Hello and thank you for visiting AikiWeb, the
world's most active online Aikido community! This site is home to
over 16,000 aikido practitioners from around the world and covers a
wide range of aikido topics including techniques, philosophy, history,
humor, beginner issues, the marketplace, and more.
If you wish to join in the discussions or use the other advanced
features available, you will need to register first. Registration is
absolutely free and takes only a few minutes to complete so sign up today!
It shouldn't be too hard, coming back after a little over a week. There is the familiar smell of freshly-varnished wood floor, the new smell of wall paint, the faint scent of Zebra mats, the warm displacement in the air hinting at the arrival of summer. Putting the gi and hakama back on, tying the fabric in place, tugging at the loose ends to smooth out the uniform, even that is a comforting reminder of how it should be. I line up, clap to bow in, and the training starts.
And I thought I paced it right but suddenly everything seems to speed up, and Sensei says for everyone to give it an extra 20 or 25% more speed, and Sempai goes around to tell us the same thing: "Get back up! Attack, attack! Hurry up, let's go!," and I feel the impact of the mats with every takedown along my back, my calves, my palms as I slap the surface, and feel the bruises starting on my knees and elbows, those sharp joints that have had too much time away to remember the conditioned pain, and the sweat starts on my forehead and slides into my brows and eyes, and I could feel the beads glide down my front and back underneath the shielding layers of shirt and gi, pooling at the cinched belt, soaking into the fabric like tears on snow, and the summer air is more apparent now—thickened and heavy with the scent of collective perspiration—and suddenly there seems to be not enough of it as I forget to keep my breathing rhythm and start to gasp, but don't look at that clock because the minute hand has not c
"When you are injured and decide to come watch class anyway," Sensei said, "there is a word for that. In Japan, they call it ‘Shadow Training.' You are still training, because you pick up things while observing that are not so obvious when you are absorbed in a technique." In the last few weeks, I've managed to bust up my left knee doing something I don't even remember, and my lower back from taking a bad fall from koshinage. I can't say I've gotten clumsier lately, as I keep up with my stretching and take care of myself through class, so it must be that the training has gotten more intense, and I am trying out different techniques and ukemi that I have not touched upon much before. These are the first few injuries that actually took me off the mat, but because I cannot resist the pull of the dojo, I come to watch.
Learning with the eyes is different than being able to feel it out with the body. You catch more things by observing other people's postures and movements, and yet you miss that element of trying it out for yourself. I take notes, keep my eyes on the mat, and even catch my hands going up now and then in an effort to imitate Sensei's movements. This is my body's way of yearning to get the motions right. I get frustrated when I see how a technique should be done correctly, but cannot mirror it myself. So much of aikido is based on feel.
I think back to when we were doing kaeshi-waza, reversals. To turn a shihonage into a kokyu nage, there is this brief transi
"She is hard to throw," Sensei comments about me as he helps fix my training partner's hand positions to launch me into a kokyu nage.
I protest, utterly surprised, "No, I'm not!"
I check my own posture, try to loosen up, make sure I am not inadvertently giving my training partner a hard time. Just the other day, my other Sensei told me not to "strong-arm"—that is, stiffen up my arm to resist techniques and potentially laying my elbow open to damage in the process. I don't mean to be stiff, and I'm still struggling with the fine line between giving an appropriate amount of "feedback" without going limp noodle, and resisting a technique in a way that may be deemed excessive. Usually, I'm the smaller one in the partnership, and my various training partners seem not at all to struggle as they launch me effortlessly into the air, my limbs flailing every which way as I lose balance, or driving me hard into the mat. Sometimes it's almost comical, and I envision Wile E. Coyote falling from a cliff and leaving a large imprint of his body's outline in the ground, like a snow angel on the canyon floor as that crafty Roadrunner peers down and chuckles. Instinctively, I've learned to resist, so as to lighten my impact with my long-time friend, the mat.
"Yes, you are," Sensei insists, and he seems more pleased than crossed.
"But I'm very light," I say. Surely, I must be easy to throw, even if that day I happen to be training with another woman who almost matches me in frame.
"We can just work on getting a good backstretch for now."
"That isn't working, so you'll have to do it another way. Push from your center, turn from your hips."
"I know—it's hard because he's big, isn't he?"
They were random bits of advice, sympathy, and encouragement from various training partners whom I'd paired up with during a three-day training camp, a "gasshuku" held annually at North Lake Tahoe. This year, I attended my first—full of fun, educational experiences, and surprises, including the fact that those kernels of advice each came from a Sensei whom I didn't know was a Sensei when I trained with them. There were so many aikidoka packed on the mat; often, we could not even fully do a sit-fall. They came from California, Texas, Arizona, Virginia, Germany—all over the world map to meet in one common area and practice a common language: that of aikido. My Sensei said we do aikido not so much with our ears but with our eyes, and though we may not all understand each other, aikido is the one language that we speak together. We bow in. We merge energies, clash wooden weapons, thank each other, bow out. We do it for a total of three days: 14 cumulative training hours at 6,000-feet elevation in an average of 30-50-degree weather marking one of the unusually cool, late-May summers near the beautiful, pristine lake.
