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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > March, 2004 - Introductions
by "The Mirror"

This column was edited by Janet Rosen.

Introductions, by The Mirror


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As the guest editor for our first column, may I present the writing budobabes of aikido-l. We are five women who have been part of an aikido internet community for several years. The origins of the term "budobabe" are lost, but we assure you it is a term we chose, a rank we aspire to. Most of us have met in person at least once, on the mat and over food and drink. Thanks to Jun Akiyama's suggestion and support, we will be collaborating on this monthly column. At times it may be firmly women-focused and at times more universally focused, depending on the topic and which of us is the lead writer.

As a group we comprise mothers, spouses, scientists, artists, teachers, healers, and yes, of course, writers. We range in age from early 30s through early 50s, in rank from nikyu through nidan. What we have in common is a love for budo that keeps it an integral part of our busy lives, both curiosity about and a commonsense approach to life and aikido, and an inveterate tendency to write about these explorations.

Another commonality in our lives is that we have all had to adapt our aikido training, not on account of our gender, but due to either injury or age. For some, adaptation has been as simple as "don't roll like that anymore." For others, it has meant identifying and then working through fears that hold us back, or admitting we will not look as flashy as the youngsters. Many have faced that some additional regimen of strengthening and/or stretching, and living with some nagging aches, will have to be as much a part of our routines as aikido and tooth brushing. Finally, for some, it has meant finding new instructors, or finding the resolve to buck tradition and hierarchy and say "this is what MY training and MY budo needs to look like now."


Fear

Fear, whether of being hurt or of facing one's actual or perceived limitations, is familiar to most folks who train. For women who had not been brought up to be athletic (thankfully much less common an issue in recent years) or who may have experienced abuse/attack in real life, simply getting on the mat, or returning to it after injury, is an act of real courage.

Susan:

"I was very fearful of falling. Fear and trust are major issues with me (I was a brown belt and still looking behind me before I'd take a back fall). My dojo accommodated my age and fearfulness by being a safe place and allowing me to set my own boundaries. One of my teachers intuited my fear almost immediately and invited me to start in the children's class. As a tentative, middle-aged woman, I appreciated the slow start that class gave me, and I also had the opportunity to train with my then 6-year old son. Soon I was confident enough to move to adult classes."

Emily:
"My budo training, beginning in aikido, has given me tools to deal with everyday fears and trials which I might otherwise be more troubled by. I have learned to let most things go, and to take on the rest in the most deadly serious manner."

Janet:
"When I returned to training after knee surgery, and then found out the knee still wasn't fully stable, fear really rose up. I had to step back and try to define exactly what was going on: was it the fear of having to give up aikido or the fear of blowing out my knee again? Even two years later, especially when the knee hurts, fear rises up. In day to day training, the issue is to be honest with myself about the difference between fear and a physical problem: identify where fear is leading me to train a certain way, face and correct it; be as rigorous about staying on the mat to work through the fear as I am consistent and firm about sitting down the moment the knee itself lets me know it needs to rest."

Katherine:
Breaking the collarbone a second time in training, "mentally, this one has been a lot harder. Because I'm not sure what I did wrong, I'm not able to dismiss this one as a fluke. Before, my natural stubbornness got me back on the mat: I wouldn't let myself quit until I proved I could come back, and once I did come back I no longer wanted to quit. This time, it's been much harder to silence the fear of getting hurt again, or getting hurt more seriously. I'm working through it by being very patient with myself (or trying to be) and working on my rolls to try to give myself more room for error in similar situations."


Physical Limits

Beginners in aikido, except for those graceful "naturals" the rest of us alternate between admiring and hating, are all too aware of their physical limits: how alien it feels to roll, how inexplicable to differentiate irimi from tenkan, how odd to expect to breathe into and accept nikkyo.

There comes a time in training when physical limits take a back seat to emotional, mental or spiritual ones: the body knows what is expected and moves easily. If one trains long enough, injury and/or age will resurrect the issue of physical limits.

Susan:

"My knees sometimes bother me (I ran for years) so I avoid knee-walking on those nights. Also, my back has gone out on me a time or two (not doing aikido but it caused me enough trouble so I always remember it's there), so I don't breakfall until I'm really warmed up, and even then, if I can roll out, I often do."

Janet:
"When I first get on the mat, I do forward rolls in all eight directions. It is a good pre- stretching warmup, but even more than that, it puts me in touch with my whole body right off the bat and let's me see what is tight, what is hurting before training starts. With my bad knee, I no longer do any seated technique, standard backrolls, or techniques that may involve loading the partner (koshinage, aikiotoshi). I'm working on less extreme postures, like staying in a more natural stance to throw, or at least sliding the rear foot up right away."

Katherine:
A broken collarbone "made me more attentive to ukemi, both the details of falling and the philosophy of giving a good attack while still protecting yourself. I got hurt primarily because I was resisting incorrectly, so I've learned a lot about how to be both strong and flexible, instead of just strong."

