Fresh Blood

by Monica Rose

I got blood on my gi the second class I took at Brooklyn Aikikai. Bruises on my shoulders came next. I was proud of these and showed them off to my friends. I was finally doing Aikido. I was excited. I felt the same charge as in any new relationship, and I was in the honeymoon stage. Aikido was all I talked about. I was impressed by how challenging it was, and I could not stop thinking about it. What I love the most about Aikido is that it woke me up.

I was in a dark place last autumn, spending weekends in Staten Island with a friend in the ICU, who was not waking up and not waking up, week after week after week, for two and a half months. What started as a brain hemorrhage, led to pneumonia, stroke and cerebral infection. When a calamity goes on for that long, it becomes impossible (or insane) to maintain the heightened intensity that accompanies panic. The crisis had become the norm, and I became numb. I needed to be shaken.

I remember the first class, kneeling in seiza in my stiff white gi, wondering what it would be like, hoping I was up for it. It was more rigorous than I had anticipated, but I welcomed the insistence towards being aware of what is happening in the immediate moment. I appreciated this encouraging way of being pushed and pushed and pushed, because there is no time to think. I learned quickly that, with Aikido, there is only — get back up and try again. And at Brooklyn Aikikai, there is also camaraderie, meaningful pats on the back, and incredible support. There’s a lovely openness around the presence of children. There’s respect and equal treatment towards women. There’s humor. There is kindness. And there is absolute relentlessness.

The second class had me panting with such exhaustion, I literally could not see straight. I did not know my right from my left. At the end of class, when we were told to lie down on our backs at the end of the mat and move ourselves to the other end via some strange choreography that I was unable to comprehend, I felt like some kind of inebriated inchworm slithering my way blindly while everybody watched. Then, there were those first forearm drags. Though they were excruciating and sweat came out of my eyes, I thought I was good at them . . . until the next time. And then it was — what do you mean I can’t use my toes? But I was not to be outdone. I hung a chin-up bar in my kitchen doorway. I’m getting stronger every day.

In the meantime, my friend finally woke up and was moved into a rehabilitation center. Life goes on and I keep coming back to the dojo. The initial rush of excitement has begun to wear off. I’ve stopped showing off my bruises because I realize they are from rolling incorrectly. Sometimes, I’m nervous to come to class, and often the techniques intimidate me. I still love Aikido and continue to think about it all the time, though my approach is shifting from obsession to something more grounded.

I remember the class when the honeymoon ended. I was feeling a little bit more vulnerable that day, was pushed that much too hard, and left in tears. Nothing too dramatic, just the knowing that this is the real deal. This is about commitment and perseverance. There is no easy way through or around learning techniques and finding where my center is. The only way is to keep coming back and trying my hardest; falling wrong, getting back up and trying to understand how to fall right.

The second time I got blood on my gi, it was somebody else’s blood. That’s how it goes, right? We’re all in this together. I’m very thankful to Sensei and the people at Brooklyn Aikikai, who make this dojo the special community it is, where we can all be driven to our limits and help one another discover that we can go beyond these limits.