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For five years, it sat in a dark corner of my closet. When I pulled it out of the bag, it still looked the same--crisp and white, stiff at the seams, crinkled in areas bent over and over from years of use. When I tried it on, it still felt the same--cottony cool and loose for easy mobility, with a belt tied tight around the abdomen to remind me of correct posture, good etiquette, and decorum.
In reality, my body and its limitations become my inhibitions, but in my dreams, I remember how to fly. I am weightless as air, malleable as water, flowing easily over wrist locks and joint holds, taking tumbles and executing standing rolls with barely a skip in my heartbeat. My breathing is rhythmic and not labored as I train--moving in perfect circles, landing soft, lost in the rhythms of my own body, and the techniques come to me as second-nature as the speakings of my own soul.
Now I start at a different school and don a new gi. My belt is white, my mind an empty cup as it seeks to learn again, from the start. Everything in these initial stages feels awkward, awkward; my body struggles to remember how to move, limbs akimbo as they seek the right positions to start off, to end up.
I know the kanji is different, but I can't help interpreting the first character of "aikido" to mean "love." Five years put on hold as I worked toward my graduate degree and gauged the terrain of the corporate world. Now I go back to one of my first loves. Draping the new uniform over my shoulders, tying the vest in place left-over-right, cinching the belt so the knot sits right above my "hara" center energy, I start to remember why this martial art is built upon the foundation of love. The first time I wore my uniform again, it was as intimate as if I was taking off the layers, not putting them on; I got butterflies in my stomach for all the potential that is to be, and that is love. Meeting a stranger and working that closely with his or her body, taking care to learn in the process an not inflict hurt--that is love. Studying how the body moves and achieving confluence and harmony so that my mind feels linked with all the essence of the universe, that is love. Even the trail of bruises along my forearms and knees from take-downs and blocking shomenuchi strikes, which remind me about enjoying life as a mortal, and that everything worth having comes with a least a little pain . . . that is love.
In real life, I struggle against gravity and resistant forces, but in my dreams, I float on air. My passion fueled once again, I will work to re-learn buoyancy, weightlessness, and flow. This is my "ai," and I will "hajime"--begin again.