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On the week after my aikido belt changed from yellow-stripe to blue stripe, I tried on my new one before class started. Freshly freed from the flimsy paper bands that tied it, the belt uncoiled, stiff as cardboard, still bearing the crease marks of its packaging.
My two Sensei came over to comment. "Now you can recycle the old belt," one said to the other.
A look of protest crossed my face before my other Sensei responded, "They usually want to keep them, though. Daisy, you want to keep your old belt?"
"Yes, Sensei," I responded enthusiastically. "Please."
My first Sensei smiled good-naturedly as she walked away. "I don't know why you'd want them to pile up for."
I wanted to say, "But, Sensei--it means something to me." Where I used to practice aikido at SJSU, we didn't rank. I took those fitness classes over and over, long after my Human Performance units had been fulfilled, impossibly drawn to the art. My belt stayed white for the two-and-a-half years I first trained in aikido.
There are mixed feelings about rank in the aikido community. Some feel it goes against the non-competitive nature of this martial art; others think it's a good way to measure self progress, or for instructors and senior students to gauge skill level when working with a new student. I came in neutral to these arguments, simply accepting that different dojos do things in different ways, and as long as I still had fun and fueled my passion to train, it really didn't matter.
Once upon a time, I used to be able to do the basic-blend technique of tai-no-henko, a normal warm-up exercise often performed in pairs at the beginning of class to get students into the mindset of aikido's movements. Palm face-up and held near the abdomen; hand pivots on an invisible vertical line; forward foot slides in deep; body blends, and both arms end palm-up. Now, I couldn't control the shape of my hands, or slide deep enough, or take my opponent's balance, or end up quite right.
Re-entering aikido is like going through physical rehab after a major accident has robbed you of the ability to walk. You remember how it's done, and yet it is with the greatest of efforts that, with support and guidance, you begin the painstaking journey of learning how to put one foot in front of the other again. It's painful to see fluidity all around you but not yet attain it. Hard to relax when you're so preoccupied with finding the flow. But I do hope to find my aikido again, dormant within me, rusty from years of neglect. Because when I watch the smoothly-flowing aikido of two senior-rank students during practice, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life--it is an execution of art, like perfect penmanship across lined white paper, or the foam at the peak of the ocean waves before they break and rush in to meet the sand. It fills me with a sense of inner tranquility even as I seek to unravel the secret behind such perfection, and a feeling wells up from dee
For five years, it sat in a dark corner of my closet. When I pulled it out of the bag, it still looked the same--crisp and white, stiff at the seams, crinkled in areas bent over and over from years of use. When I tried it on, it still felt the same--cottony cool and loose for easy mobility, with a belt tied tight around the abdomen to remind me of correct posture, good etiquette, and decorum.
In reality, my body and its limitations become my inhibitions, but in my dreams, I remember how to fly. I am weightless as air, malleable as water, flowing easily over wrist locks and joint holds, taking tumbles and executing standing rolls with barely a skip in my heartbeat. My breathing is rhythmic and not labored as I train--moving in perfect circles, landing soft, lost in the rhythms of my own body, and the techniques come to me as second-nature as the speakings of my own soul.
Now I start at a different school and don a new gi. My belt is white, my mind an empty cup as it seeks to learn again, from the start. Everything in these initial stages feels awkward, awkward; my body struggles to remember how to move, limbs akimbo as they seek the right positions to start off, to end up.
I know the kanji is different, but I can't help interpreting the first character of "aikido" to mean "love." Five years put on hold as I worked toward my graduate degree and gauged the terrain of the corporate world. Now I go back to one of my first loves. Draping the new uniform over my shoulders,