This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Linda Eskin © 2016, all rights reserved.
During the past month — April 2016 — I took on a blogging challenge. I wrote a post every day, covering 26 subjects, from A to Z, from Aikido to Zanshin, with photo posts on Sundays. I wrote these as a non-technical introduction to Aikido, for anyone with even a passing curiosity about the art.
Boot Camp for Writers
It's amazing what you can do when you commit to something — and tell all your friends that you're going to do it. I didn't have any doubt that I would get it done. I'm stubborn that way. Each day's post took about four to six hours, and I often finished them very late at night. The experience was a bit like how I imagine boot camp to be. I really had to push myself to go beyond my usual limits. Quitting wasn't an option. I came out stronger at the end, capable of more than I'd known, and sorely in need of a long nap.
Knowing that you have to write something coherent by the end of the day and actually click the "Publish" button before going to bed certainly gets the mind and fingers moving.
This Is Your Brain on Writing
I've always been interested in the peripheral subjects around Aikido — philosophy, history, people, off-the-mat applications, and personal development. I've been reading and studying about Aikido for as long as I've been training. But of course there is much that I don't know.
For some of the topics, like the posts about Community, Fun, and Testing, I wrote directly from my own experience. For others, including Beginner's Mind, Dojo, and Presence, I was able to draw on knowledge from past learning. Wherever I could, I included links to more information, especially to books that I've found valuable and interesting.
In a few cases I had to do a lot of research to get familiar with the subject. I vaguely knew some stories about the history of Aikido, and about O Sensei, but had to look up the details. Did you know it's not "yin and yang," but "yin-yang" — that they are never separated? That was news to me. I knew a little about Japanese culture, but had to learn a lot more before writing on it. I thought I knew what "zanshin" meant, but wasn't sure enough to go around spreading my limited understanding without double-checking myself. I wasn't far off on that one, at least.
I learned a lot during the month, and rekindled my desire to learn more. For every Aikido book in my library that I've finished, there are two more I haven't even opened. Reading them has seemed daunting, but after this intensive month curling up with anything just a couple-hundred pages long seems pretty do-able.
Aikido Covers a Lot of Territory
One thing that struck me, as I toured across the land of Aikido on my virtual month-long road trip, was its vastness.
You don't really get how big and diverse California is until you drive from one end of the state to the other, and across it here and there. There are huge shining cities, ports and industry, and dusty agricultural communities, There's farmland, with row crops, avocados, almonds, and grapes, range land, and untouched wild places. There are rocky shores, tide pools, seaside sandstone cliffs, and mountains that plunge right into the waves. Desert cacti, coastal chaparral, and towering redwood forests.
It's not all Los Angeles, white beaches, and palm trees.
There is no one California, and there is no one Aikido.
I did my best to be inclusive in my writing, not favoring one association over another. In some instances I wrote about my own lineage, but put it in context as that being just one of many. I shared that there are multiple perspectives on Aikido, and as many reasons to train as there are people training. Aikido is martial and
peaceful, effective and
introspective, serious and
fun. We can find inner peace and
strengthen our core muscles, practice awareness and
polish our throws, honor history and tradition while
moving into the future. Aikido encompasses all these things.
People Want This
Throughout the month, as I shared my writing with friends who were unfamiliar with Aikido, I heard what collectively amounted to "This is just what I've been needing in my life! Where can I learn more?" Like getting an enticing whiff of food on the grill, and suddenly becoming aware that you've been hungry for a while. Something is missing in our culture, and there is a profound longing for what Aikido has to offer.
People have their considerations, of course. Time is tight. Money is limited. They are afraid they might not be physically capable. But they see how they could benefit in their lives from having more discipline and more freedom. They yearn for the quiet stillness inside that comes from a practice of presence. They look longingly from outside the schoolyard fence at the kids on the playground — at us in the dojo — wishing they could join in the fun, too. We just need to help them find their way in.
"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.