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My Aikido training began a VERY short time ago, on May 12th, 2005. Myself and four other new students gathered together at Tenshinkan Dojo in Chicago, Illinois to begin a journey into a world none of us knew very much about.
I came to Aikido for many reasons.
I've been studying Japanese language and culture since the beginning of 2004. On a whim I began to look for a place to study Japanese, and was very lucky to find the Japanese Culture Center (which is build around the AAA Tenshinkan Dojo) in Chicago. I knew very little about the place, but the classes were the right price and I signed up at once.
The very first time I visited to pay my fee, there were people in curious clothes throwing each other around on the mats. Upon my next visit, I realized, to my horror, that I would have to cross through the mat area to get to the basement where the language classes were held. It was intimidating to say the least, but I quickly picked up from watching others that you needed to bow before you entered the mats.
During our language classes in the basement, we could hear people shouting and landing with various thuds and thumps. Still ignorant to what was actually happening on the mats, I learned how to introduce myself and count in Japanese, with the din of Aikido in the background.
Fast-forward one year and I was a private student of the language teacher, able to read all kana, a few kanji, and speak like a six year old. By then I knew a lot about the Japanese culture and began to prepare for a three week trip to explore Japan.
In March of 2005 I visited Japan and toured the country from Hokkaido to Kyushu, which is a long haul. I rode the Shinkansen. I ate ramen standing up and ate ekiben on the trains. I explored Tokyo by day and night. I was rained on at Mt. Aso, and in Osaka I sat in a Spa World hot tub under a pouring rainstorm. It snowed in Noboribetsu while I lounged in a sulphurous onsen. Monkeys ran free around me outside of Beppu and I meditated at Ryoanji in Kyoto. Tears fell from my eyes in Hiroshima. My soul was calmed at Sanjusangendo Temple. For three weeks I felt like I was truly in the floating world.
Returning to Chicago was like reverse culture shock. The Japanese ai, omnipresent in life, was gone. Everything appeared chaotic and random compared to the order of Japan. I needed to get back that feeling of peace, that feeling of harmony.
That's when I learned about Aikido. It was more than a form of defense. It was a way to harmonize with the world around you, the very thing I was looking for but could not find.
So there I was, nervously waiting on the mat in a tee shirt and running pants. Laurie Erickson Sensei would be my first guide into the world of Aikido, and I cannot think of a better way to start than under her tutelage.
The first six weeks, one hour per week, were spent stretching, rolling, learning the difference between and step and a slide, and doing many ki exercises. After class, and in the following days, there were many sore arms and wrists, and I found myself soaking in my bathtub, pretending I was at an onsen in a far away land.
During our final class, Erickson Sensei reviewed how much we had learned in just six hours of training. I was both speechless and grinning like an idiot. I couldn't (and still cannot) do much of it quickly or even well for that matter, but I knew what I was doing, and I was aware of my body in ways I never had been before.
I signed on as an ongoing student immediately and began spending as much time as possible training. That was only two weeks ago, and I find myself on the mats as close to daily as I can. I've had the good fortune to train with Toyoda Sensei (Toyoda Shihan's son) quite a bit over the last few weeks, and each time I train I feel like I leave the dojo with just a little bit more.
The most apropos thing I can think of to describe Aikido so far is the Japanese kotowaza that reads like this:
chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru
bits of dust pile up to form mountains
Someday I will become a mountain. Until then, I'll be on the mats.