“Wait!” A stern voice called out clipped with mild reprove.
“When you are leaving the mat, always leave from the back and bow.”
“Yes, sensei!” I couldn’t believe how easily saying “sensei” had become. The first time felt a bit silly – like I was pretending to be something I wasn’t (ironic given my Japanese mother).
It was our second class at our local aikido dojo. We stood out like kids in detention with our regular exercise gear next to the starched white karate-esque uniforms of the other students. Jokes about “you’ll need the advil tomorrow!” abounded. Ha! You’re talking to a gal who can do the 30 day shred without breaking a sweat, mister. Bring it on! 😈
After having my wrist squeezed like a dry lemon during my practice, I was thinking that they may have had a point. 😳 In none of my routines, even for yoga, was I ever put through so much bending and arm twisting. It wasn’t painful, but it worked muscles that hadn’t seen such action.
Remember that promise a few weeks ago about expanding our intellectual and creative horizons?
Well, after stumbling about the internet and becoming increasingly annoyed at how the local pottery courses were offered during our work schedule, I did a random search for karate. Hubby had expressed interest in it and I was out of other ideas to try. One of the first links to display was for aikido.
Having never heard of aikido before, I clicked and discovered an activity that greatly appealed – it was relatively low impact, and it did not emphasize hits and strikes but rather melding with the move being delivered. Most of all, it was focused on balance both in action and in thought.
Finding our local dojo wasn’t easy. The map on my phone said it was right off the main road. Little did it mention that it was tucked behind some buildings that had more to do with plastic surgery than Japanese martial arts. (Hopefully, those plastic surgeons won’t be necessary!)
The beginner’s class was held during the day, so it was comprised of individuals ranging between our age and their 50s. They were mostly men, but a couple of women made me feel less, well, small.
Our sensei was a rather large man, but not in any way dominating. In fact, if I had seen him outside of the dojo, I’d never have guessed that he was a black belt instructor – more cozy professor. He taught the beginners class and we learned foot work, stances, a couple grabs and how to fall without killing ourselves.
It was almost a relief to be learning again. I had come to realize that just living on standby, so to speak, did not lead to a fulfilled life. I needed to keep learning, but more specifically, I needed to be taught. Learning aikido was both physical and mental – I’m learning how to execute moves against someone coming at me, but I’m also learning how being reverent and bowing to the mat was more than just an action. What felt silly the first time quickly took on meaning and soon I was bowing to my sensei and to Osensei’s picture with a level of thankfulness. Thank you, I would bow, for giving me an hour and a half where I can challenge myself.
We plan to join the next time we go in for our weekly lesson. Many people join gyms and clubs, but our little dojo with its motley group of friendly members and cold mats seems like the perfect place where we can be with others while doing something that not only helps us develop self-awareness, but also, like yoga, develops our mental focus.
We also get to wear the white uniforms, but I think it’ll be a long time before they deem us ready for hakama.