Practice Makes Progress (AKA Aikido, I Choose You!)

Aikido

At first, I was adamantly against trying out an Aikido class. I had nothing against the martial art, but my boyfriend has been practicing it for a few years now, and dammit, I’m independent and often want to do my own thing. So I took a few Systema classes and loved it, but when I discussed the classes with my boyfriend at length, we both agreed it might be a little hard on my body long term, what with my chronic back issues and list of previous dance injuries. My boyfriend has very similar injuries, and Aikido has been sustainable for him.

So, I caved. I took an Aikido class.

At Jiai, our local dojo, the art of Aikido is taught as a nonviolent form of self-defense that also teaches patience, active relaxation, spiritual strength, and inner peace. It combines joint locks, throws, and pins, and emphasizes the practice of using your opponent’s energy to fuel your own movements. A good amount of the technique is derived from traditional samurai sword practice, and even when you aren’t holding a weapon, it translates into intricate, effective open hand techniques (if not directly, metaphorically).

The ultimate goal of this martial art is to diffuse a situation in a way that communicates to an attacker, “Hey, I could hurt you, but I’m going to choose not to.” It’s believed in Aikido that if you hurt others, you also hurt a piece of yourself in the process. As a lover, not a fighter, I can jive with that.

And there’s also the fact that if you practice Aikido for long enough, you can become damn near untouchable—a complete bad ass. Of course, just like anything else that’s really worth it, it takes a lot of time and practice and education to get there. It’s a very gradual learning curve. Which means, during my first class, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I was terrified when our instructor, Nikki Sensei, asked us to pick out a jo—a wooden staff that’s about four feet long. My experience with any sort of “weapon” has been close to nil, so I was nervous I’d hurt someone unintentionally—or hell, hurt myself. Luckily, I didn’t.

And while we worked through the class, Nikki Sensei was so helpful and gracious and kind—as were the other students with whom I partnered to practice. I learned that night that Aikido is also about community and everyone in class working together, regardless of rank or experience. I never once felt like I was a burden or that my lack of skill was holding back the class. Even surrounded by black belts.

It also became apparent during that first class that once I lock in some basic technique and learn how to move (a lot of the movement is a little counter intuitive at first—example, moving into an attack instead of away from it), my classical ballet training and experience as a dancer will be extremely helpful. I just have to think of it as a different form of “partnering.” My comfort with motion and contact should make for graceful, seamless movements.

After my third class, I was hooked and decided to make my practice of Aikido official. I became a full member of the dojo. I now have a gi—a traditional white belt Aikido uniform—and thanks to my thoughtful and supportive boyfriend, I also have a custom weapons bag with a jo, a bokkan, and a knife. And my first test should happen in March, if all goes as it should.

Between now and then, I have a lot of work to do. A lot of practice, which will hopefully turn into progress, which will hopefully turn into a true manifestation of this warrior princess life.

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