The more I need Aikido, the longer I will do it. In 1987 I took my orange belt test for the second time. In 1995 I repeated my test for first black belt. If I do only what is easy, I will not improve what needs it most.
Our week of summer intensive training was three practices a day for those who chose. Sunrise outdoors with wooden swords, breakfast together, dojo chores and a rest period, then sacrifice techniques. In the evening, review of empty-hand basics.
Photography and aikido challenge me to be here now, forget everything, expect nothing, relax, apply what I have learned, make it good, learn something new.
By moving my viewpoint I can sense depths that would be hidden from a fixed perspective. Stereo photography works that way. A different image for each eye gives subjects depth and substance. It fascinates me. Summer training provided many views. Motion in every dimension.
After the week I took my bokken home and burned our dojo name into it. Ji Sei Kan, Self-Improvement Place. It is a good practice weapon. No splinters. Now it occurs to me that bokken is perhaps a combination of Bo, staff, and Ken, sword. Why now? I have experienced its woodiness in a new way.
Experience is not just during practice but after too, in remembering and contemplating, in writing down what triggers memories and why, prompting more recollections. Sitting helps. I stop my walk to smell a peony. I examine interesting objects put in little jars on someone's lawn. After-effects.
I need to learn what no-one can teach me. By practicing. The week's experience in ethics was an emotional antidote to venom from the internet. Orlando shootings.
Facing a partner, often I tense up, resisting before they attack. Camp was a chance to practice relaxing. Why do I need to learn what a cat just knows?
The pursuit of quality and excellence in the martial arts is fundamentally a personal matter. I've seen those words on the dojo whiteboard for two years, and now I grasp that to be really good at aikido can't be taught by someone else. I have to teach myself through my own experience out of my own interest.
Pruning makes a bonsai more interesting. The same with this article. The same with character.
The fundamental thing in aikido is how we treat each other. Ethical actions support mutual welfare and prosperity. Win-wins. At a food court counter there was a lady ahead of me. With tongs the server was painstakingly selecting small clumps of noodles from the steam tray for her. I asked her what he was doing. She said I don't like onions. She was gaining but he and the business were losing. She didn't care. She was glad to punish them for cooking with onions. She didn't say another word to me. She didn't tip.
Martial arts are about changing ourselves, and helping each other to be more effective partners. Looking at the newcomers at camp, their enjoyment strikes me. They are here to find correction and learn to learn better, whether they know it or not.
Why do we wash the dishes? .. to wash the dishes. Cleaning the dojo windows and fixing the doors felt pleasant and satisfying. Stress would come from thinking about all the things not getting done. At camp those things are out of mind.
Sensei asked When all eyes are closed who can see? That guy clapping with one hand? Look for what is different from the usual. And when I noticed what others didn't notice, it was because I was conscious of what he had said. Awareness can be learned, or I am wasting my time.
Once he surprised me with the suddenness of his strike. My right hand came up in defense. Days later he mentioned that such a reaction makes sense. It came because his attack was sincere.
He asked Why do I say Do Ten? I had done my ten, then stopped and waited for others to finish theirs. He asked Why do I say Do Ten and what do you do after you do your ten? No one answered and he looked at me and I knew why he did, so I said Do some more.
My knees have been feeling weak and painful for a long time but are getting stronger. Who knows, maybe someday soon I'll be able to dash across the street if I need to.
It was a great way to start the summer. Afterwards a little tired but that will pass in a day or two and then I'll just have the benefits. I feel strong. If I hadn't done it I wouldn't.