by Ea Murphy
Within the first year of training in Aikido I made the decision that I would keep practicing for the rest of my life. That innocent decision, naïve in what it would actually entail, provided relief from the constant judgment of progress and attainment. I could train as much as I wanted without worrying about whether or not I was achieving martial skill, about whether my innate abilities were enough to “really” do Aikido, or about whether my training would actually prove useful in the “real world”. I would, I reasoned, be doing this for decades, surely at that point I would understand something about Aikido.
At some point, I realized that just walking onto the mat was not enough. Without conscious permission, my life began to change. I started eating better to hold up to daily training. I had to make more money in order to eat better. I had to take jobs that didn’t interfere with class. My philosophies changed and my aggressions softened. Slowly and surely, life became structured around Aikido.
And at some point I realized that structuring a life around Aikido was not enough. Leaning into this training and this commitment required something more, and, at the same time, required something less.
The original decision to train for the rest of my life was an escape into comfort, which excused the attention to every moment on and off the mat that a commitment to martial arts entails. Above all, a committed martial artist cannot become comfortable and must continually meet each new day, encounter, and each moment without expectations. From my limited experience, I see that there is always a deeper, more challenging layer to martial training and commitment. Comfort keeps us from seeing these new aspects, caught in the box of “I am” instead of continually opening to our true natures in the world.
A committed martial artist does not require a mat, and training in a dojo does not necessarily make a martial artist. A dojo is a luxury—a physical space to house the spirit of training and keep the fire burning. Our art becomes life beyond the dojo, when our commitment to Aikido translates into a commitment to continually learn how to truly respond.
If faced with combat in the world outside the dojo, as a martial artist, I don’t know that I would respond with combat, despite the fact that the term martial arts literally refers to the art of war. The beauty and the gift of training in the art of war is that we come face to face, on some level, with life and death. The deeper we go in our training, our sincerity, our faith, and our doubt grows stronger. The deeper we go in our training, the choices become clearer and the consequences less important. The blade against our skin becomes more live and we are cut.
I still believe that daily training is a vital part of a commitment to martial arts, but despite my younger self, who thought that merely training would make me a martial artist, I see I must go beyond the mat, the dojo, and training to truly find what it means to be martial. The vigor of training in a dojo helps immensely in this endeavor, but ultimately, a martial artist drops these attachments to truly cut and be cut in the world.
Ea Murphy trains at Siskiyou Aikikai and is the new Birankai registrar.