No Turning Back

by Terri Rzeznik

Initially when asked to write something for the dojo blog, my immediate response was that of resistance. In truth, that has been my feeling ever since. For months, I racked my brain trying to come up with some exciting topic that would inspire my fellow aikidoka. But, unfortunately, I was not successful. I did not come to this training because I dreamed about being Bruce Lee or because I was struggling with some deep existentialist question. I had been through enough bad acting classes that the thought of any practice that required self-reflection made my head explode. The reason I came to this practice was simply because a good friend recommended it to me.

I had recently moved back from Los Angeles where I was pursuing a career as an actor. That experience left me feeling jaded, cynical and with no sense of direction. I clearly remember the day when my friend Jeff said, “Hey, you should check out aikido.”

He had been practicing for about 8 months and told me that it had changed his life. Really, I thought, changed your life? I was skeptical. What was this aikido of which he spoke? I’d never heard of it, but I figured I would watch a class anyway. Of course, this simple action would put me on a path that, in fact, did change my life. But, I digress. What could I write about that would be interesting to read? Then, two weeks ago, Sensei called me into his office. “Oh no,” I thought, “he is going to ask me about the blog.”

I sat down on the floor and he told me he had the inspiration for my article. He handed me a piece of paper and on it was written, “'From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.' - Kafka.” As I sat there looking at the piece of paper, I began to think about my years of training. Before our beautiful dojo was built, we used to practice out of the Albee School of Dance on Carroll Street. We would tape together some gymnastic mats and place a picture of O Sensei on a small table, transforming a children’s dance studio into a serious place to train. Anyone who watched a class there knew this to be true. It did not matter that there were posters of ballet slippers on the walls; when you walked into the space, you could sense that something was different. There were many mornings when it would just be Sensei and me for practice. I cannot tell you how many times I wished the subway kami would swallow up the G train so I would not have to go. And even though I was full of anxiety, I would arrive at the dance studio, put on my gi, and get ready for class.

The more I trained, the more I realized aikido was not about getting something. Sure, I could feel my body getting stronger, but this training was about letting go. It was about letting go of my fears, letting go of that voice that said, “I can’t do it”, letting go of my perceived limitations not just in the dojo but in all aspects of my life. There are times I still struggle with this, when I think I cannot do one more bunny hop and yet there is something that pushes me to continue. What is this desire to keep going? Of course, the answer to this question is different for everyone, but for me it is about breaking those old patterns that keep my life stagnated. There were times that I became so frustrated and angry that I wanted to quit aikido altogether, but now I cannot think of a life without this practice.

Reaching that point of no return did not come as some huge revelation. There were many moments I would consider milestones in my training: my first aikido summer camp, my shodan test, rohatsu, and of course, shogaku. These were intense experiences that solidified my commitment to this training. But, reaching the point where there was no turning back came in small successes - a time when I let my shoulders drop during iaido, focusing only on my breath during zazen, or feeling relaxed while taking ukemi. These were the moments I remembered. These were the moments that kept me coming back to the dojo. I realized that it is important to put myself in extreme training situations, but that I shouldn't disregard the smaller achievements. I know that everyday is different. Some days, I step on the mat and my body feels great, and on other days my knee hurts and I’m pissed off. No matter what the situation, I tell myself to be present and breathe.

As the years pass, many things have shifted for me. In the beginning, I was intensely motivated by Sensei. Sensei creates a powerful energy in the dojo and one cannot help but feed off it. But, eventually this must change. The desire to go deeper into the training must come from within. I know now that I must create my own fire in order to keep going. This is not a finite practice. There is no diploma or gold star upon completion. Every time I walk into the dojo, I remind myself why I am here. With every action, technique or breath, I try to drop something, to let go. I am not always successful, but I know if I make the effort I will continue on this path hopefully for the rest of my life.