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The Ghost of Aikido Present reminds me that I need to get to the dojo to take ukemi for a classmate's 5th-kyu test. We've practiced for a few weeks, and I keenly feel that pressing responsibility to be there for him. Time ticks by on the clock, and yet my boyfriend's family insists that I go clothes shopping with them. "It'll only take a little while," they assure me. "You'll definitely make it there in time." We waft past meaningless rows of fresh new clothes on hangers, and while they pick out their choices to try on, I impatiently tap my toes, waiting for them to be finished.
The Ghost of Aikido Past finds me back at my house when class is about to start. Reaching panic mode, I grab my car keys and dash for the door, only to come to the realization that the dojo is not located near my workplace but is for some reason part of the San Jose State University campus where I used to train. So used to the world of an interior wrestling gym that is my current dojo, I had forgotten the old place—proud sequoias standing tall, lush leaves blanketing the second-story dojo windows in shade; sunlight streaming through the branches, and the crisp, clean-straw smell of the Zebra mats. Only one problem with the SJSU dojo: last-minute parking on campus is usually next-to-impossible. "It's ok," my boyfriend reasons, "your classmate will find another uke. There's no way you'll get there in time." Dismayed, I realize he's right as I glance at the clock. By the time I manage to find parking
"We can just work on getting a good backstretch for now."
"That isn't working, so you'll have to do it another way. Push from your center, turn from your hips."
"I know—it's hard because he's big, isn't he?"
They were random bits of advice, sympathy, and encouragement from various training partners whom I'd paired up with during a three-day training camp, a "gasshuku" held annually at North Lake Tahoe. This year, I attended my first—full of fun, educational experiences, and surprises, including the fact that those kernels of advice each came from a Sensei whom I didn't know was a Sensei when I trained with them. There were so many aikidoka packed on the mat; often, we could not even fully do a sit-fall. They came from California, Texas, Arizona, Virginia, Germany—all over the world map to meet in one common area and practice a common language: that of aikido. My Sensei said we do aikido not so much with our ears but with our eyes, and though we may not all understand each other, aikido is the one language that we speak together. We bow in. We merge energies, clash wooden weapons, thank each other, bow out. We do it for a total of three days: 14 cumulative training hours at 6,000-feet elevation in an average of 30-50-degree weather marking one of the unusually cool, late-May summers near the beautiful, pristine lake.
Being so close to nature, away from the comforts and familiarity of home, we practice that common and old language of aikido. We teach each other an