My Beginnings in Aikido

by Ian Campbell

"Destiny rarely calls upon us at the hour of our choosing."

That's either from the Old Testament, or "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" - probably the latter. It sums up my second encounter with Sensei. The first time I encountered Sensei I had wandered into the Dojo looking for a new martial arts school. I was very impressed, very interested, but very intimidated. I was scared by Sensei because I knew that I couldn't get away with anything with him. I began training at a school that was closer to my home, had cheaper dues (I was rather broke at the time), and was more . . . casual. Martial arts is like relationships; I had been in a very serious one, and wasn't ready for another major commitment.

Flash forward a few months - I was in Barnes and Noble, looking for a book on O'Sensei to learn about his life and philosophy. I saw this man with an elusive demeanor in his early or mid-thirties. I said to him, "Hey, if you find anything by a guy named Morehei Ueshiba, let me know." From his reaction, or lack thereof, I figured he had no idea who I was talking about, but, after a few seconds, he pulled out a book by him.
"Oh, are you interested in aikido?" He asked.
"Yeah," I said, "are you into martial arts, too?"
"A little bit." I figured maybe he had a cousin who was an enthusiast.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
"A different translation of the Baghavad-Gita." Then it hit me.
"You're an aikido teacher! You teach at that Dojo on Third Avenue! I saw your class - it was very intimidating, but I'm very curious about your school." I bombarded him with questions. He knew the Sensei with whom I was training. Sensei didn't seem to care whether or not I joined the Dojo. I think he even may have preferred I didn't, since I was already with a school.

I visited the Dojo again one afternoon when Sensei and Kate were out of town, and Brent was teaching. I watched the class, and was ready to make this new commitment.
Brent asked me, "Have you told your Sensei that you're going to be training here?"
"Uhhhhhhhh....."
"Tell him."

So, reluctantly, I did. I bought a bottle of sake, visited my first aikido Sensei, and said, "Sensei, thank you so much for all you've taught me. I am going to begin training at Brooklyn Aikikai, but I want to thank you for introducing me to aikido and giving me so much." Then, I handed him the bottle.
He said, "Yes, I know the school. Thanks for doing this the right way." He smiled warmly, and that was it. I felt a few inches taller. Integrity - that's how you stand tall without excess tension, isn't it?

During my first class, I partnered with Justin. I tried to practice the technique the way I did at my old school, but Justin grabbed my wrists and pushed me into the wall, HARD! I remember thinking, “How am I supposed to be 'soft' right now??” With his wrist and finger tattoos, I felt like I was fighting with a constellation - and not doing well.
"How was class?" Sensei asked.
"I feel like I took five of them at the same time."

As an actor and a student of martial arts, throughout my life and career, I've found myself physically at a loss. I feel as though I'm always negotiating between relaxed/slouchy/naturalistic and stiff/upright/try-hard. Here was something different. It was as if integrity was keeping my spine straight. As fears arise during training and become replaced inch by inch with breath and awareness, this duality begins to wash away. But, indeed, the path is narrow, and life is short. I see people at the Dojo, every one of them, full of courage, and willing to stand up for integrity. That is a very beautiful, and increasingly rare thing.