Archives for November 2017

Notes from Camp

At my first USAF Summer Camp, I have a singular experience. Instructors create a groundwork of training, and elicit spiritual development on a collective level. As fellow practitioners, we initiate each other with hard skill but exude tenderness. I bring back both learning and a bond of presence to my home dojo. Here I share impressions of the merciful correction I received.

Every day is an in-depth exploration of a basic technique. Without stopping, each instructor begins with a rote movement and unwinds its mental cords, examining them, and tying them together in a novel way. This is refreshing and expansive to me, as I strive to maintain an athletic pace and rebuild my functional basis. The assortment and volume of classes each day give me remarkable possibilities, if I can only keep up! Utmost exertion with complete surrender to development of the art is an exhilarating feeling.

My background emphasizes ukemi and weapons proficiency, but I benefit by focusing on fundamentals, on reasons for body positioning and how to move with finality in a small amount of space. I know well that movement originates from weapon form, yet to see it permeate every mechanism and have it reinforced on a daily level is eye-opening.

Execution and reception of each movement is a demonstraton in spiritual growth. With each arc of an iriminage or kotegaeshi, openings close and with forceful tenchinage uke demonstrates how to meet one’s end. However, real progress is hand-to-hand: in a safe structure, we sharpen each other by mutually striking, taking layers of rigidity from our partner. We sweat together, polish each other, and heal one another’s hearts.

A diverse and well-trained community informs and corrects me. At dinner and in the hallway, I find fellows to scrutinize discrepancies in technique and consider fine points of attack and response.   Many women are quite strict about solid form and stance. To resist those who are bigger and stronger, I better know what I’m doing. There is also a strong Senior Citizen cohort with decades of experience to reconstruct my concept of Aikido. I also feel the joy of an intense weapons interaction where my partner strikes boldly as a gentleman and I reply with ladylike composure.

The teachers are examples of dignity. Awe-inspiring and controlled, they stride across the mat and command attention with every movement. They choose ukes who broaden my view of who qualifies as a human; I feel my heart expanding with each new demonstration. The teachers give of themselves so liberally yet amazingly still draw breath at the end of class, although it is obvious they are enjoying themselves.

On the mat, our movement as an organic whole is almost transcendent. As a flock of sparrows with a single leader, we launch into motion at a single bow from our instructor; turning in a circular path of technique—traveling, changing, returning and resting in seiza, with hearts singing that we are alive. The 6:30 a.m. class for me is like attending a heartfelt worship service. It feels as if we are passing through another world.

I am within a tapestry of support, I feel well taken care of by a healthy community. My roommate, a sandan, allows me space to “do my own thing” but supports me well when accomplishing tasks I can’t do myself, such as understanding weapons education structure, or a Monday night trip to the laundromat! A teacher also challenges the way I absorb attacks and elevates my sincerity of correction in daily life, making me stronger and more fluent in the art. I see familiar instructors and fellow martial artists, gathered for the purpose of personal development with spiritual fruition. It seems like a family reunion!

Though the resort is accommodating, I miss my home dojo. I am absorbed in the collective spirit, but I feel drawn to my beginning. I depart with intent and a response to enrich our practice, and a threshed heart to help us rediscover our place in a great multitude of seekers. Aikido educates me to integrate the value of each human as we contribute to existence. I feel encircled by timeless methods and renewed by kind discipline, and hope to bear these gifts into the world.

by Natalie Konrad, Old City Aikido

 

Those Days…

How was your day? It’s almost as generic a question as “How are you?” but it’s nonetheless an important question. It can be answered with “good,” “okay,” or “bad” (or with other more detailed answers). The same is true for “How was your (Aikido) class?” The answers to these questions differ day-to-day, and class-to-class. These differences are important since a lot can be learned from the varying experiences of your different days and classes. A truly good day feels significantly better right after a horridly bad day. A day of novelty brings new excitement after a long series of routine days. We may go through several days with little memory of them because they are just so ordinary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They add up and one day we may look back on them with a feeling of nostalgia. Something that may not seem important today may be exponentially more important a year from now. Something that is urgent now may seem so irrelevant in the future. The contrasting days of our lives give us a series of mental tableaus to enrich our experience of this world.

