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One of my Senseis has a favorite saying that he sometimes uses to conclude class: "Practice the aikido that cannot be seen." After the first few times I heard him say it, I pondered over the meaning, wondering what philosophical lesson I was supposed to get from it. There is a spiritual aspect to aikido, deeply rooted in religious lessons and aphorisms from where the founder, Morehei Ueshiba, gleaned inspiration for the martial art.
One night, I approached my Sensei and asked what he meant by "the aikido that cannot be seen." Instead of giving me a straight answer, he thought for a moment, and then he launched into a story about being in a restaurant when the waitress set down a cup of cream that started hydroplaning across the table's surface, only to be caught by my Sensei before it skidded off the edge. The waitress, perplexed at the speed of which everything happened, asked my Sensei how he caught it so fast, to which he responded, "I was waiting for it."
Sensei saw my still-quizzical expression, so he told another story of when he took the longer path to where he needed to go by walking around some band members practicing instead of cutting directly through them, "to avoid conflict," he added. I was sitting there, thinking about how I had accidentally punched a bee smack across the body that afternoon at lunch because it had caught me by surprise, suddenly buzzing loudly near my ear before I had a chance to react otherwise. I wondered if that counted as "the aikido that cannot be seen."
Driving home after practice, I thought more about Sensei's saying. Perhaps I had trouble understanding it, as he had trouble articulating it, because it has more than one meaning and was intended to teach multiple lessons. Aikido is not waiting for things to happen, but anticipating what is to come and blending with it, flowing with it. Aikido is conflict-resolution before a conflict even takes place. Aikido takes understanding, produces harmony, makes you one with your surroundings. Aikido is a privilege to practice. It is a traditional art that embraces the ancient ways, a code of ethics, a warrior's creed; it nestles in between the physical contact between training partners and everyone's individual interpretations of its spiritual lessons. At once constant and ethereal, it cannot be seen, but makes you a believer based on how it can make you feel.