by River Stone

It's early Monday morning, and it's cold in my room. Like every January. It's the week I allocate every year to kangeiko -- the cold-weather training we do as part of our Aikido practice. This year is different, though. I live in an area that's locked-down, so travel to the dojo for training is not permitted. I'm at home. Most years, I sleep fitfully during kangeiko, with just a thin bedroll and a hard pillow. I like to keep warm at night by wrapping a sweater around my head and neck, leaving just my nose and mouth uncovered. When I wake up, it's usually only from half-sleep, driven by the cold and the knowledge that other students will be arriving. I know that a big part of keeping spirits up is about setting an example -- I make a point of trying to be on the mats, ready, smiling, and in uniform by the time they walk through the front door.

This year is different. My bed at home is warm and comfortable. My house is quiet. Nobody is coming through the front door this morning, or anytime this month, for that matter. There's a little voice in the back of my head that says I should go back to sleep... that nobody will know if I slept in.

I'd know.

I've decided that since I don't have partners to train with this year, that little voice is going to serve as my adversary. I give him a rude name that I only use in my head. The irony that it's harder to get up from a soft bed than a hard mat is not lost on me. I adapt what I do in training to the fact that my wife and son are still asleep, and I don't want to wake them. It's Thursday morning. I was up late last night watching the news. I've been good about doing my training all week, but today, as I woke up, I blinked one of those early-morning blinks that steals half an hour. That little voice in the back of my head tells me that I failed, and that I don't have to do this. The fact that I don't have to do this is the reason why I'm doing this. Those thirty minutes were my adversary throwing me. I only fail if I don't get up afterwards. It's Saturday. Most years we share a meal after practice. It's something I really look forward to. I make pancakes with chocolate chips, cinnamon, and nutmeg for the family. The tradition of the end-of-week meal might seem empty when it's done alone, but like every other tradition, it's only as full as we make it. Even when we have to observe it differently, it's that observation that counts. This year is different, but it's also an opportunity to learn something special. Next year, I'll remember to appreciate our Saturday morning breakfast: the food is good, but sharing it with my training partners is better.

Wishing All, Happy New Year