Believe it or not I used to be quite good at this ... moreseo the guy on the right
It was always my intention to get back into Aikido after I had moved out East. For almost four years I had thrown myself hard into the practice – maybe too hard in retrospect – but I loved every second of it it and I continue to cherish the people I practiced with and the lessons I learned.
Then came the move and life got pretty busy for a while. With conflicting schedules, rotating shifts and everything else I never could quite seem to find the time. I did find a good Yoskishan Aikido Dojo just out of town, but it was a little far, and to be honest I've never been comfortable with Yoshinkan's formal style. A friend took me to his Bujinkan ju-jitsu practice once or twice and for a while that looked like it was going to have to be it if I wanted to practice anything. Not that this would have been a bad thing, the Sensei was good and I would be able to practice with my friend … but it wasn't Aikido.
But sometimes things do work out in your favour, and the new job meant no more rotating days or night shifts … and it just so happened to only a few blocks from the Aikikai Dojo. So last night, I finally plucked up enough courage to get back on the tatami for the first time in three years.
I ended up arriving a little early and was waiting out front, ruminating on some old memories when I suddenly and completely blanked. I couldn't remember squat. I couldn't remember if the first move was ikkyo or iriminage, and for the life of me, I could not remember the name of the Sensei who had broken my nose.
This really freaked me out since I had always been quite proud of my relationship with that Sensei. It started when I stepped off the mat to speak to a friendly, middle aged Japanese man who wandered into the dojo one sunny Saturday morning. Turns out he was a Yondan (fourth degree black belt) fresh from Japan. Three years later and he accidentally breaks my nose as I am trying my damndest to skewer him with a jo staff.
And I could not remember his name - nothing, not a syllable.
I put it down to being overtired and nervous about practice and it probably was. Then something did occur to me, it's a phrase that comes up often in books about Aikido or Buddhism that I've read: Beginner's Mind. Put aside ego and everything you've learned before and approach the new class as a new student.
It wasn't a huge revelation; it just seemed like a good idea. So I stopped worrying about which move was sankyo and which one was nikkyo and use the opportunity to approach everything with a fresh pair of eyes.
I tried to "unlearn what I had learned", which can much, much harder than you think.
Going easy was probably as good idea anyway because today I am as sore as balls. I could feel every little fat cell giggling around my middle with every move and every extra pound as it hit the mat. But I think what really killed me this morning was the stretching! I have the hamstrings of an arthritic octogenarian.
As I tried to let it all go, something inside relaxed and sometime about halfway through the warm up, I remembered Sensei's name.