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Home > Columns > "The Mirror" > May, 2006 - On Aikido and Self-Flushing Toilets

On Aikido and Self-Flushing Toilets by "The Mirror"

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This article was written by Susan Dalton.

Over Christmas my college installs automatically-flushing toilets. The first time I stand up and that thing flushes behind me, I hear a noise like a yowling cat, then a whoosh, and my center is in my throat. For days I can't get used to the noise and sometimes I look for a little white handle that isn't there anymore. Now at restaurants and at home, I stand and wait, expecting the toilet to flush itself.

Class is over, the mats are put away, and the dojo has been transformed back into a geology classroom. I'm folding my hakama, while Alex demonstrates his Kung Fu stance. He's kicking at Patrick and Stephen but stops when I look up.

"My hands just naturally come to this position," he says. Alex is a bouncer at a busy club. Using him for uke is like trying to move through a Sequoia.

He likes to turn a handshake with an unruly customer into shihonage and is happy to recognize it and learn what to call it. For chokes, the fingers on one of his hands go around my neck. Most of my class talks about harmony and blending; he thinks about where his private parts are in relation to uke's feet.

"I'm trying to smile and be gentle," he says.

"That's good. What are you, 6'8"?"

"6'4, 310. One of the smaller girls said I look really scary, so I'm practicing being less intimidating."

"Falling can be frightening, especially if a big guy's power is causing it. Keep working on building trust. They trust you, they'll go with you."

"Hai, Sensei," he says.

Patrick and Stephen decide to do tenchinage and kotegaishi in the demonstration. They play around with those techniques while Carol closes the windows and Aaron brings me O Sensei's picture. "What I'd love to see," says Stephen, "is Sensei and Alex going at it. We could set up the mats and turn them loose. Wow, that'd be something."

"I'd use inanimate objects," says Alex.

Patrick nods. "I'd bet my paycheck and my car on Sensei."

For the first time in fifteen years, I have the best ukemi in the dojo, my sometimes-a-classroom dojo. Students I don't know speak respectfully when I walk down the hall. They hold doors and tell me about martial arts movies they've seen. I talk to my friend Truman. He teaches aikido at Virginia Tech. "All no kyus, sixth kyus, and me," I say. "I'm barely sweating, yet I have students who think I'm great. I see the seduction of this Sensei thing."

He nods. "Just teach what you're good at."

"Blame them if my techniques don't work."

"Start believing you're as good as they think you are."

"Make them do it while I talk about it."

"They've done studies," he says. "That's the problem with college clubs."

Tonight I go to the always-a-dojo dojo. Jay Sensei has asked Jory to work with me, get me ready for my test.

"I need a lot of work on weapons," I say.

"You need a lot of work on all of it," Jory tells me. He grins. "We'll work together after class."

After warm-ups and rolls, we knee-walk around the dojo. I can feel John coming up behind me. He slows, politely pretends my pace is his pace. During class we practice several kokyunage and iriminage. Jory tells me he wants me closer on ukemi. One time I fall funny and it sounds awful, but I stay small and am OK. During some of the ukemi I can feel myself getting scared, resistant; I'm sticking my butt out and planting. Jory shows me how to turn my hips so I follow better.

Elizabeth Sensei calls jyujinage. "I want black belts break-falling out of every throw," she says. I don't want to, but I do.

She saves room at the end of class for jyuwaza. I'll have three ukes on my test, so I practice with three ukes now. It's not pretty, but I move. After a while I feel an atemi connect with JY's lip. I see him raise a hand to check for blood. "Oh God," I say. I have to move while I talk because the other two are almost on me. "JY, I'm sorry. Are you OK?"

He nods. John or Jory is falling in front of him, maybe John and Jory, and he's skirting whomever to attack again. The entire class is laughing, howling, really.

Elizabeth Sensei is bent over with her face close to the mat. When she can talk, she says, "Stop. That's enough. Susan, Susan, Susan."

We bow. I hear snorts and giggles still coming from the kyu side of the room. My knees creak as I knee-walk back to my spot. "I'm sorry, Sensei," I say. "I hit him right in the mouth."

"I know," she says.

I toss my gi jacket on my crumpled hakama on the floor, hang my belt on the door knob, and yank at the sweat-stuck strings in my pants. My shirt and underwear also stick to my body. When I sit, the porcelain is cool against my skin. In the horrible, scratched glass of the mirror that's been in this bathroom since the building was a kindergarten thirty-five years ago, an all-too-clear image stares back. Maybe little kids needed this sitting-down-height mirror to see how to refasten their pants; what it shows me I'd rather not see. I finish, stand, and reach for the silver handle. This toilet doesn't flush itself.

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