You wake up full of energy and find that you have time to make (or buy) a hearty breakfast for yourself. After a tasty and filling breakfast you decide to commute to the dojo for practice. As you walk down the street all of the traffic lights seem to turn green for you as you get to the crosswalks, and just as you get to the subway station your train pulls in right away. You make two subway transfers and those trains just happen to arrive right away for you as well. When you get to the dojo and start your practice you wind up training with an amazing partner who is soft, flowing, and a wonderful uke. It’s a day where everything goes right for you and you are singing on the inside (and for some people the outside too). Later as you walk down the street the wind blows a twenty dollar bill right in front of you (this actually happened to me once). A romantic interest also starts to show some interest in you. Of course a great day is different for each individual and also depends on the stage of life each person is in. These are the days where you feel like you can do anything. They may not happen that often, and sometimes may even be just part of a day, but they just feel so rewarding and rejuvenating, especially after experiencing their polar opposite.

You barely got any sleep last night and your obnoxious alarm is already telling you to get up. You hit the snooze button and before you know it an hour has passed and you realize you’ve overslept. You leave your home in a rush with no time for breakfast. As you walk down the street you see red lights all the way and wait out each one. The train leaves just as you get to the subway station. You tried to rush for it but the doors closed right in front of you before you can make it in. You manage to take the next train, but midway through your trip that train stalls and is delayed for half an hour. While waiting for your train to move a disheveled person spouting nonsense walks into your train car. This apparently crazy person singles you out and bombards you with obscene words. When you eventually finish your train rides, just as you get out of the station, a downpour starts and you didn’t bring an umbrella. You get soaked. You arrive at the dojo half an hour late for class (the instructor was gracious enough to let you on the mat after your harrowing commute). You partner up with the spare person on the mat, but your nose notices that he seems to have neglected to wash his gi. Your partner stiffens up and tries to resist you at every turn, and when it’s his turn to throw he uses all the might he can muster. After that horribly draining practice, as you head home, you check your pockets and notice that your keys are missing. It’s like you are the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Despite all you went through you survived and know that at least some of the days to come will be better. Just making it through a day like that is something you can be proud of. Anyone can breeze through a good day, but if you manage to slog through a terrible day and keep you head held up high (maybe not on the same day), your character may just have that much more depth to it. To stay centered while everything is falling apart around you; that is a true test of Aikido.

You wake up at the usual time with an okay amount of energy. You have your usual quick and simple breakfast. As you walk down the street, some lights are red and some are green as you get to the crosswalks. You wait a reasonable time for your train to arrive. Your Aikido practice was okay, but things are starting to feel monotonous. You feel like you’ve hit a plateau. The structure of routine keeps you going as you maintain your practice, but you feel like you need some new energy and inspiration in it. We’ve all had that feeling of just going through the motions. Maybe we need a major change in our lives, or maybe just a spark of novelty to reignite the flame of the great things we already have. It’s different for each individual. But deep down you know what you need to do even if the specifics are blurry. Sometimes we do an Aikido technique and feel like we’re doing something wrong. We can’t seem to pinpoint exactly what it is, but something just feels off. Eventually we may figure out that needed adjustment, but until we do it’s important to keep moving. Keep the practice moving and the adjustments will come with time. If we stop and over-analyze we get stuck. Feel it out in the motion. We may take several wrong turns before even having a glimpse of the right path for us, but it’s important to have those mistakes. I remember taking an exam in college where I got most of the answers right, but there was this one question I just couldn’t get. I thought about it for a long time before finally submitting the wrong answer. Later on when I looked up the right answer it stuck with me. I’ve forgotten all the answers I got right on that test, but I still remember the correct answer to the question I got wrong even after several years.

Each life is made up of days. Each day is made up of moments. Those moments of elation would not be possible without the moments of frustration. We need the bad moments to truly appreciate the good moments. Without that contrast everything would just be neutral. We need the routine days to make the eventful days that much more special. It’s the same with our Aikido practice. By dealing with a good variety of different people, we learn to adjust ourselves in different ways. We feel out the motions that are most efficient for our personal styles of movement. What may work well with one uke may be totally inefficient with another uke. As we figure out our techniques with movements, we figure out our lives with moments.

 

By Andrew Lee, New York Aikikai

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