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It's one of those words in the English language that has morphed into another meaning over time, but unlike "Xeroxed" or "Googled"—representatives of corporate giants so successful that they have encouraged world-known verbs from their company name—"humility" has taken a turn for the opposite direction. In its essence, it means "the act of being humble." Once, you were raised to have humility. Now, society asks you to do more, be more, strive for more. "Humility" is now equal to lowering your eyes in shame, being made fun of by that throng of bullies, an uncool word that you wish would never be used in the same sentence as your name. But once in a while, you get a lesson that gives you time to ponder the original meaning of humility.
I spotted a hole in the leather bottom of my aikido weapons bag the other day. The sharp end of my bokken was peeking through the middle of the seam where the thread had unraveled from years of use. It was the first time I thought to treat my bag more delicately since I bought it, and I walked to class that day grasping the ripped end closed in my fist as if it were leaking blood. Wasn't I once the little girl who stayed on an impoverished island for years with my parents as we were awaiting our immigration papers? At an age where children wallowed in too many toys to play with, I had cried in the middle of the market square for a glossy red apple, too stuck on the rarity of fruits and their lacking in our food rations to even think about own
Recently, I married the man I met 11 years ago in an aikido class at the university we were both attending. As a nod to how we met, we added a fun "martial arts" theme to the wedding, making a sign-in book with photos from our engagement session where we each donned martial arts clothes, and adding a martial arts demo for our reception walk-in with the help of some current dojo friends. We customized our cake topper to look like this:
Ever wonder what happens when an aikidoka meets a San Shou practitioner? It can only be love . Enjoy our Love Story on YouTube!
I am sitting in the patient chair, making a fist as the lab technician ties my upper arm with a band and swabs the soft skin at my elbow juncture with alcohol. The slight shock of cold is the most unnerving part, the sensation of the body being touched by another. Deftly, the technician inserts the tip of the needle into my vein to draw my blood.
I remember back to when I was young, fighting my mother as she hauled me by the arm into the doctor's office to have my blood drawn for routine examinations. I screamed and threw the full weight of my body against her to resist being taken into the exam room, but I was so small and she was so strong. The more I cried, shouted, and flailed my limbs, the stronger her grip became on me. How could I resist this force? The more I tried to pull away, the harder I was drawn to it, meshing into her body as a single unit as she picked me up and held me close, her arms wrapped around mine to discourage the thrashing.
"It's just a pinch," she'd say to calm me, "a bite from a tiny little ant." Tears traced rivers of salt down my cheeks, dripping off my chin. I stared at the needle in the nurse's hands, this giant metal tip that would soon stake claim in my body, taking away my blood, my essence. The room smelled of antiseptic and the nurse was dressed in sterile white, the color of mourning and death. The crisp wax paper on the exam bed crinkled loudly beneath me every time I shifted positions. There was no escaping two strong, full-grow
There is a dark side to every moon. Aikido has always been my light, but lately it has built stones around me to create a well, and I am trapped at the bottom, looking up toward a pinprick circle of hope. The cold stone walls are wide and slippery, and I lack the strength to climb out.
I am chest-deep in ocean waters, trying to understand the finer details of techniques one at a time, but the corrections and critiques come too quickly, like currents of irimi-nage waves that wash over my head, riptides pulling me out to drown.
I am a little girl alone in the big, bad woods, bright red cape billowing behind me as I race against the wind. The woods are dark and deep, and I stand out to the creatures that hide there because I do not blend. I do not own the night. I know where I want to go, but never has it been harder to get there. Silver moonlight filters weakly through the stark tree branches, casting jagged shadows along my path.
One month later from the start of May, and I'm sitting here wondering if my next blog entry would finally be one that doesn't involve the subject of illness. May 1st started me off with a normal cold/sore throat, which led to an extended cough that required antibiotics, which really didn't help as the cough transitioned into seasonal allergies. I got my first migraine ever coming back up from a Southern California trip. I had to schedule an emergency dentist appointment to re-seal a tooth's crown that suddenly popped off during flossing. Just a few weeks ago, even my work computer caught a virus. But the worst that happened was I caught a stomach bug and ended up missing the entire annual Gasshuku at Lake Tahoe.
It must have been adrenaline that got me there, and every day, I woke up in the hotel room with the hope that I could hobble to the gym and train at least one session, only to have that hope shot down by yet another trip to the bathroom. As I lay groaning in bed, wishing it could have been any other way, I wondered if I had been a bad Buddhist lately and missed a vegetarian day, or forgot to help my fair share of old ladies across the street to get that big of a karmic kick in the butt.
It must have been adrenaline that got me back. The prospect of home, of comfort foods my body was used to processing when it's ill, of the Bay Area's signature warm and healing sunlight instead of a white world of wind and snow. With four days and five pounds lost, it was diffic
Time flies, like a kite cut free of its tethering string, borne on the fickle winds, fluttering and drifting aimlessly against a backdrop of dark clouds and gray sky. In between being out of town and being sick, I hadn't been to the dojo in over a week. A week on break from training feels so long, and my internal sense of time gets knocked off kilter. The hours bleed into days, and I forget where in the week I am without the benchmark training evenings to regulate myself.
