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"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.
"You think you are, but you've built up this solidity from training that makes you hard to move. In a couple more months, you'll be like a rock."
I'm pleased with the compliment, but it's hard for me to believe. Me? Solid? In my Iwama-style dojo, we stress the idea of aiming to be "hard to move"—it gives your training partner a good workout and teaches you the importance of maintaining your own balance. I've always thought aikido was all about flowing, softness, and motion, but here I learn to do it a harder, more solid, and steadfast way. Most times, I'm unaware of these slight changes with my technique; it's subtle, like when I look into the mirror and realize that my hair has grown out really long since the last time I cut it. Only when Sensei points them out that I check myself and start becoming conscious of how far I have come.
Next week I take my 2nd-kyu test. I've been practicing for a little over two months. 2nd-kyu is a rank that first demands jiyu-waza on the test, and last night I went a few rounds with my uke. Once, I ended up losing my balance trying to overtake his and falling into a most un-aikido-like heap. Gosh, how embarrassing—I really hope I don't do that during the actual test. Maybe my new-found solidity will rear its head out of hiding and lend me strength.