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"Your form was fine." Sensei said when he came to discussing my 4th-kyu test. He was giving us each feedback in the post-exam circle of promotion candidates. "Were you nervous?" he asked.
Huh... Nervous? I had felt really well prepared. I hadn't been afraid I would screw up any particular techniques (but of course I did anyway). I knew I was really focused. Intent on giving it my best. I had sort of half-assed my previous test (5th kyu), and had instantly wished I could've done it over - done it right. But there aren't do-overs on tests. This time I was doing my darnedest to nail it.
"Yeah..." I allowed, as best I can recall saying, "not totally freaked out, but I was probably a little nervous."
I was totally freaked out. The weird thing is that I didn't recognize it. Sure, I made a couple of mistakes on jo suburi - the one thing I thought I really had down, and there was that one technique where my back heel came off the ground and I noticed my leg was shaking... I didn't recognize that I was nervous. It's not OK with me to be nervous. Nervous is fearful, uncertain, and weak. I don't get nervous.
What I did recognize was a feeling, one I'd had after my first and only piano recital as a teenager. I had played "Come Sail Away" by Styx. I played it just fine. But when I was done and sat down I had to ask someone how I'd done. It was like I hadn't even been there when I was playing. At the end of my test I'd had the same feeling. I thought I'd done basicall
One of the aspects of Aikido we are constantly exploring is that if an attacker or body does not perceive a threat (such as a strong grab or hard block) they will naturally not react defensively (or at all). Staying relaxed and soft can help the other person become relaxed and soft, too.
The guy with the ball doesn't tuck his head and charge through the line, instead he walks through like he has no place special to be. It's so soft, relaxed, and casual the whole opposing team fails to perceive the threat - until he starts to run, and then it's too late. Freaking brilliant. (And legal, too.)
My exam for 4th kyu is one week from today. I'm excited, and starting to feel almost ready. I have gotten so much from my practice these past few months, and have been having a blast training.
Several of us who will be testing have been on the mat 4 to 5 days a week lately, staying late to train together after class, helping each other and working with our mentor, who has his hands full between me and two 3rd-kyu candidates. I've got a jump on the 3rd kyu test, at least, when I eventually get there! I've being doing ukemi for them when I can, and going through all the jo and bokken suburi that are on their test (mine are a subset of theirs). We've all learned and grown a lot together, and gotten closer as friends, too.
I am mentoring someone for the first time, too. She will be testing for 6th kyu, and I will be her uke. She is a joy to work with, and I'm looking forward to her test!
Since my 5th kyu exam in February I have trained 143 days (so far), helped with moving the dojo to our really nice new location, trained in two seminars - Robert Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei - and assisted with the logistics of the latter. I've participated in two Aikido In Focus workshops with Sensei, watched a lot of exams, and enjoyed several dojo parties. I've gotten more comfortable with working with brand-new beginners, doing my best to provide ukemi that lets them get the feel of techniques - or at least doesn't get in their way. I've been having way too much fun practici
I ran across this quote recently, and quite liked it, especially in light of some recent conversations about Aikido. At first it seemed in line with the fairly mean-spirited "Stupidity Should Be Painful" sticker on my guitar case. But on further reflection it's much more compassionate - about expecting the best of those around you.
"Most people accept stupidity and incompetence in every form they come across because they would rather be seen as easy-going and friendly than to get what they pay for and want. But the really easy-going and friendly people are found where _competence_ is rewarded, stupidity is an accident to be ignored, and incompetence has a cause worth fixing. If you _actually_ care for the people around you, you don't allow them to be stupid, and if you _respect_ people, you are not afraid to have zero respect or tolerance for (some of) their actions."
I was benched by a cold tonight. Darnit. And Tuesdays are my favorite nights, too. Waah! Not too a big deal, I know. It will pass, and I'll be back on the mat soon enough. Just the same, there was the gnawing undercurrent to the evening, knowing I was missing something important and irreplaceable.
In so much of my learning life there are second chances. I can read a book again, watch a movie as many times as I like, review meeting or class notes, catch a webinar or conference presentation later online, search email for a keyword and bring up everything I've ever communicated about that subject. It's easy to scan an article or report, knowing I can look it up later if we really need it.
Not so with Aikido. When I miss something, it's gone. As ephemeral as a sunrise. Wild, undomesticatable knowledge, transmitted person-to-person, body-to-body. I've only been training for a year and a half, but in that time I have heard virtually none of the same things repeated. Yes, a lot of the same techniques, but never shown or explained in quite the same way. There has not been a single moment when I've thought "Oh, this again. We already went over this." There is always something precious conveyed. Every class is inspired - and inspriing. Hence the frustration at missing an evening.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."
Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate described the situation perfectly