I have no romantic notions of what it means to be a warrior. I served in the United States Marine Corps and worked for ten years as a deputy sheriff. I have seen the dead and the dying, the deliberate and the accidental. I have seen people shot, cut, burned, beaten, strangled, crushed, even literally hammered to death. I understand how fast violence can erupt/interrupt into our everydayness and destroy our lives. My goal is simply that of any warrior/father/husband: to be prepared to protect and defend myself, my family, my community.
One of the ways I choose to do that is through Aikido. I enjoy Aikido because it is hard, because it forces me to change, because it forces me to face myself. My first Sensei was irascible and difficult but he gave me a solid foundation in some of the basics. His emphasis was on techniques for the world off the mat, especially the breaking and keeping of uke’s balance and in delivering solid strikes.
He believed (and rightly so) that Aikido is not a game nor is it a sport. Aikido is a matter of life and death. To treat it as anything less is a waste of time and an insult to the memory of O-Sensei. What we do on the mat is sacred. It is life writ small. It is tradition lived in the present. Aikido is the gift to us from O-Sensei and all those who taught him. His gift passed through Yamada Sensei to Dee Sensei to me. I am being forged as the next link in the chain.
Some critics dismiss Aikido as at best anachronistic and at worst a waste of time that instills a false sense of security in the practitioner. Would O-Sensei have developed and promoted Aikido if he did not believe it to be effective? Of course not. My answer to the critics is get on the mat and hang around long enough to understand what is going on. Feel the burn of nikkyo, the swirling confusion and abrupt reversal of irimi nage, the panic of koshi nage done full speed. Test yourself in randori. Find out how to react when facing multiple attackers. Learn that getting your lip busted or being thrown hard will not kill you. Understand the power of Aikido before passing judgment.
Accepting Aikido as a way of life has to be a choice. A choice repeated week after week, day after day. The mat is the battlefield upon which we overcome ourselves and it is in the persistence, the refusal to succumb to inertia that we are made strong. Week in and week out I get on the mat because I have to, because it satisfies a basic primal need and is a way to channel the warrior instincts. It is not just the mat, Aikido permeates my life. Even driving 100 miles round trip is in itself an act of entering, of being uke. Trying to perfect the process of resolving one conflict while looking/preparing for the next. It is in the knowing when to push and when to pull, when to enter and when to turn.
Am I absolutely prepared for anything life throws at me? Of course not. Am I much better prepared? Indeed, I am.