I was just promoted to sandan in Aikido. Third degree black belt. It was a bit of a surprise and, I think, a little premature. I was just getting used to being nidan, to maybe settling into my center more and getting a better sense of timing and distance. My relationship to Aikido has definitely altered in the last few years. I used to be so hungry to get better, to take the most ukemi (throws) from Sensei. I wanted to be one of the “big dogs” out there kicking ass. Now, not so much.
There are days when I have to ask myself why I still train. It’s not for the glory. There is no real glory in Aikido. You don’t compete or win tournaments. I don’t fool myself that I could enter any cage matches and win. The funny thing about Aikido is that it’s supposed to be the peaceful way, the way to neutralize your opponent without hurting them. In ten years of training, however, I’ve learned all these ways that I could hurt or even kill someone. I’ve never really wanted to hurt or kill anyone. Aikido has always really been about pushing myself, about how far I could take it. Yet here I am with the knowledge of how to kill with my bare hands. Of course, it’s all silly because you could kill someone with a pencil if you really felt like it. No training required.
So…why do I train? Part of it is because I can lose myself in the movement. At the best moments I can go deep and find my center. My mind and body really do work together as one. I love knowing how to do a technique with an minimum of effort. Oh, and if I stopped training I might become a complete hermit.
When I started Aikido, I fell in love. I mean, it felt like a painful crush. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it-the movement, the connection, the philosophy, everything. I remember one time I was at work staring off into space thinking about Aikido, maybe kotegaeshi. Someone walked by and said I looked like I was in love. For a while I threw myself into it completely. I was even kenshusei for a couple of years, which meant I went to every class, six days a week. It was crazy, I didn’t have any outstanding talent. I had one instructor tell me I wasn’t making any progress and another dislocate my shoulder. Over the years there were so many times that I wanted to quit. One time I did, for four months, but I came back. I couldn’t stay away. Oddly enough, my Aikido improved immensely in my absence. Go figure.
The rank seems meaningless to me. When I let it, Aikido helps me find my center. The center of my being. The only other thing that matters is that I am still getting on the mat. Walking through the door, and getting on the mat.
Oh, and I can still play with the big dogs if I really feel like it.