Shugyo by I. Tirado-Flores

I’ve been working 36 hrs straight on this case, my body long past fatigue. I would drink coffee, but that would only serve to agitate an already foggy mind, besides the uneasy queasiness reminds me that my body is slowly shutting down, as I still the tremors in my hands. A defenseless little boy needs me to bring him justice, to show him that the world has compassion. He no longer has a voice, but maybe I can speak for him. As my mind wanders off, I take a deep breath and bring my attention back to my center. I have trained for this for fifteen years, this is my Shugyo.

In my early days of aikido, Shugyo was the daily hours spent at the dojo training and the long hours spent working out afterwards. I remember practicing rolls and breakfalls on the concrete sidewalk in order to test my ukemi. Attacking hard, throwing hard, and expecting the same in return as we chipped away the imperfections of our technique and spirit. Looking back, those were good days; I miss the camaraderie, the familiar aching of my body, the arrogance of knowing I was working harder than anybody else on the mat.

After a time the Shugyo became Musha Shugyo as I began my pilgrimages to the various schools of aikido. “Look not to learn a hundred variations of a technique” my sensei admonished, “look for the underlying essence of a technique in the variations.”  So I traveled, traveled to Japan, to other States, and to the various schools this city has to offer. I did my best not to default back to past teachings, but rather tried to decipher the ideas and techniques of others in a quest for deeper understanding. The years of Musha Shugyo made me more humble, as I fumble to learn new a method of executing a technique I had performed thousands of times in the past. My ego slowly stripped away as I sought the assistance of lower ranking students as I explored the mysteries of aikido.

So here I am, in an interview room ready to do battle with a perpetrator of a heinous crime. This is not a battle of brawn, but of mind. I calmly deflect her displays of anger. I seek out the tsuki (opening) in her deceptions. Her opposition is hopeless as she fights against the void, and I slowly lead her towards the truth which she cannot admit to herself. And when the time is right I extend my ki and watch her crumble before me. My job is done; hopefully I have done my art proud.

Later that night, after a few hours of sleep I kneel on the mat, as tears begin to well up in my eyes. I take a deep breath, find my center, and the outside world slowly dissolves away. During practice I marvel at the next generation of aikidoka, seeing the passion ablaze in their eyes as they pursue this art with youthful abandon as I once did. Their intensity pushing my body to its physical threshold, forcing me to draw more heavily from my understanding of aikido in order to keep pace with the tidal relationship of uke and nage. At the end my body is both spent and yet invigorated; my mind enters a state of sublime repose.

As I put on my suit, I reflect on the work I have accomplished both on and off the mat. My only wish is that my fellow aikidoka will be able to manifest this art in the outside world with the same passion and dedication that they have shown here. I put on my hat, walk out the door and smile as the nighttime air resonates with the memory of thousands of such nights, and the promise of thousands more nights to come.

- Isaias Tirado-Flores