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Once upon a time, I used to be able to do the basic-blend technique of tai-no-henko, a normal warm-up exercise often performed in pairs at the beginning of class to get students into the mindset of aikido's movements. Palm face-up and held near the abdomen; hand pivots on an invisible vertical line; forward foot slides in deep; body blends, and both arms end palm-up. Now, I couldn't control the shape of my hands, or slide deep enough, or take my opponent's balance, or end up quite right.
Re-entering aikido is like going through physical rehab after a major accident has robbed you of the ability to walk. You remember how it's done, and yet it is with the greatest of efforts that, with support and guidance, you begin the painstaking journey of learning how to put one foot in front of the other again. It's painful to see fluidity all around you but not yet attain it. Hard to relax when you're so preoccupied with finding the flow. But I do hope to find my aikido again, dormant within me, rusty from years of neglect. Because when I watch the smoothly-flowing aikido of two senior-rank students during practice, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life--it is an execution of art, like perfect penmanship across lined white paper, or the foam at the peak of the ocean waves before they break and rush in to meet the sand. It fills me with a sense of inner tranquility even as I seek to unravel the secret behind such perfection, and a feeling wells up from deep within me, akin to love.
This journey strewn with obstacles comes with its little, occasional rewards: hearing the click-clack sound of wooden jo's clanging against each other during weapons practice, executing a perfect pin, and getting that odd sensation of the 20 hot bodies in the room just disappearing so that all that remains is your training partner, you, and the moment. Once in a while, a training partner attuned to my body's movements, or an instructor who was standing by observing, would say to me, "You've done aikido before, haven't you?"