Being so close to nature, away from the comforts and familiarity of home, we practice that common and old language of aikido. We teach each other an
A little more than halfway through third kyu, and suddenly everything is new again. Footwork, body angles, where the hands go—I am revisiting the minor details of these movements, nitpicking to get them right. In regular keiko, sandwiched in the middle at lineup between beginners and yudansha, I had grown accustomed to training with students near my rank or lower, our pace steady as we work through and try to understand the techniques. I become the middle child, surrounded by big brothers and little sisters, for the most part overlooked and ignored.
Sensei writes me an email: "So when are you going to attend Advanced Training?" Held on Mondays and Fridays for half an hour after regular keiko, or Wednesdays for the full hour, Advanced Training is something I've always sat on the sidelines to observe since I joined the dojo. There are those students who first join the sessions and struggle with the newness and intensity, but for the most part, it consists of yudansha going at each other at full speed and strength. Sometimes, there is advanced weapon techniques, including take-aways like jo- and tachi-dori. Often, it includes lessons on reversals, how to morph ikkyo omote into sankyo ura, or yonkyo into a kokyu-ho throw. Therefore, it is a joy to watch, and a pleasure for the senses to see aikido at a natural pace, practiced by partners who look like they dance through the techniques with fluidity and simplicity.
I write Sensei back: "I know I'm overdue to join the advanc
It feels like sacrificing the body to save the wrist, a sudden wrench as I clasp tight to Sempai's forearm and throw my head down to look back up at him, my leg going up and over. For a second I am airborne, none of my body touching the ground, tethered only by the hand still hanging onto him as he flips me, my earlier-caught wrist unwinding around the tight torque. The world goes topsy-turvy, whizzing by like in a forward roll, but with a stronger adrenaline rush from the momentary freedom of earth. And then gravity pulls me back to the ground, my free hand slapping the mat to soften the impact, the side of my thigh slamming against the mat's hard surface.
"Look up and over," Sempai coaches, "up and over." Out of a dozen tries, I do maybe three decent ones. The other times, I don't put in enough spring during take-off, or my body rotates wrong in mid-air, forcing me to land awkwardly and hard.
"More?" he asks, and I say, "Again," going for the forearm, getting the feel of the pendulum motion. We first do it on the count of three, so that I can learn the rhythm and timing so essential to such acrobatics. Then he flips me on the count of one, alternating left, right, left. Forced to strive for balance, I don't get the chance to learn it well first on one side.
Neck sore. Arms sore. Huge, welting purple bruises on the sides of my thighs from landing hard. The days following high-fall practice, I pay for it, limping along in my daily routine. Soreness has not been a fo
Hanging out after class one day, my new san-kyu belt around my abdomen, I suddenly found myself in a jiyu-waza session with three guys, initiated by a Sempai. Jiyu waza would be on my next test, still a long distance away, but it felt appropriate--if not initially intimidating--to start practicing it. We went slow, the four of us spread across the ranks. The attacks were less deliberate; the takedowns and pins were drawn out and exaggerated so we could first get a feel for this freestyle way of training.
When people are coming at you, brandishing shomenuchi or yokomenuchi or mune-tsuki, seizing your arms in morote-dori or katate-dori or ryote-dori, your body takes over. You learn to move from instinct, drawing upon the familiar techniques repeated a hundred times over in structured keiko, class training. Maybe your blends aren't as effective, your timing a little off, you get out of the way a fraction of a second too late, and your pins are still sloppy. But jiyu-waza teaches you the concept of moving on your feet, how to go right into a technique and follow through. You learn which ones you favor, which ones you don't use nearly enough. You learn not to freeze. And you learn the fluidity of aikido when forced to do it in constant motion, how the footwork so ingeniously works itself out as you trace spirals in the air, circles on the floor.
This was how I imagined martial arts to be, fluid and spontaneous, a dozen different attacks met with a dozen appropriate blends
The way of the "free hand" is full-contact and consists of kicks, punches, grappling, and throws. Fast, furious, and direct, this form of kickboxing aims to take down an opponent in the least amount of time. Compared to aikido, these arts seem like polar opposites. Flow and harmony are replaced with quick-paced, in-your-face action; soft rolls and sit falls are replaced with the jarring impact of a direct take-down; the respectful ma-ai (distance) between training partners gets closed up, the space between two bodies nonexistent during instances of kneeing and ground-grappling. The terminology of basic martial concepts change--instead of "training partner," the person facing you is your "opponent"; where one art stresses the absence of competition, the other is directly competitive.
I kick-box not to nullify my aikido training, but to enhance it. I get to know the feeling of five long, long minutes of pushing forward with punches, kicks, and blocks; not backing down, closing up the distance, not forgetting to shield my face with my 12-ounce gloves that become heavier and heavier as the minutes drag on to 10, 15, 20. Aikido techniques open up like a blooming flower, embracing the attack, redirecting its force to work to your advantage. Kickboxing tightens up like a turtle in its shell, staying focused, hard, protected. My defensive and centered hanmi stance becomes a squared offensive stance, staying alive on the balls of my feet, inching up to strike the kicking pads.
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 dee