Tag Archives: harmony

Off The Mat, But Still Training

Leaving the gym recently, I ran into a former classmate in an Aikido kenshu (advanced study) class. We spent a few minutes catching up, and he asked me if I was still training in Aikido.

I’m not taking any classes at the moment, in part because the winter Rec & Ed session was cancelled, and with increased running and strength training my schedule is full anyway. But I told him that in other ways I practice Aikido every day.

I can’t help it.

Aikido did not become a life-consuming passion for me like running has. But my eleven-plus years of training have definitely created a lasting influence, whether or not I’m standing on the mat in a dojo.

For instance, a few days ago I went to get a haircut. I emerged from my car into a cold, blustery, rainy day (re: March in Michigan). Instinctively my shoulders rode up, face tensed, eyes narrowed, and I began to hunch-walk rapidly toward the covered area near the shop. Standard behavior, right?

And then kenshu training kicked in. A samurai, Sensei had said in a lecture, does not let rain, or cold, or other external situations disturb his serenity. Running for cover all hunched over is for other people.

I relaxed, stood straight, and walked the rest of the distance at a normal pace, as though it were a perfect sunny day. Perhaps I got a little bit wetter, but it was worth the restoration of my serenity.

With enough training, one can even embrace bad weather!

Other things practiced in class come out in everyday life too. Being more patient in stressful situations, like slow traffic or long lines. More tolerance for the mistakes of others, and even my own. Being polite and respectful at all times, and seeking harmony in all situations. And more.

Sometimes the benefits of training manifest very quickly, too. Some years ago I left a stressful situation at work to attend a lunchtime class. When I came back my attitude had changed completely, and the situation was resolved harmoniously. You can read that story here.

I could chalk up some of this to eleven additional years of life experience, or the expected increase in maturity as one grows older (well, maybe). Except that many times when I remind myself to be patient, or remain polite, or listen more, in my mind’s eye I’m standing on the mat. All these behaviors are not just essential to Aikido training, they are expected by Sensei and the other students. Not to do so would bring quick attention to oneself, and not in a good way.

Better be nice to your fellow students.

Perhaps the surprising thing is that these behaviors aren’t always expected by other people all the time.

So like it or not, Aikido is certain to remain a fundamental part of who I am for the rest of my life, whether or not I ever go to another class. And I have no problem with that.


Seven Years, Seven Ways

WHAT AN ODD FEELING. For the first time in over a year, there’s nothing on the immediate horizon I’m training for. My Aikido test is over, the bike is put away for the winter, and the Holiday Hustle on Dec. 1 was the last race on my running calendar until February. My final goal for 2012, the 2,500 combined run/bike miles, I will reach next week with just my regular Saturday and Wednesday group runs. Easy cruise to the finish line, as it were. Not that this is a bad thing; I’ve been looking forward to this downtime to rest and recharge.

Gasshi-uchi 2My Aikido test was for 1st Kyu – the final one before black belt level – and was the longest and most challenging test I’ve ever had, as it should be. For fun and added pressure, I took it at the main dojo instead of my regular club. My instructor recommended I do this. “Pass or fail, you’ll learn far more from [our school’s head Sensei] than you would from me,” he said. I got my revenge by asking him to be my Uke (testing partner). He got his revenge by accepting.

Jumping over partner.

Jumping over partner.

The results won’t be available until next Tuesday, so I won’t know anything until then, and as is traditional with our school, neither I nor anyone else will speculate about it. “Nice test,” we say, and leave it at that, unless we are pointing out something we particularly enjoyed or that we thought a tester did really well. The photos you see here are from the test, taken by a classmate at my request.

Side Step-in Throw

Afterward, we gathered on the mat for a brief toast and sharing of thoughts about the experience, or Aikido in general. As the test capped off both my “year of being 50” and seven years of training, I did some thinking about how this wonderful martial art has changed my life, and I shared the following with everyone there.

Seven Ways in which Aikido has Changed My Life

1. I look more for harmony in all situations.

2. Whenever I get too full of myself, all I have to do is go to class, and it gets fixed right away.

3. When someone makes a mistake, I remember all the ones I make in class, and am more forgiving.

4. When I am teaching or correcting someone at work, I do my best to stay encouraging and positive.

5. In certain situations (working out, at the coffee shop) when someone asks me a question, I sometimes reflexively respond, “Hai!”

6. I made it through Kenshu (*), so now I believe anything’s possible.

7. I learned that with pushups, breakfalls, and most other things in life, you really can do “just one more.”

(*) Kenshu is a 20-month advanced study of Aikido principles and techniques. Think of it as boot camp weekends with wooden weapons. It was among both the hardest, and most rewarding, things I’ve ever done. As it should be.

My Instructor Throws Me