t in the moment. If the true reason was because it is weak, then I would continuously re-injure my left-side, but this was not so. I needed to be mindful or risk more injuries.
The circle symbolizes serenity and perfection, the source of unlimited techniques.
Spring. One more week (as I write this) and it will be the first day of spring. The end of March marks ten months of figuring out puzzles in the form of twisted limbs, pins and blocks. I’m still watching out for the elusive center, but I am not upset I haven’t found nor comprehended it. In due time it will come. “Patience,” I remind myself. In the meantime, like the cycle of the seasons, I will no doubt make more mistakes, experience more pain, frustration, on the edge of quitting, lack mindfulness interlaced with breakthroughs and feeling of accomplishments. I am learning to embrace this journey. Slowly gaining insights to lose myself in order to blend where there is no longer a distinction between a beginning and an ending. Who knows where it will take me, I only know where it has taken me so far.