by James Yaegashi
I wish I had something insightful to say about my training in aikido. The truth is, I don’t. I practice simply because I made a commitment to learn. In the process, I’m finding that training is informing my life beyond the walls of the dojo. So, here follows my attempt to articulate one of the ways a beginner’s life is affected by training in aikido.
I am made aware of a multitude of things in practice. One such realization is that I have a tendency toward rikimi (forcing or tensing). For example, in kokyunage (or in any other technique, for that matter), I often find myself pulling or pushing using my arm or shoulder strength, rather than moving my center through irimi, tenkan or kaiten and receiving and redirecting the energy coming from my partner. I see in my mind what I need to do, but I am far from being able to execute it — which, of course, is why one practices, repeating over and over in hopes of eventually executing the technique as Sensei demonstrates, and making it a part of one’s being.
During practice at the dojo, I am focused on the specific details of a given technique that I am working on — how far do I need to step in to absorb my partner's energy at my center rather than pulling him/her to me? Did I step in too far? What is the positional relationship between my line and my partner's line when I do tenkan? Am I staying connected (or, "sticky," as Sensei says) with my partner? Why has "sticky" become "pushing" or “pulling”? How do I correct that? When taking ushiro ukemi, at what point does balance transform into being thrown? As if working through these details on the tatami isn’t enough of a challenge, I must simultaneously be mindful not to fall into rikimi.
Interestingly, these very specific points I work on in the dojo act as a sort of stimulant to my mind — they pique my curiosity outside the dojo about how I relate to other people. How do I meet the energy of my whining 4-year old and redirect it, rather than merely insisting that she stop? Where does my metaphoric center need to be vis-à-vis my wife's in order to harmonize when we are both exhausted from a day's work and have to put the kids in the shower and ready them for bed? What is my spiritual ukemi when a meter maid has just written me a ticket for double-parking while I dropped my son off at school? And as an overarching question, at what instances in life does rikimi seem to be my way of responding, rather than receiving and harmonizing?
The more I train at the dojo, the more I become aware of my deficient attention to all the details of technique. As a beginner, that is to be expected — or, rather, it is exactly where I should be. One might even say this, “naturally,” will lead to rikimi. But, I hope continued practice will eventually bring me out from rikimi to shizentai (natural being), where meeting and harmonizing becomes a part of my being, both in and outside the dojo.