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Sensei says that aikido is like a uniform we wear for as long as we train in the art, even after we leave the dojo for the day, for we practice its principles both on the mat and off. Those shihonages that torque my wrist are like the annoying tag that I forgot to cut off, sharp edges jabbing into my sensitive skin. Those ikkyo pins that send a stab of pain shooting up the bad elbow are like the garment's chafing, stiff collar, hard to ignore. I have to stop yanking on my ikkyo uras and remember to use my hips during the turn; after all, it's not the skirt that keeps riding up. Those breakfalls look unnatural on me, and I confess they're not my usual style, though everyone seems to be quite taken by them these days. And those koshinages, bane of my existence, both because I am so bad at them and yet long to do them right so badly—they stick out like flyaway threads gone awry and untrimmed.
I've never been one for uniforms. Throughout school, even though I admit to the weirdness of the Goth, heavy-metal, and flamboyant-fashionista looks, I understood them to be an expression of individuality. Uniforms, I felt, suppressed that freedom and creativity. But something about my aikido uniform I've gotten to like, the ritual of getting into and out of it almost every day. I like the loose, billowing hakama pants, how they're just long enough to tuck my feet in the skirts for warmth as I sit seiza in the cold winter months, awaiting instruction. I like how the stiff koshiita, which I despised at first because it hurt my back after doing rolls, now serves as a reminder for me to keep my back straight. I like pulling my long hair back in a sporty ponytail and clipping the flyaway hair in barrettes to keep it off my face as I train. And though I used to think that all uniforms are the same, I've come to appreciate the uniqueness and quirks of each of my gi's.
I haven't yet completely broken my aikido uniform into the tell-tale signs of hard use. Sometimes, I'm groping in the hakama vents to pull down a gi jacket too intent on riding up. Sometimes, the hakama has its rebellious days, refusing to fold at the correct creases. But I will get to owning it like a second skin. I will continue to practice and exercise until it looks good and fits right on me.