I practice aikido because it is my path. This is not what I would have said five and a half years ago when I started.
When I started aikido, I had no idea what it was. I had just moved to New York City from living in India and London, and was starting life over on my own. After about 22 years of dancing, I had decided to stop. I had studied one year of Indian martial arts while in Bangalore and knew that I wanted to train in a martial practice. I did not know why. It was like I was in a pitch black room and was following a simpler, more basic sense than sight. My friend said, “you should check out aikido, I think you would like it.” Watching class, I knew within a few seconds that I would like Savoca Sensei to be my teacher. In a way, as much as I found aikido, I think it also found me.
Recently, I have been thinking about my previous dance training and aikido. I have been asking myself why I decided to stop dancing and why I have made a commitment within myself to aikido. The initial answer that came up was too easy. “Dance was heavily related to my married life and I wanted to leave that behind.” That wasn’t it. While I loved dancing, I felt boxed in by ideas of how I had to be as a female dancer on stage and off. As I grew older, the high of performance also wore off. I grew more interested in finding a sense of depth and rootedness within myself and I also wanted to work with other people. I practice aikido because it is not solitary. While each person must work on themselves, the work is also with another. If both people really give themselves, practice can be a way for both to create and discover.
In aikido, there is a sense of wildness. This does not mean crazy and wild movements. For me, this wildness is a feeling of not just being this list of attributes or qualities that I have for myself. It’s a feeling of existing and working with another person with fresh possibilities every time. This starts at a physical level, when you decide to not let your body tell the same story again and again. “I have bad knees so I can only go down this much, or I can only stretch this much.”
Sometimes, especially when resistance has been worn away, this wildness can be felt, and you find yourself moving differently than the list of “this is who I am and how I move”. This wildness moves beyond the physical level as well. It is not pushing down and hiding what comes up. Yes, we must work continuously to channel this wildness and learn how to use it. But aikido does not ask me to hide. It asks me to be myself, in small ways, and in big ways.
When I started aikido, I was training for myself. I felt like I had given away my voice to others, and I was training to find it. However, this has changed. Yes, I still train for myself - I want to go deep and I must bring a fierce commitment and energy to practice, but it is not only for myself anymore. Being part of a strong community at the dojo shows me how connected we are. What I do on and off the mat affects others. And what good is it for me to develop myself alone? In the first place, that is already impossible. My training would not be possible without the lifelong dedication of many teachers, including Savoca Sensei, to this art. In this way, as soon as I started training I was connected. And as I continue training, it must be to continue this connection with others. So I also practice aikido for the community that I am a part of, and in a greater sense, the world.
Perhaps the simplest answer to why I practice, is that I love aikido. It is beautiful and fierce, and the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is rich and deep. It is not easy. But I love it.
While the following are not my words, they express how I feel. They are an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s “Starfish”:
“[...] What good does it do
to lie all day in the sun
loving what is easy?
It never grew easy,
but at last I grew peaceful:
my fear diminished
as they bloomed through the water
like flowers, like flecks
of an uncertain dream,
while I lay on the rocks, reaching
into the darkness, learning
little by little to love
our only world.”