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I can't remember the last time I bought new clothes for myself, what with the repairs to the recently-purchased house diminishing my lifetime's worth of savings little by little. But out of what I told myself is a necessary investment, I bought two new gi at a local Japanese martial-arts supply store--first one because I wanted a heavyweight gi, and then another lightweight gi out of spite because the store announced a sale the week I came back to pick up my heavyweight one that finally came in from special order. There would probably be no room in the closet, and I could have used that money for something else--like food. But, really, I couldn't help it. It felt like the thing to do.
The clerk who took my order unraveled the two crisp, white cotton jackets after I took them out of their plastic bags, and I could see she was wondering, "What the heck are these?" I'm sure she's seen her fair share of strange apparel, having worked at this embroidery shop for a while. These are not your typical t-shirts to be silk-screened, or polo shirts to be embroidered with the company logo, or even baseball caps to be tagged for a sense of team unity.
"I want my first name embroidered on the left sleeves," I told her, handing over my gi tops.
When a different clerk from the embroidery shop handed me back the processed order, now with my name etched in neat black thread, I could see him eying the many bruises along my forearms. There were the bigger, most prominent bruises from ta
The shomen displays the characters of "ai-ki-do," and I study it every day I sit in seiza during line-up, waiting for Sensei to bow us in. There is the "ai," like a little house with a teepee roof, the point meeting at the very tip, like merging energy. The roof curves delicately down, flaring out at the ends with slight pressure on the brush, the different personalities of two separate energies. Under the roof are the square walls of the house: solid, contained, united.
The lower-left corner of the "ki" character explodes like a flower's pistil, contained energy topped by a right-angle bracket that trails off towards the heavens like incense smoke. First solid and then steam, the ebb and flow of "life force."
The "do" is a man on a path. I cannot see what's behind or ahead of him, only know that he travels, the road beneath his feet straight and open, extending off to the white horizon of distant unknowns in his journey to find "the way."
There is a smoothness in these strokes, a flow that I try to mirror as I train. When practicing with yudansha, I can feel their energy--persistent steadiness to draw out uke's attack, explosive strength during the climactic take-down, then measured control for the pin. As I work my way through not-yet-familiar techniques, I know where I am cutting off my own energy, during a turn or when changing hands into the correct hold, like a calligraphy brush that has been cut off from its supply of ink. Day after day, I will continue to ho
I am drained. There are no lines left in my planner to fit in another "to-do." Weekdays, work. Weeknights, work. Weekends, house work, feeling not much closer to moving in than when we bought the house in December. Between 9- or 10-hour workdays, dinners at 10:00pm, house maintenance and repairs, and falling asleep on the laptop over some random work project toted home, there is the training—wedged in between the everyday chaos like an ephemeral oasis of stress relief. For an hour of keiko, possibly another hour of extra practice, the world is calm. Crazy escalations don't suddenly arise; ideas, thoughts, snippets of rushed conversation do not whiz by in a whirlwind of meaningless turbulence. Sure, there is the frustration of not getting a technique right, the lack of ability to do something, the constant desire to attain grace and flow in my movements. But mostly, there is just the sound of training, and the moment. When you are in the moment, the moment is all there is.
It is the Eastern zodiac Year of the Tiger. A year for taking action, embodied by a beast possessing immense energy. What can I do to tame the tiger? The need to be on the hunt, to move non-stop, to always be on guard, saps my will. I grow dry to the core, feeling like I've got nothing else to give to its incessant demands. "Aikido is like walking," Sensei once told me. As simple as that, putting one foot in front of the other, the techniques thought out and tested to make the footwork adhere to movement
In fifth grade, we made candles in Mr. Tenney's class, tying a white string on a yellow Number 2 pencil and taking turns to dip the string into a huge vat of simmering wax at the back of the classroom. We did this over several days, resting the pencils on metal racks so the wax could cool and later be re-dipped. I watched my maroon-colored candle slowly get thicker as the days passed. The finished product came out crooked, shaped more like an hour glass that curved in at the middle. Throughout the project, I learned to refine my candle-making skills, to dip quickly and pull the string straight back up instead of letting it sit in the boiling wax. I learned to dip lower and lower on the string as the girth of the candle grew to create a pointed tip at the top of the candle for easy lighting. And I learned that patience eventually yields a product I could be proud of, and could use.
In class, training partners I've practiced with in the past, as well as newer students, tell me, "You're getting stronger," or, "I think you're strong." My first reaction has always been to look at them with this shocked expression on my face. Growing up, I had never been strong. I had inherited my mother's small frame, her petite height, her thin bone structure. My grandpa used to observe, "You eat like a kitten--so little, small bites!" My grandma used to refer to my skinny arms as "frail chicken wings." During training, I thought the only thing I had going for me was my speed and my stubborn