Of all the things I learned at last weekend’s Aikido seminar, one concept stood out: Training isn’t just what happens on the mat. The experiences of daily life — and how you react to them — that’s your real teacher.
“Mosquito Sensei,” my teacher, Mitsugi Saotome, joked. Saotome Sensei is a shihan, or master instructor, and has trained for more than 50 years, beginning as a student of the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei.
Paying attention, avoiding trouble, projecting an awesome presence, hiding your weaknesses — all are things you can do walking down the street or working in an office. And if you have to fight while doing ordinary daily tasks, you’ve got options as long as you relax — as the next picture illustrates:
That’s Saotome Sensei holding the child. The blur to his left is the student he’s just thrown.
I learned other things at the seminar, which was for instructors and limited to second degree black belts and above. The first night Sensei said we all wanted “too much control.” And that’s so true. We want to force attackers a certain way, instead of feeling where they want to go and letting them go there while we just get out of their way.
Sensei was in a good mood throughout the seminar, though sometimes when he laughs (as he’s doing in this picture) I suspect he’s laughing at our struggles to do what he’s just shown us.
The other important concept I brought home from the seminar was more basic: When my technique doesn’t work, it’s usually because there’s something wrong with my irimi. Or, as I like to put it, “It’s the irimi, stupid.” Irimi means enter, so what I actually mean when I say “it’s the irimi” is the way I enter: too early, too late, not off the line enough, too far off the line. Speed isn’t crucial, but moving at exactly the right time to exactly the right place is. And the right time and place are slightly different every time you move — and very different from partner to partner.
So I came home from the seminar inspired, even though my arthritic knees hurt and my back feels stiff. I still love this art.
One of the few things I miss about living in Washington, DC, is training at my dojo, Aikido Shobukan Dojo, where the seminar was held. (Not that I don’t like Washington; it was just time for me to move on.) The picture below shows what the dojo looks like on the inside. It’s really a beautiful space.
But what I miss isn’t the beautiful space, or even the mat, which is firm but forgiving and doesn’t beat me up the way mats on a concrete floor do. What I really miss are the people: my teachers, my training partners, my students.
But at least I can always go back to visit. It’ll always be one of my homes.
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