I began Aikido one year ago – October 22, 2011 to be exact. I had been thinking about visiting the local dojo, Portland Aikido in Portland Maine, for quite a while, but never seemed to be able to find the time. Life always seemed to get in the way. At first it was high school athletics; followed by college, internships, and other obligations. I have been interested in Japanese culture since elementary school and, as time has passed, that interest has only grown, along with my desire to study Aikido and the traditions of the art. After graduating from college and beginning my career as a teacher, I realized that I finally had the opportunity to begin taking Aikido classes and learning what the dojo had to offer. Little did I know then that I had taken the first step towards a hobby that would soon become a central part of my life.
What really captivates me about Aikido is the way in which the art incorporates Budo and other Japanese values into what I have found to be a very spiritual discipline. The philosophy of Budo, or “the martial way”, can be found hidden within Aikido, which is “the way of combining life forces”. The head instructor at our dojo often mentions that ever since O-Sensei first began teaching, Aikido has been very open to interpretation; the technical aspect of Aikido, at the very least. For me, part of the beauty is that although Aikido holds a different meaning for every practitioner, and while the techniques of Aikido may change over time, the main principle remains constant: to harmonize with any confrontation in life rather than meet it with force.
Aikido can be applied to our daily lives and has significantly influenced how I have conducted myself this past year. Teaching high school students can sometimes be rather overwhelming to say the least, and I am finding that I have to remind myself to “tenshin” during certain situations. Another important idea, I think, is mutual respect. Without mutual respect there is no foundation for positive energy, relationships, or a productive learning environment. It may sound cliché, but if everyone were respected the way we respect our Uke, the world would truly be a better place. Simply put: “Take care of Uke.” That overriding principle, emphasized during practice, has really influenced my life.
Time certainly does pass by very quickly, and in reflecting on one year of Aikido, I confess that USAF Summer Camp was quite a memorable highlight. Summer Camp seemed like a far reach to me as a Gokyu in the Spring of 2012, and although I had attended just a couple of other seminars, I hardly thought of myself as prepared. It was not until our head instructor mentioned the summer camp scholarship that I even entertained the notion that I might be able to attend. “Why not” I thought. “Maybe I can do this.” And then, seemingly overnight, I was packing my bags for New Jersey. As I reflect on the eight hour drive I was, admittedly, incredibly nervous. Thinking about all of the new people I would meet and all of the practitioners that might be in attendance really made my head spin. “What if I embarrass myself or our dojo? What if I get injured? Did I remember to bring Advil?” Soon, however, all of my worries were put at ease.
After checking into the room on Sunday, I could barely wait for the first class to begin. Seeing some familiar faces and meeting welcoming new ones really energized me for the week ahead. From the first class I attended Monday morning to the last class Friday afternoon, I tried to absorb as much information as I could, and enjoyed myself even more. As good as the food at the resort may have been, the practice was even better. Being able to meet Yamada Sensei, Osawa Sensei, the technical committee, and so many others was only part of what made the week so very meaningful. I hope to see everyone again next year, and meet even more new faces. I look forward to seeing you all back on the mat.