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.
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.
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.