by Winking Owl

New Year celebrations at our dojo give us a taste of Chinese culture. Teachers aren't just instructors. They provide the benefit of their perspective, their life experience.

Each year we make a banner to commemorate the respective Zodiac animal. Each time, the banner-making process evolves, and each time, the new banner evolves during its production. This year our Rat started as a four-inch wood carving in Sensei's art collection, then became a colour graphic, then a stack of photo prints, overlaid, trimmed, glued, and Voila!

It wasn't quite that simple. I lost sleep over that banner, can you believe it? First-world problems! On the evening of construction, my carefully planned approach for putting it all together sort of, well, fell apart, but others' wisdom-of-no-escape saw us through, and Rat arrived on time.

Hanging in our dojo, our banners look great together. They symbolize our years of practicing and studying, in our place of self-development, becoming all that we can.

Most of the point of looking back, is to see how far we've come. When I started in aikido, I would practice more on my own, struggling to grasp it. I've been doing Aikido for a loooong time now. Beginner's Mind is fleeting. Still, when my performance really dissatisfies me, I go over it and over it in my head afterwards, looking for how to do it better, wondering if it will work out that way at the next practice.

Last week we had a workshop on weapons, mostly on the Sword, and some on the Knife. Wooden ones. No blood. We weren't going after lethal skills for medieval battlefields and dark alleyways. So what exactly was the point? At the end, Sensei asked us to respond to that question. Here's what people said:

  • Swords are fun! They take the work out of working out.
  • Everyday objects all around us can be used as weapons.
  • I get immediate feedback on my state of mind. When I'm mentally present, my cuts are clean and sharp. If my mind wanders, they wobble.
  • Facing even a practice-weapon can be unnerving. Repeated exposure helps with that.
  • If you want peace, prepare for war.
  • For my partner to do a good defence, I must provide a sincere attack.
  • Weapons add variety to our experience. They keep us exploring, so we don't get stale and lose our Beginner's Mind.
  • In real life, attacks can take many forms. Practice needs to reflect that.
  • We experience how tricky weapons are. We learn to respect and avoid the dangers. Stay out of those alleyways. Know when to walk away, know when to run.
  • Even play-threats stimulate awareness, stimulate me. They help me to pay attention. They give my actions urgency and power. I learn faster and remember more. They demand immediate response, for example getting out of the way. They help me practice calmness in unfamiliar situations.
  • I learn to coordinate my whole-body movements with the movements of my sword or knife, to meet the same from the other side.
  • I develop a new kind of awareness, like when learning to juggle, but with a purpose.
  • We are going down to Aikido's roots in Katori Shinto Ryu Iaijutsu, down to the Sword principles that back in the day meant life and death, but which still apply in our empty-hand practice.
  • I learn to relax and wait for a threat to materialize before moving to defend.
  • I learn to have patience with and understanding of partners less practiced, more unsure, anxious, timid.
  • A weapon extends an attacker's reach, so I learn more about combative distance and timing.
  • I enjoy it! It excites me.
  • It helps my self-confidence. Weapons-practice fights the 'victim' mindset. Self-empowerment is a great feeling!
  • Having variety in our practices means gaining confidence by overcoming doubt, time and again. Trust our teacher. Trust my partners. Trust the technique. Trust myself.
  • When my partner and I both have weapons, we don't touch each other with our hands, and we don't pass our weapons back and forth. Very appropriate martial hygiene for these times!

It was a week of new experience. Now is time to reflect on it and absorb it, so it becomes part of me and I become something more. Something new.

Happy Trails!