Written by Ramsey Leung
Aikido is a mystery to me. Equally strange were the circumstances of how I literally stumbled upon and into the Naka Ima Aikikai dojo. On a frigid January morning this year, I made an unusual decision to go for a morning run. Instead of taking my standard route though Trinity-Bellwoods Park, I ran along a different course, very much on a whim, though perhaps according to my gut. Finding myself in the back promenade of the Liberty Market Building, I may have learned my first lesson in Aikido before even setting foot in the dojo; to be open to everything and be ready for nothing. Indeed, from the outside looking in, it was initially quite a bizarre sight to see people of all sizes and backgrounds ‘throwing’ one another ‘round a big mat dressed in what looked like funny white pyjamas! Some of the people were even wearing big, funny blue pants! As I entered the dojo and absorbed the class in progress, I quickly realized that something funny indeed was going on in here, though not in a perverse or delinquent manner. On the contrary, something was going on that morning which was so natural it seemed funny that it had not entered my life earlier than it had then.
As idealistic as this initial encounter might sound, it would be negligent of me to sugar-coat my early experiences with my Aikido practice, as I found myself frustrated and downright defeated after many sessions. What was that ‘move’ that he just did? Why couldn’t she tell me what I did wrong just then? Why did it seem like I couldn’t do anything right at all? And yes, sometimes it took the wind out of me after getting thrown to the ground. But it was on the ground that concepts started to gain clarity and the metaphors with life began to coalesce. As rolls were practiced they became more fluid and less painful and I slowly started to come to terms with the nature of my fears. Now, hitting the ground is no longer as frightening as it used to be and actually, I don’t think there’s much there to be frightened of at all. As for my fears of ‘not getting the moves right’, the loving and non-judgemental core that I have witnessed in Aikido, exemplified by the members of the Naka Ima dojo, has shined a light directly onto the source of that little voice in my head, or what others sometimes refer to as the ‘ego’. Every time I come to class now I am grateful for the diversity of the members of the dojo, each of whom imparts a little bit of their life story on me when we connect, and help me to understand that these differences are illusions because we are all the same.
I have recently come to think of the dojo as a giant mirror that helps me to see my ego (and then help to dissolve it!), which gets polished a little bit more each time I practice Aikido. More than that, I’ve come to think of this giant mirror as a portable one that need not only reside at 171 East Liberty Street because its concepts are not just physical ones, but are in fact, universal. At my workplace the other day, while confronted over the telephone by a boss of mine who was angered by something inconsequential, I applied lessons learned at Naka Ima to ‘step off of the line’ and ‘get out of the way’, while still staying connected to my boss and calmly entering his state of mind to diffuse the conflict. No punches or kicks were thrown; they were not needed at all. Of course, the giant mirror is still foggy a lot of the time and I have a feeling that there are some blind spots that I have to turn to check out, but what little it has helped to reveal thus far has been invaluable to me. Indeed, at this very moment I am acutely aware that my ego has been working over-time while writing this article, fretting way too much about how it would read by others and reflect upon Naka Ima and Sensei Greg. Alas, I am at the end of the article now and there’s no point tormenting oneself over what has come before. Yes, forty lessons into Aikido and it is still a mystery to me, but I’m not that worried about it any more.