Diana Simonds (Aikido of Maine)
This question has accompanied me since first seeing it as a pre-seminar assignment at the end of an e-mail last week. My initial reaction was that I would be found out as a fraud. If someone was asking this question, it was clear that I should have been thinking about it, pondering it for years and by now have an answer. But, I wanted to say, I do not think about what Aikido means to me. Instead, ever since I happened to see Mary Heiny Sensei many years ago, I have been drawn to Aikido, to the ever-changing challenges it presents: physical, mental, and emotional.
I just go to Aikido classes, just keep showing up in spite of my exasperation at my inability to reproduce the techniques or the inner subtleties of what is demonstrated and in spite of so often walking out of the dojo thinking that jugglers must feel like this when they add one more object into the aerial dance they create and everything comes raining to the ground. Let’s see, what was I juggling today? For each technique, there were the basic movements of my arms and hands, my legs and feet, my weight. Then, I was trying to receive uke’s attack, responding to the direction, force, and timing unique to each encounter. Also, I was attempting to make and keep a connection to uke throughout the technique and, simultaneously, not lose my own center, i.e. ‘stay at home’. Oh, yes, and there was noticing and correcting my posture, maintaining my intention, giving my arm while keeping a unified body, moving from my center, relaxing, and being plausibly martial … And by then – or, to be truthful, long before – the pieces had come raining down. So, why do I keep coming back for more of this impossibly demanding and complex art which we are occasionally told, just to complete our confusion, is so simple at heart? Ping pong anyone?
Beyond the physical and mental challenges, I am faced with many emotional ones. Each time I get on the mat, I have the possibility of noticing the attitudes and assumptions behind the physical tensions that so often block me; fear, ego, anger, on and on. Then, there is seeing the frustration with myself at hearing my senseis give me the same advice in class after class, year after year with apparently inexhaustible patience and finding myself unable to “incorporate” it permanently. There is the ongoing effort to put aside my inner voices of self-criticism or criticism of others so as to be in this moment of our shared practice of Aikido … and then in this one. And, for years, I have gotten to see gifted practitioners galloping past me and watched my reactions, almost like the stages of grieving, so as to come to an acceptance of my own practice, my own next steps, maybe of myself – slowly, very slowly.
Of course, it is not all hard. There are many moments of the richness of being part of a community of people sharing these same struggles together over years. Many dojo members have helped me and sometimes, in turn, I am able to help those who are newly bewitched by Aikido to get through obstacles that I recognize on a limbic level. And, there are the miraculous moments when I feel the deep intelligence of Aikido underlying the light-as-feathers and yet irresistible strength of harmonizing with another in a technique. When that happens, it makes me laugh out loud with delight. And with gratitude.
What does Aikido mean to me? Maybe just to keep showing up and trying to work on myself through all these challenges.
Note: Doing this assignment has been remarkably helpful. Being required to step back and ask myself what Aikido means to me has made me question what keeps me coming to class and, perhaps, how Aikido has changed me. The question has made me see how I have tried on other peoples approaches and meanings on my way to my own. Many changes have come, in spite of how much I get in my own way. I am clearer and more at peace for having tussled with this question. Thank you.