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With the 2010 chapter of my life behind me, I am already a few pages into a new one. It didn't take me long to realize that the chapter of 2011 is about new beginnings. Not only is it a new year, but it's also a new decade. Not to mention, I have a fairly new rank to accompany this trend of new beginnings. As a recently minted 4th kyu, I would think, like a coin, my exterior would be all shiny and new. Instead, I get the feeling that I have a rather dull finish. I ask myself how this came to be, but I can't seem to find an answer.
As I stare at my reflection, I realize that I don't look like a shiny new coin at all. Instead, I see….. a stuffed teddy bear. I'm made of worn fabric and I'm being held together by fraying seams. I notice mismatched fabric patches in several locations and I'm showing signs of additional threadbare areas. Then something else catches my eye. What is that? Is that a hole? ::sigh:: Yes, I even have a new hole in my fabric. ::begins shoving the stuffing back inside::
Despite my slightly rough appearance, I don't appear to have been abused or neglected. Instead, it seems that I bear the marks of hard love. It's as if I were the favorite toy of a child that has withstood the test of time (with a little help of course). With each patch I have, it shows the trials and tribulations I have had to overcome. Although my fabric has been pushed beyond its limit, creating worn and torn areas, a patch is there to help reinforce it and make it new once more.
The thread used for my various seams are a kaleidoscope of colors. As my seams become frayed and fall apart, those around me help stitch me back together. Though the sewing may be crude (we can't all be Martha Stewart), and the stitching is never the same color (you make use of what you have at the time), it is done with utmost care.
As I sit and stare at myself in the mirror, I realize how I have changed over the years. I used to look like an average brown teddy bear. You know the type; every kid has one at one point or another. Over the years though, I have acquired a completely new appearance. My plain brown coat has evolved into a coat of colorful patchwork and my dark brown seams have been upgraded to all the colors of the rainbow.
As I continue to stare at the mirror, I take an even closer look at my appearance. One blue patch with white sailboats on it brings back a memory of a lesson with sensei. Something he told me to do countless times with the bokken finally clicked and made sense. As my flashback came to an end, I realized that who I have become has not been a solo project; the entire dojo community played a part.
Sometimes a particular person would push me beyond my limits, ripping a hole in my fabric. When this happens, usually another person is there to help patch me up or stitch me back together again. Occasionally, the person who did the ripping is also the one doing the stitching. Still, I occasionally find myself stitching up my own flaws. After all, you can't always depend on someone else to point out or correct your flaws. Sometimes you have to find and mend them on your own.
As I take one last look at the teddy bear in the reflection, I can't help but conclude that it looks worn out. Although it was done with kindness, it has put up with the rigor of near daily training (and the corrections that come with it) for too long. Like a child's favorite toy, perhaps it has received a bit too much love. As I gaze upon myself, I can feel the various aches and pains that have become a daily accessory, like a wedding band that I never take off. Then somehow, my mind always drifts back to aikido….
As I turn away from the mirror, a smile spreads across my face. Because, despite being worn out, exhausted or full of aches and pains, this teddy bear has a lot of mileage left in it. With each new patch or stitch I receive, I humbly step out on the mat with tangible proof of a new beginning.