February 19, 2010
by Krissie Nagy
When I take a wet rag to the concrete, wood, or tatami floors, class isn't quite over. For me, it's a time to spin my energy back into my body and out through my fingers in quiet and conscientious work. I joined the dojo nearly two years ago. At the time I didn't understand this part of the training, much less that it was part of the training. It seemed strange and even servile to be asked to clean the same areas three times a day. The way I saw it, the dojo was immaculate and would most likely stay that way whether I was helping out or not. Then one day (a couple months in), I saw dust. Finding dust gave me real purpose during cleaning, so I began to look for it. I delighted in finding every crumb nestled in dark corners, or rogue strands of hair behind pieces of furniture. Recently, I discovered that a damp rag, when taken to a seemingly pristine area of concrete, will reveal the loveliest array of baby dust bunnies (aww)! The gap between what a beginner cleaner sees and what a seasoned uchideshi, like Baisho, sees must be immense. American culture makes cleaning out to be a drag. From the Swiffer brushes that put us as far away from the dirt as possible to the unlimited array of toxic “magical sprays” that will do all the scrubbing for us, the only thing we're missing is Merlin (http://www.youtube.com/watch#v=75BJ2ovo-S0&feature=related). Our dojo is spick-and-span without the help of elaborate cleaning products, and mostly thanks to a few scrapped gi's, two buckets of water, and the members' collective awareness in figuring out what needs to get done. After potlucks, we could give Merlin a run for his money. I find the after-practice clean a very meditative and calming activity, especially following an intense hour of training. Just as aikido has a way of magnifying aspects of my life, the cleaning practice has also brought a heightened level of awareness. Whether it's keeping my living quarters tidy or noticing the subtleties in a friend's behavior, I'm far less oblivious to details than I used to be. I'm also beginning to understand how cleaning is really an exercise in respect for our environment. If we can leave our surroundings more beautiful than when we first arrived, that is truly a harmonious way of life worth practicing daily.