It serves me right for being healthy for such a long streak—I knew that whatever I got next, it would be heavy enough to knock me out for a while. Memories of the last few months' events drift into my prescription-drug-induced unconsciousness, of Sensei badly injuring his knee during the Hawaii Doshu Seminar, of his surgery and time away from the dojo. Sensations of jo training with Sempai lace my dreams; I am struggling to manipulate the jo to bring him down in a shihonage, but the wood bends in the middle and refuses to lend me its strength. "The wood is strongest along the grain," Sempai tells me, "so extend through the jo." I understand, but I cannot physically move to make it work. Sweat drenches my brow and soaks into my shirt as I sleep. It's all I want to do for a long while, and I shun the sensations of consciousness and the healing sunlight to stay in that Sandman world where I hope my body can heal.
But I do wake. Yesterday, I stepped back onto the freshly-varnished wood of the dojo floor.
I have always known the world from this petite point of view, from this five-foot frame that puts me mostly neck- or sometimes chest-level with those whom I am facing. When I need to react quickly to an attack, I focus on people's torsos and not their eyes, anticipating how the body draws back for a punch, or how the hips shift to gear up for a kick. Used to this perspective, I do not usually notice how tiny I am until I see pictures of myself lined up with other people. Sometimes, I overcompensate by lifting my arms too high for an ikkyo, or reaching up too far when attacking with a shomenuchi. I do this unconsciously, but Sensei keeps me in check, lectures me about being sure to bring my training partner down to my level.
I guess I've chosen the perfect art, founded by a man who was roughly my height. In aikido, the taller person adjusts in order to do an effective technique, and the shorter person stays in his or her comfort zone. I've heard my fair share of short jokes, and I've gotten used to sassing back, "Try living off rice and salt or rationed sardines for your growing years and see how tall you grow to be." Yes, I feel dwarfed in what seems like a dojo—and often a world—filled with giants. Yes, when someone runs at me full-forced during jiyu-waza, I fight a brief moment of panic at the idea of being steam-rolled into the mat. Yes, it's a challenge when you've got less muscles and tiny hands and wrists. But just because you are short, it doesn't mean that you're
Sensei says that aikido is like a uniform we wear for as long as we train in the art, even after we leave the dojo for the day, for we practice its principles both on the mat and off. Those shihonages that torque my wrist are like the annoying tag that I forgot to cut off, sharp edges jabbing into my sensitive skin. Those ikkyo pins that send a stab of pain shooting up the bad elbow are like the garment's chafing, stiff collar, hard to ignore. I have to stop yanking on my ikkyo uras and remember to use my hips during the turn; after all, it's not the skirt that keeps riding up. Those breakfalls look unnatural on me, and I confess they're not my usual style, though everyone seems to be quite taken by them these days. And those koshinages, bane of my existence, both because I am so bad at them and yet long to do them right so badly—they stick out like flyaway threads gone awry and untrimmed.
I've never been one for uniforms. Throughout school, even though I admit to the weirdness of the Goth, heavy-metal, and flamboyant-fashionista looks, I understood them to be an expression of individuality. Uniforms, I felt, suppressed that freedom and creativity. But something about my aikido uniform I've gotten to like, the ritual of getting into and out of it almost every day. I like the loose, billowing hakama pants, how they're just long enough to tuck my feet in the skirts for warmth as I sit seiza in the cold winter months, awaiting instruction. I like how the stiff koshiita, whi
It had been over five years since I had seen him last. How long, exactly? Six? Seven? Time is like the wind and rain making its mark across figures carved into the rocky mountainside—subtle, but sure and inevitable. I met him when I was a young freshman in college, insecure, unsure, straggling into the dojo to find something I was yet unable to name. I left him to seek my Master's degree, my mind full and buzzing with too much English literature and creative writing concepts to have room for aikido. I said goodbye to him and the campus to venture into the world of corporate, where I was taught completely different lessons, foreign and new. But something called me to him again, so I went to visit him in Fremont for a training session.
Nestled in the back of a building complex, Sunny Skys Sensei's dojo stood with its sakura emblems painted on the front glass, the characters "Ai-Ki-Do" standing straight and proud. Being inside the dojo brought me to another world of zen temples and the sounds of nature: two doves cooed to us as we trained; instrumental music played, muted in the background; the sound of flowing water from the koi pond softened the hot morning with its cooling sound. Weapons racks holding bokken and jo stood mounted on the far wall, the Zebra mats felt sleek and cool beneath my bare feet, and the lavish studio mirror reflected my posture, my too-wide hanmi. The dojo was white and bright and made me feel welcomed.
I bowed into new training partners througho
It was the end of September, and the usually mellow Bay Area California weather finally lashed out with a late-summer heat wave. I thought about going to train in 90-degree heat, boxed in the un-air-conditioned dojo, and quite unconventionally decided to play hooky by going to the swimming pool instead. I raced the sun through traffic on the way home, hoping for some light to be left, but it was fueled by the adrenaline from the swiftly-approaching autumn and sank below the horizon for an early rest. By the time I made it to the pool, the evening glowed in soft moonlight, accentuated by pinpricks of stars.
I dangled my legs calf-deep in water, always too cold at first, watching kids throw neoprene balls at each other and listening to the joyful, careless sounds of their playing. Finally, I plunged in, engulfed in chlorine, shocked by cold, allowing my body to go through the familiar motions of finding the surface and then staying on top of it. The first time back in a swimming pool after over a year away, it always seemed daunting. The length of the pool stretched out before me, and I was afraid of the point where I knew the bottom to dip down too deep. It was my "tiring point," made more acutely so by my awareness of its existence, by my acceptance that if I got winded or got a cramp, I couldn't simply dip my toes down vertically and feel for solid ground.
I took a few easy laps across the pool's width and thought how strange it was that swimming was one of those ski