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I have always known the world from this petite point of view, from this five-foot frame that puts me mostly neck- or sometimes chest-level with those whom I am facing. When I need to react quickly to an attack, I focus on people's torsos and not their eyes, anticipating how the body draws back for a punch, or how the hips shift to gear up for a kick. Used to this perspective, I do not usually notice how tiny I am until I see pictures of myself lined up with other people. Sometimes, I overcompensate by lifting my arms too high for an ikkyo, or reaching up too far when attacking with a shomenuchi. I do this unconsciously, but Sensei keeps me in check, lectures me about being sure to bring my training partner down to my level.
I guess I've chosen the perfect art, founded by a man who was roughly my height. In aikido, the taller person adjusts in order to do an effective technique, and the shorter person stays in his or her comfort zone. I've heard my fair share of short jokes, and I've gotten used to sassing back, "Try living off rice and salt or rationed sardines for your growing years and see how tall you grow to be." Yes, I feel dwarfed in what seems like a dojo—and often a world—filled with giants. Yes, when someone runs at me full-forced during jiyu-waza, I fight a brief moment of panic at the idea of being steam-rolled into the mat. Yes, it's a challenge when you've got less muscles and tiny hands and wrists. But just because you are short, it doesn't mean that you're
Sensei's knees have been bothering him lately; he couldn't get into seiza anymore, and he'd bow the class in and out by standing in front of the shomen. He would start demonstrating a technique and then remember that he couldn't get down into a seated pin, so he'd change it into a technique that didn't need one. At the end of class when it came time for our usual closing of kokyu dosa, he'd have two Sempai demonstrate it instead of calling up an uke. After class when some of us students would get together and practice for our tests, he'd sit aside in a chair and preside over us. He'd gaze onward with a look I know well--that "being on the sidelines" look, that uncertainty of whether an injury will ever properly and fully heal, that look of longing for what his body was capable of before. It's the chink in one's armor, the realization that there exists a kryptonite to our otherwise unwavering practice.
But despite his reluctance to demonstrate seated techniques, I still see Sensei's passion in the art, his dedication toward his students, and his determination to pass on his own teacher's legacy. When a white belt was struggling with the concept of te-katana during kokyu dosa, Sensei gingerly got down on his knees to show him the proper alignment of hand blades and hips. When another student couldn't quite bend at the knees low enough to do a proper shihonage on me, Sensei had me hold on to his wrist so he could demonstrate. Mentally, I protested, "Don't do it if it hurts,