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Few women may remember the outfit they were wearing when they first met their spouse or significant other. I can clearly recall mine. Almost 10 years ago, I was in all white--wearing my martial arts gi with my white belt when my current boyfriend grabbed my wrist for the first time and sealed our fate as a couple with a potent kotegaeshi.
Tonight, changing out of that very same gi after my current aikido class, I noticed the beginnings of a threadbare rip across the knee area of one of the pant legs. Seems like it's time to retire this one and see about the purchase of a new gi; after all, few outfits can boast an almost 10-year residency in anyone's closet. But throwing out this gi does not come with some regrets. Though Japanese martial arts stress a kempt uniform to foster a "clean" training spirit, I've also heard stories about how students go to great lengths to patch up worn out, torn, or threadbare spots on their training uniforms. Even high-ranking practitioners and instructors sometimes wear these apparel battle scars as a symbol of pride for the hard work and training that they've been through. A black belt frayed at the edges or turning back to white from years and years of use is representative of the painstaking, yet exhilarating and worthy journey one has taken to achieve a level of martial aptitude. Like any important path in life, it speaks of the symbolic arc of who were were before we transform into who we become--through discipline, dedication, sweat, and sometimes tears and blood.
Yes, it's time to throw out my very first gi that has shaped one of the biggest and best parts of me: my aikido training, which has helped me both find and understand love, which has cultured my spirit, refined my body, and brought an indescribable sense of peace to my soul. Over the years and through my two dojos, it has molded itself to my training style: frayed at high-impact areas, crinkled from grappling and kneeling, creased at fold seams. It reflects new lessons and recent changes: my name now sits on the left sleeve in black iron-on letters; the sleeves are folded back to accommodate wrist grabs; and the pant legs have recently been rolled up to be hidden under my new hakama.
In our consumer society, materialism is so much a part of our culture that we often lose track of the meaning behind things like a simple article of clothing. This gi helped me find myself in an art that I've come to love. It waited patiently for years in the dark closet when I lost myself to a new world of career choices and corporate rules. And now it's time to let it go...but not before it helped me rediscover an essential part of myself through aikido again.