This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Linda Eskin © 2017, all rights reserved.In a Good Place
I've held the rank of shodan for just over a year and a half now. At first I felt like my new black belt should have come with a yellow plastic sign to hang on my back, its bold, black letters warning: "Caution - Student Driver." Here I was, out on the road, maneuvering in speeding traffic, looking every bit like any other driver. But look out - I'm new at this!
To make matter's worse, a shodan's belt is the same shade of black as any higher ranking person's, and because of my age (52 at the time) people just meeting me often assumed I had much more experience than I did. Sometimes they would even ask if I had my own dojo.
Sure, I had earned the belt, but for a good 6 months I didn't feel I had any right to be wearing it.
In the year or so since then I've gotten more comfortable with the idea. I can wear my belt without feeling like I should explain that I don't really have any idea what I'm doing. Now it feels like it's mine. And since it's a long time between dan ranks, nothing urgent is looming on the horizon. I can relax and enjoy being where I am.
Where I am is a rich, beautiful place, where there's lots to learn, shared with good friends growing together through our practice.
Everyday ordinary classes are never everyday or ordinary. There's so much to learn, so much to work on, so much to play with. I'm fortunate to be able to participate in 6 classes most weeks, plus our open mat sessions. Every few weeks I get to teach a class, even, which provides a powerful lens through which to examine my own understanding of the art.
I've been to some excellent seminars, with more coming up at the civilized pace of about one a month. I've had to skip a couple of big retreats. I'm getting my two businesses up and running, so time and money are both in short supply. When I can make it to them, I will.
I get to assist in the children's programs, as I've done for the past 4 years. I lead warm-ups, help the kids with their techniques, coach them on rolling, and sometimes remind them to be kind to their classmates. I get to teach the classes when Sensei is away.
I've had the privilege of training with friends preparing for their own dan rank demonstrations, and then taking ukemi for them. I also enjoy the opportunity to mentor newer students as they come up through the kyu ranks. Each provides a fresh perspective on technique, and at how we bring Aikido into our daily lives.
Lately Sensei has been delving into the minuscule details of techniques I've done a thousand times, tearing a single technique apart over the course of a 60- or 90-minute class. I didn't think I'd mastered them by any stretch of the imagination, and I find myself happily engrossed in working out the rough spots, clearing up misunderstandings, and discovering new aspects of each one.
The experience is a little like sitting quietly for hours on a rock in the woods. Previously I'd only passed through while hiking, determined to get someplace, sticking to the trail, being sure I was making good time, heading in the right direction. Sure, I was taking in the scenery, but with my attention partly divided, spotting the markers to show the way and indicate progress.
Now, sitting here in this beautiful forest, I can see things I'd missed on earlier treks. I'd never noticed those low-growing blue flowers before. I wonder what kind of bug is making that high buzzing sound? I can talk with the other hikers who stop to rest in the shade. Oooh, shhh... Two deer are walking past! And look at those boulders, how they all have the same bands of color running through them. I'll bet they used to all be part of a single, huge rock. I have plenty of time to study an interesting leaf, or turn over rocks and logs to see what worlds hide beneath them. I can hear how the sound of the wind changes throughout the day, and see how the light changes as the seasons roll by. There is no rush. Nowhere else I need to be.
Someday, maybe a couple of years out, I will likely test for nidan. Preparing for a rank demonstration is great fun - it's challenging and rewarding. But I'm not in any hurry. There's plenty to see and do right where I am.
"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.