Previously published in USAF Aikido News on August 10, 2015
The meaning of Aikido varies among the unique and different people who practice it. The meaning changes even for the same person. The reason we start something is often different from the reason we maintain it years later. Our initial purpose evolves and adapts to all that we have learned, our interactions with other people, and the gradual change of our overall environment and circumstances over time. Aikido’s beauty lies in its process of change more than any goal we may desire through it. We may start with goals such as learning self-defense or getting in shape, which can still stay with us over time, but eventually they turn into secondary reasons and something deeper moves into the forefront. We learn how to do individual techniques through repetitively performing them, but once we understand the basic concepts we are able to play more with freestyle and adapting to the situation at hand by spontaneously making changes where necessary to complete the flow of the movement.
I started Aikido when I was eleven because my mom wanted me to. She said that she wanted me to learn a means of self-defense because I was so quiet and she didn’t want people to pick on me. Since the reason I started Aikido was not my own I went into it without any particular goal and my attention geared more towards the processes. Once I got into training on a regular basis however goals did naturally emerge. I was in the children’s class and seeing all the different colored belts around me made me aspire to earn those belts for myself, but like the ambitions of many children, and many adults as well, my ambitions for Aikido sometimes suffered from a short attention span. There were many days that I wanted to stay home and watch TV instead of going to practice but my mom made me go anyway. She had me train every weekend with the exception of dojo closures and family vacations, though there was this one time she relented and I went to an event at a park. The event had games and activities for children but I wasn’t really interested in what they had to offer. I missed Aikido and it felt strange not training. Though there would be many more days to come where I would not feel like training, remembering that strange feeling of not going to practice for something less worthwhile made me attend much more often than not in the years to come.
My mom joined me in my Aikido journey when I moved on to the adult classes. She started Aikido for me, so I would have company in my transition to train with the adults. In my new classes I could sense right away that practice was more serious, and it was a welcome change for me. I enjoyed the deeper practice with a relative increase in intensity. I left the children’s class with a good foundation of the basics and a clear understanding of the terminology, which helped me in training at a more advanced level. I still had my goals to continuously test for higher ranks, and I closely counted my practice days until I had enough to test. The teenage years often bring with it a plethora of activities including extra curricular and socializing, but that was not my experience. My personality is introverted and there is a shyness I carry with me. Socializing and talking to people are relatively difficult for me. Aikido gave me a way to interact with others without necessarily talking. As my proficiency in Aikido grew my confidence grew with it; I felt comfortable talking about Aikido even as I still struggled with small talk. My focus stuck with Aikido because I was too shy to try other activities. It seems I had turned a disadvantage into an advantage.
Aikido has become a constant in my life. It helps me to center myself whenever I feel anxious or nervous. It has provided me with a great window to interacting with a variety of other people on a regular basis. I feel a sense of flow along with a sense of confidence when I train, and during practice I feel I can express my style and who I am. Each Aikido practitioner brings his or her own unique perspective to the art, which enables Aikido itself to unify the amazing diversity that surrounds it. It has now been over sixteen years since I started Aikido, and with every year that passes I learn to appreciate additional aspects of the Way of unifying energy. It’s through the Aikido movements where I’ve found a voice to express myself in creative ways. I also teach classes on a regular basis now which helps me with my confidence, pushes me to interact with people on a deeper level, and allows me to explore and innovate with my personal expression of Aikido. At this point rank and pride have fallen to secondary roles, and the flow of everyday practice has moved to the forefront. Aikido has and continues to guide me along a process of developing myself, in opening myself to others in spite of whatever fear I have, and in illuminating the creativity and flow within.
“Why did you start Aikido?” is a very different question from “Why do you practice Aikido?” People are not static beings and their motives, desires, and sometimes even beliefs can change with the dynamism of practicing iriminage at full speed. The reason I started Aikido was not my own, but the discipline I gained from enforced regular practice gave me a deeper appreciation for the practice itself, and the moments of contrast where I skipped practice instead showed me that I enjoyed going to practice more often than not. Finding that enjoyment and the sense that I had the ability to do something of substance well kindled my ambitions in the art, and I was excited to advance through the ranks. At an age where I could have been easily distracted, I instead deepened my focus due to my nature and a seeming limitation. When one path is cut off another path broadens, and the path of Aikido has broadened to a point where I can extract even more meaning from the more subtle areas of the path. Experiencing flow, learning about the minutiae of interacting with others, having a strong core to center myself, creative self-expression, and developing a sense of openness are among the various reasons I continue to train regularly. For those who stick with it, Aikido is a lifelong process that constantly evolves; it changes as you change.