This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2016, all rights reserved.
Today I did a headstand! Now it was one of those where I had to kick a leg up and then the other and someone had to be there to catch a leg and then the other, then hold me up a little while before I got balanced enough to stay there. And I had to bounce on one leg and kick a few times before I ever got the first leg up. I embarrassed myself by screaming with joy when I finally got both legs in the air. (Yes, Kiai can be a part of yoga.) The class full of mostly eighteen -- twenty years olds laughed and clapped. Then I fell. Rolling out was the easy part. They clapped for that, too. And I almost did a split today—as close as I've come so far, anyway, even counting eighth grade. Tuesday I got all the way down in a stretch I haven't been able to do in ten years. Last summer I did six hours of capoeira classes. (If you've never seen capoeira, check out this You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6H0D8VaIli0
) I'm almost 60 years old and I finally have the courage to play at all these fun activities I have little talent for. Thank you, Aikido, for teaching me that perseverance matters more than talent. Aikido didn't come easily either. Was I as bad as I remember or just too hard on myself? Probably both.
Sixteen years ago, my teacher came from Japan for a seminar. I had helped clean the dojo and made snacks. This seminar was my first time being super-involved with preparations, and I felt excited to be part of such a special occasion. Afterward, my teacher called me over along with a young, cute brown belt. He asked my Japanese friend to please translate. My friend wouldn't repeat what my teacher said. My teacher insisted. The drama heightened with my friend shaking his head no and my teacher insisting. Finally, my friend blurted out, "He said you are doing well (indicating the brown belt.) You (indicating me) have a lot of work to do."
When I got home, I flounced into my room. "Well! So who cut all those oranges!! Who cleaned the damn toilet in the dojo!" I'll spare you the play-by-play of self-pitying, self-righteous speech that cascaded through my head. At least I had the dignity not to say any of these thoughts out loud, but trust me, I listened to that crap for hours. "I'm quitting," I told myself. "I suck at this, and people who have done it for far less time than I have are much better. Why am I even out there?" And then it was back to the oranges and the toilet and everything I do for the dojo, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
I tossed and I turned, all the clichés about a night of crisis. I would just tell my teachers here I appreciated all they had done for me, but I needed to put my energy elsewhere. My decision made, I could finally sleep. A couple of hours later I sat up in bed. "Susan, why are you doing Aikido?" I asked myself. "Do you need to impress anybody or be better than anybody? Or are you doing Aikido because you love it and it makes you happy? Who cares that you have a lot of work to do? Just do it."
Something changed for me that night, and I'm glad it did. That's the whole point, right? Working on becoming a better human being? Taking one's self less seriously, allowing one's self to be imperfect is difficult. Learning to take criticism is difficult. I had practice taking criticism about my writing, my presentations, even my weight and my looks—I was an old school flight attendant for a time—but I got my feelings hurt and my pride ruffled when my teacher pointed out a fairly obvious fact—I had work to do.
A few years later my teachers moved and asked me to take the dojo. A couple of years after that, my son and I visited my teacher in Japan. He watched as we fell and got up, fell and got up, fell and got up.
"Maroi," he said to me, making his arms form the circle that I knew from him was the highest praise.
Maybe he was talking about my technique, probably my perseverance, most likely because I had at last figured out why I'm doing Aikido. Gambarimasu!
"The Mirror" is written by a roster of women who describe themselves as a disparate bunch of scientists, healers, artists, teachers, and, yes, writers. Over ten years into this collaboration we find we are a bunch of middle-aged yudansha from various parts of the world and styles of aikido. What we share is a lively curiosity about and love for both life and budo, and an inveterate tendency to write about our explorations.