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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > December, 2005 - Death and Rebirth on the Mat

Death and Rebirth on the Mat by "The Mirror"

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This column was written by AJ Garcia.

As we near the end of the year and days grow darker and colder, I've been thinking about the seasons we experience not only in nature, but also on the mat, and the parallels between them. As in nature, these practice-related seasons can be cyclical. These are my humble meditations on the cycle of death and rebirth on the mat....


Everything is new, and there is so much of it. Inspiration is everywhere. It's exciting, thrilling, and you learn at a rapid pace, exposed to so many new concepts you can barely keep up. Your enthusiasm carries you through any fatigue or challenges, and you try everything, eager to explore every aspect of the art that you encounter. Often Spring is the season of just beginning Aikido, or later, when inspired by a teacher or encounter with a new way of doing things, or perhaps a different style of aikido.


The pace slows a bit and you realize that nothing is quite as simple as you thought it was. You begin to concentrate on really mastering the movements, timing, and yourself. Just as summer heat makes training harder, you sweat and struggle with the details, at times frustrated, at times triumphant. You wilt under intense blazes of correction, and are refreshed by the occasional cooling rain of a technique, a concept, executed perfectly. Summer is returning to Beginner's Mind again and again as you strive to imprint body memory successfully. This is often the season when the full impact of the responsibility of passing on knowledge of the art correctly to those of lower rank than yourself hits home.


Now the concern to master technique in excruciating, complex detail begins to fall away, as you shed form for substance and begin to grasp the universality of all movement. Technique becomes simpler, more energy-efficient, and at times softer, with a more consistent precision of execution. You become increasingly flexible at responding to challenges, less locked-in to specific methods. You are comfortable enough with what you know to be able to play with it and explore its complexities, and appreciate the fruition of all that went before. Fall is the season when you begin to exhibit your own personal imprint within whatever style you practice, and a depth of understanding of core principles that allows you to successfully adapt your teaching methods to the needs of your students.


The dark night of the soul, where you seem to just go over the same fallow ground again and again, knowing it well, yet seeing nothing new blossom in your practice. You are in a holding pattern, sometimes discouraged, sometimes bored, sometimes just going through the motions hoping for a break, a small flash of inspiration that will re-animate your practice and spark your enthusiasm again. Winter often comes when you have fallen into a regular routine on the mat, as well as during times off the mat due to illness/injury or any other necessary hiatus from active practice. Like a farmer walking his frozen field, you remind yourself that even nature rests and recharges, and that new growth sprouts through the melting snow when the time is appropriate--and thus it will be with your aikido, if you are patient.

We learn from each season, if we accept the changes and experience them fully. Seeds planted in one season will sprout and blossom in another. Old concepts and goals will die and be replaced by new ones. The limited light of Winter presages the intense brightness of Summer in the same way that the tiny buds of Spring hold the promise of Fall's abundant harvest. May your aikido have many seasons and much growth in the new year.

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