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"When you are injured and decide to come watch class anyway," Sensei said, "there is a word for that. In Japan, they call it ‘Shadow Training.' You are still training, because you pick up things while observing that are not so obvious when you are absorbed in a technique." In the last few weeks, I've managed to bust up my left knee doing something I don't even remember, and my lower back from taking a bad fall from koshinage. I can't say I've gotten clumsier lately, as I keep up with my stretching and take care of myself through class, so it must be that the training has gotten more intense, and I am trying out different techniques and ukemi that I have not touched upon much before. These are the first few injuries that actually took me off the mat, but because I cannot resist the pull of the dojo, I come to watch.
Learning with the eyes is different than being able to feel it out with the body. You catch more things by observing other people's postures and movements, and yet you miss that element of trying it out for yourself. I take notes, keep my eyes on the mat, and even catch my hands going up now and then in an effort to imitate Sensei's movements. This is my body's way of yearning to get the motions right. I get frustrated when I see how a technique should be done correctly, but cannot mirror it myself. So much of aikido is based on feel.
I think back to when we were doing kaeshi-waza, reversals. To turn a shihonage into a kokyu nage, there is this brief transition of turning around uke and extending the leading shihonage arm from the center to set up the reversal. This transition was something I had trouble on, and no matter how it was explained to me in different ways, I couldn't grasp the concept. Finally, Sensei had my Sempai perform the technique on me, so that I'd be able to get a sense of the movements involved. It's hard to describe what it felt like—the movements were so controlled and concise, the extension was swift and sure, leading my body out and around a certain way, and then I was wrapped in this brief, spiraling feeling like I was caught in a cyclone before my arms were lifted below the elbow and my body was launched forth in a kokyu-nage throw.
I think of how I can replicate that when I get back on the mat. But while I sit on the side, I pay close attention, absorbing aikido into memory, mulling over the concepts, grasping at the shadows to form words that make sense in my mind.