Emily:
"I educated myself about the care of my body, and sought physical therapy in the form of chiropractic and massage. I found the massage to be most helpful, and continued in this profession myself. As I grow older, I am better at pacing myself, and better at taking care of myself. I have not yet gotten much weaker or slower, but I do have trouble with stiffness, and have taken up Ashtanga, or power yoga, to effectively combat my body's slow petrification."


Accepting Self

Sometimes we hear younger folks, in the face of an acute injury that will heal, rail against the injury as if it were some external enemy, rather than taking time to work on other aspects of their lives. They avoid going to the dojo to watch classes because they "can't stand being there and not training." Often, they return to training too early, hoping that red tape will magically hasten the natural healing process.

Male or female, the voices we hear as people mature speak of being realistic about the abilities that remain, sometimes painfully aware of how we go back to being beginners in unexpected ways, but grateful for the ability to bow into the dojo regardless of what one's body will permit on any given day.

Katherine:

"But it's all still a work in progress, and sometimes a very frustrating one. In some ways, I'm back to the beginner feeling of being embarrassed because you're slowing your partners down. Only worse, because that black belt means that I'm supposed to know what I'm doing, be able to cut loose, etc."

Janet:
"During my first two or three year of training, often I drove home from the dojo in tears, pounding the steering wheel and shouting, not because of anything bad that happened, but because of sheer frustration with my own slowness in learning. Among other things, the passing of years and the injury/surgery/rehab process has given me greater patience with myself, given me permission to be who I am, so long as it's the best I can be at that moment."

Emily:
"I have learned, in the hard lessons of the past four years, that I require time and nurturing, challenge and development in balance. I have learned that my body may be finite, but my spirit is not. And my mind is well adapted to helping my body keep up with my spirit's desire to train."

Susan:
"No, I don't bounce like my teenage son who is our dojo's favorite indestructible uke, and sometimes I can't help comparing myself to him and the other phenomenal young ukes, but learning to accept myself is part of my training. No, I don't bounce like my teenage son...but I managed my forty consecutive falls for my nidan test and no one had to call the paramedics...When my son was in seventh grade, he had to interview a physically fit person, and he chose me. I asked why, and he said, "Mom, you're not young and you're not skinny, but I admire how you've worked so hard." Sometimes I've worked too hard. Aikido makes me confront my need to be perfect, my tendency to compare myself to others, and that huge competitive streak I never wanted to acknowledge I had. Aikido has not come easily for me, and I can't imagine it ever will. Sometimes I'm so frustrated I can feel the tears behind my eyes. But aikido also brings me joy."


Taking Responsibility

Accepting ourselves and our limitations sometimes means having to find appropriately aiki ways of being firm with others regarding our needs. It may sometimes feel like a clash, especially in a very traditional dojo. But it is indeed congruent with the old-fashioned idea that the teacher is making knowledge available for we as adults to learn, with each ultimately responsible for her own training.

Emily:

"Partners who are just "mean" I walk away from. I find it's the greatest way to end an ego contest to bow, say "we're done" and walk away. Especially if you get picked up afterwards by an instructor who saw what happened and just wants to train, too. I can be mean, but I don't want anyone's injury on my conscience. It's not worth it. Much as I wish the other person could be eaten alive by parrots, it's not worth it."

Susan:
"All my issues on the mat are the same ones I encounter off the mat-backing away from conflict rather than entering, not taking up my space, and being too nice. Working on solving those problems in my aikido makes me deal with them everywhere."

Katherine:
After the second injury, "I had a much better idea of both what to expect and what I needed to do to recover flexibility and strength. I was more assertive about getting my doctor to prescribe PT...I'm also doing exercises to develop the muscles around the shoulder, which my physical therapist thinks will help protect the skeleton better...Plus, my dojo added a sword program in between the two injuries. Sword is a great way to rebuild shoulder muscles without the (mental or physical) trauma risks of aikido."

Janet:
"After my knee injury, I changed dojo in order to be in a place I felt safe and able to develop fully, not as a second class citizen due to the residual disability. As crucial as it is to be honest with myself about my fears and limits, it's also important that I articulate clearly to partners and instructors. Often the problems are counterintuitive to what they expect (falling is fine, deeply stanced pivots and lots of lateral moving about the mat is not). I'm a total hard ass about sitting down when I need to. I'm still learning about low-key, effective communicating of things that come up, like asking a partner to move more slowly."


Some Final Thoughts

O'Sensei directed us to train in a joyous manner. I mentioned at the start of the column that as a group we share a love for budo that keeps it an important part of our lives. While various factors have been at play for helping us persevere in our training (support from instructors or sempai or family, inherent stubbornness, having role models, etc.), I suspect that essentially the connection between our training and our hearts, that joy that comes like a flash, unsought, on the mat, keeps us on this path. As Emily says, we train for the fun and the challenge and the good times, never mind the bad. Happy keiko, until next month.


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