Working Hard, Playing Hard

This is day one of my 15-day personal Aikido Intensive. Tonight included lots to think about – refining some well-known techniques and exploring some new ones. Awesome class. After a very challenging week at work (at lot of which was engaging and rewarding, but still…), I really needed it, too.

Several of the techniques we worked on involved falling or rolling – quite a lot of it. I had been kind of stiff and achy all day, and the first few rolls I did before class weren’t pretty (or pleasant) at all. But by the end of the class my partner and I were playing pretty hard (by my standards, at least), and it was sheer fun. And afterward I felt a lot better than I did when I walked in.

As I was driving home I thought about my first phone conversation with Dave Goldberg Sensei. I knew I wanted to do Aikido, and was looking into training at Aikido of San Diego. I had heard somewhere about a low-impact class, and thought that might be what I needed, since I’ve had an abundance of foot, arm, hand, and shoulder problems (with all the associated PT, surgery, orthotics, etc.). Sensei explained that he’d tried that kind of class at some point, but he preferred that things be more inclusive, with everyone in the same classes. He said I wouldn’t be expected to do anything I couldn’t handle.

Part of that conversation was some nonsense from me about only being able to train once a week, and would that even be worth doing – and would he even have me as a student if that’s all I could make time for. Thankfully, he said “A little Aikido is better than no Aikido,” and invited me to come observe a class.

I had several concerns about doing Aikido. Because of foot problems I rarely wear sandals or go barefoot, even around the house. Walking from the car to the dojo in flip-flops was the first time in several years I’d worn anything other than fairly rigid, supportive shoes or boots. I felt naked. I considered taping my feet, but hoped I could handle working on the mat without that.

I’ve also had trouble with vertigo. On a few occasions it’s been so bad I could not stand up, walk, or even look around. Completely debilitating and miserable. Last Christmas I spent two days sitting still and staring into the distance. When I managed to walk to the barn to feed Rainy and the donkeys I was so disoriented I had to hang onto things, and got seasick anyway. It’s harmless, but awful. I’ve done months of PT for it, worked with vestibular disorders specialists, etc. I couldn’t even lie down flat without risking starting the spinning all over again.

In class, of course, the first thing to do was to learn rolls, with one of the senior students. I didn’t know what would happen when I tried – if the dojo would start spinning, if I wouldn’t be able to stand up… And I told them so, because seeing someone in that condition can be fairly worrisome to one who isn’t familiar with it. I had even arranged to call for a ride home, just in case I wasn’t able to drive.

After that first class, in May 2009, I had some pretty sore muscles, but nothing injured my shoulders or hands. My feet felt OK on the mat. And the rolling didn’t start the world spinning. (Woohoo!) Most of those problems are things I still need to take care about, but they haven’t stopped me, and all have improved since I started doing Aikido.

I got to thinking about all this as I was driving home. How lucky I am to be able to do this at all, physically. How grateful I am for Sensei’s stand on inclusive classes, and for giving a “one night a week” student a chance. How wonderful it is to just feel good in my body, even (especially) while playing pretty hard.

So if you see me grinning like an idiot while getting tossed across the dojo, now you’ll know why.