Big Yellow Taxi

by David Lee

There’s a well-known song by Joni Mitchell that includes the lines:

“don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone..”

While I’ve always loved the song these lines took on a new significance for me recently when I found myself laid out at home for several weeks, unable even to get out of bed much less train due to a severe hernia. I’m sure, like most aikidoka there have been many times in the past when I’d talked myself out of training. I was too tired, it was too cold out, it was too hot out, my wrists hurt etc etc. During these moments of laziness it was just too easy to make an excuse not to go, “I’ll go tomorrow instead, next week I’ll train twice as hard” and all the time taking for granted the fact that I was able to train at all. That I had my health, that I lived in a city with such a great aikido dojo and teacher, that I could afford the monthly fees – all of these luxuries were easily forgotten. Forgotten until I no longer had them.

During many long hours of lying on my back staring at the ceiling I found myself longing to be able to do the simplest tasks again. I couldn’t stand long enough to make myself something to eat. I couldn’t leave the house to go and buy groceries. And I couldn’t train. I found myself missing Aikido a lot during this time. All those excuses now seemed so wasteful and I was forming a new commitment to my life and to my martial art that I promised myself I would honor once I was fit again.

This was the first lesson being unwell taught me. The second was more subtle but no less valuable. Sensei kindly gave my wife a book of Zen teachings for me to read while I was out of action. At first I thought just how nice this was of him to try to try to keep me entertained and I was honored that he’d thought of me at all while I wasn’t training. I then realized that this wasn’t simply a kindly gesture – perhaps the message was that, even though you can't practice aikido physically, you can still practice aikido mentally and this was his way of teaching me even while I couldn’t even stand up.

Aikido isn’t just something that happens on the mat – it’s a state of mind, its something we take with us every time we leave the dojo and its still with us even when sick and incapacitated. We should treasure every moment we are able to physically practice it and we should continue to train even in those moments when we are not able.