What I am finding is that my Aikido growth is right in step with my advancing age. That is, I am more centered, stronger, softer, and calmer than I was 30, 20, 10 or even 5 years ago.
More Centered - One way that 'centeredness' manifests itself is weight underside. When I was a 4th kyu student we were visited by a student from New York who studied under Yamada sensei. Michael was a 2nd dan at the time; a rank which, I remember, seemed a lifetime away from my vantage point. I had the occasion to uke for him in a three uke freestyle. What impressed me most about him was the fact that when I attacked him he seemed to weigh 3 or 4 hundred pounds more than his actual weight and embodied all those hundreds of pounds in his solidity. I promised myself that one day I too would achieve what I felt when practicing with him. Now, these many years later, I realize that even though my real weight isn't a whole lot more than it was then, my weight as perceived by my partners is decidedly heavier than would be recorded on a scale.
Stronger - Ahh... strength, power... the ability to control, to exert one's will over another (especially a resistant other)... the seductive feeling that lesser mortals must give way in the face of my awesomely strong self... At best a destructive illusion, at worst a lie I may tell myself in order to justify some action of mine that otherwise would be better left undone. I have come to the realization that real strength comes not from I can do to successfully throw my partner, but what I don't have to do to in order to execute the throw. The kind of strength I'm referring to is sometimes call Ki power or internal strength or the strength of connection or [insert your favorite metaphor]. It's something I have much more of now than I possessed in the past. I know now that Ki exercises aren't just demonstrations to wow onlookers and beginning students. They are an essential part of training myself to grow stronger; to grow the kind of strength that doesn't dissipate with the years.
Softer - When I began training I was at the height of my physical power and endurance. I loved to be thrown hard and to reciprocate in kind. That was real Aikido. And for a long while it remained my truth. Age and Aikido changed me though. Gradually as I grew older I began to experience the benefits of the 'softer' way. I saw that applying a soft touch at the right moment will lead to a throw in the same way that a mighty grasp without regard to the subtleties of timing and connection. I learned to establish a connection with my partner before the attack and maintain it throughout the whole movement and follow through. This approach has allowed me to continue taking ukemi into my sixties and, hopefully, long beyond. I have been able to take better care of my partners thus allowing them to continue their training as they age.
Calmer - At 29 many long years of joyful practice lay before me and I couldn't wait to get 'there' although as to exactly where 'there' was remained a mystery. I was so thirsty in those days, I wanted to know it all and know it fast. Aikido was a rainbow and even though it meant missing out on the beauty of the arch, what I wanted was the pot of gold at its end. Consequently much of my early and middle years studying were spent in a state of inner tension. As what previously lay before me now stretches out far behind I see that the journey is the real reward. This has resulted in an inner calmness that tempers my still strong ache for deeper knowledge of my Way.
(Original blog post may be found here