This month's "The Mirror" column was written by Susan Dalton © 2015, all rights reserved.
"So," he said. "I'm a bail bondsman. Will aikido teach me disarming techniques? Will I learn to defend against a knife or gun attack?"
"Maybe. Though I need to be honest and tell you that's not our dojo's focus. That's not what we do every night. We do have some members who work in law enforcement and use their aikido on the job, but I haven't been in a real fight since I was probably twelve years old. That was a long time ago. And my sister didn't have a gun. She just hung my bra on a street sign."
"I can show you a kotegaishi to defend against a gun in your back, but I can't guarantee you won't still be shot. Anybody who knows what he's doing with a knife won't let you see it until you're already bleeding. The most valuable training for me has been learning to relax, breathe, keep my posture, come back to my center, turn off my skittering mind, and pay attention. Then I can see or feel options. Aikido has helped put many different choices in my muscle memory. Will they be there if I'm attacked? I hope I never find out."
"I do know now I can move. Years ago, in jyu waza, Sensei grabbed me by the lapel of my dogi and punched me in the solar plexus. I stood there and stared at him, incredulous. ‘Sensei, you're hitting me!'"
"'Move, Susan, move,' he said as he continued to attack. Finally I did, and all those wonderful options appeared. Many students stand there, take an attack, and then try to figure out what to do with it. Moving makes all the difference."
"Yes, we practice real attacks, but mostly what I teach is to be nice, take care. Use the least amount of force necessary. Try to work with as many different people as possible. You'll have your favorite ukes, but work most often with the people you find most difficult. That's great practice! And smile. I think that's good advice for a bail bondsman, too. Human relations skills are important in any line of work."
"At the college where I teach, I have mostly teenage and young adult students. They learn to roll in one class, and they bounce when I throw them. Still, I must take care. I must remember I have a human being on the other end of that grip. They think I'm superwoman because I've been doing aikido longer than they've been alive. I like to take them to the dojo so they can hear Sensei correcting my bad posture or pointing out where I didn't break uke's balance. And I like for them to be here when my teacher comes from Japan so they can hear him telling Sensei what he needs to work on. I don't know who tells our shihan what he's doing wrong. I do know he's been practicing since he was eight and he says he still doesn't have Aikido figured out, though he's having fun trying. We're all a work in progress. I love that attitude. I also love that our shihan says he does aikido so he can go home and be nice to his family. I'm sure he could defend against a gun or a knife, but I practice his version of our art because of the strong, centered, relaxed, joyful person he is, no matter where he is or who he's with. I don't encounter many physical attacks in my day to day life, but I do encounter circumstances that throw me out of my center. Aikido is teaching me to be a decent human being."
"Being wrong used to really bother me. Somewhere along the way, I've lost my need to be perfect. I've embraced the idea of ‘Gambatte!' Persevere. Keep trying. I've also embraced the idea of ‘Sukoshi Zutsu': little by little."
"Most importantly, my dojo community supports and sustains me in my practice. They give me a safe place where I can fall down and get back up. Whatever your issues are, believe me, they're exposed on the mat. In the dojo we grind and polish ourselves in our work to be better people. I like that I can do that work among friends."
"One of my students used to squeak instead of kiai. She's tiny and cute and she backed away from every attack, every perceived attack. The first time she did jyu waza, she cried. However, she kept at it. You should have seen her own that mat on her last test! Yesterday I saw a big guy get in front of her in the main hall at the college, trying to use his physical presence to maneuver her into a corner. ‘Don't block my path,' she said in a loud, strong voice and kept walking. He moved out of her way."
"I know Aikido sensei who specialize in law enforcement tactics. One is about half my size, but when he gets my little finger in sankyo, I'm going wherever he wants me to go. I'll be glad to put you in contact with him. I'll also be glad to welcome you into our dojo. Come check us out and see if we're what you're looking for. Check the others out, too. Aikido is a great big art, and there's room for folks with all different kinds of goals in their training."
"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.