I am celebrating the completion of my first year in Aikido by staying home and fighting off a cold. I really wanted to be on the mat tonight. Instead I have the opportunity to practice writing with only half my brain engaged. My apologies if I ramble.
It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year, but it also seems like a lifetime. In some ways, it has been a lifetime. I am not the same person I was when I first stepped onto the mat.
It would be impossible to overstate my gratitude and admiration for my teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei. He passes on the touch of the founder through his technique, speaks our dojo community into existence, and embodies a safe space for discovery and transformation. He demonstrates that one can be vulnerable and strong, gentle and effective, trusting, allowing, patient, generous… These have been more powerful lessons than any exercise or technique I’ve learned.
I have trained 155 days. I’ve participated in seminars and workshops. There was a dojo retreat, picnic, exam days, lunches, and parties. I’ve learned a little about Japanese culture and language, martial ethics and history, and met the most wonderful people. I reached my goal of losing 40 pounds, and on the whole am much healthier (the present cold notwithstanding) and stronger. I’ve developed some discipline in other areas where I had been, frankly, a slob about things. I still have a long way to go.
I’ve tested for 6th and 5th kyu. Whoever said your first test is the hardest one was right, I think. But I need to guard against overconfidence. I forgot how fully I threw myself into training up to 6th kyu, and did not train as well as I might have as my 5th kyu test approached. Yes, I trained a lot, but not with the same focus and attention as at the beginning. I’ve been trying to reclaim that, while allowing the process of learning to happen, like healing, in its own good time.
I came to Aikido hoping to develop skills that would help me in my riding and horsemanship. So far, so good, in those terms. But it has gone so much deeper than just those skills, in directions I never anticipated. I have been experiencing how one learns motor skills, and watching how to teach in that realm. I now have my horse, Rainy, boarded where I can work with him regularly through the summer, with a great teacher, in the company of others on that same path. It has only been a few weeks, and already we are making more progress than in the past two years. If I’ve been a little behind in my blogging, it’s because I’ve been at the barn.
I came to Aikido determined and fearless, and have learned to temper those qualities with patience and judgment. I’ve learned to notice and treasure the cycles and rhythms of dojo life. I discovered that I really like training with weapons, and meditating. I’ve learned to be a little more gentle with myself, let my mind be a bit quieter, to allow others more space and time to be who they are.
Touching and being touched, even being hit or held, was never a problem. But it took me a while to get comfortable with watching people. At first it felt awkward to even casually look on as techniques were demonstrated, never mind openly studying another’s body, movement, and posture. It seemed rude, intrusive, and inappropriate. Now it’s an aesthetic delight and a source of wonder, like hearing beautiful music, and learning to pick out the bass lines and sing the harmonies.
After a lifetime of doing my best to dismiss what my body and emotions had to say, I have begun to allow myself to feel, and to acknowledge that feelings have legitimacy. I have discovered a whole world of somatic psychology, body work, motor learning, and conscious embodiment that I had never been aware of, and am finding it fascinating. My skeptical, literal, rational brain would have dismissed most of it a year ago, but enough direct experience tends to shut down those objections pretty soundly.
Robert Nadeau Shihan, my teacher’s teacher, when discussing dimensions of ourselves in our recent seminar, said “You don’t know who you are, really.” New dimensions reveal new aspects of ourselves. I’ve been catching glimpses. Some have been surprising. Each has felt a little like coming home – right, familiar, and comfortable.
On one of my first visits to the dojo someone asked me “So, how long are you going to do Aikido?” It seemed like such an odd question that I couldn’t even form an answer. I’m sure I just gave a confused stare. The answer was then, as it is now, “For the rest of my life.”
OK, Earth, take us for another spin around the Sun. Let’s see what there is to see on this trip.