For as long as I could remember I wanted to learn Aikido. I grew up in a small rural area in upstate New York. The only martial arts school in town was an Aikido school. Every now and then I’d sit in on a class. It wasn’t only the flowing circular movements that caught my eye, or the rolling around or bodies being thrown all over, but the whole concept and principle of Aikido was compelling me. It was so simple, and yet so genius…use my opponent’s momentum against him! Harnessing your opponent’s energy, blending with him and then redirecting or neutralizing his attack was a novel idea, especially in the face of the schoolyard boxing matches that happened on a regular basis.
I was never an athletic kid. A youth soccer league drop out. Never played sports in school. I was and continue to be an overweight guy. I grew up with an Italian grandmother who would stuff me full of meats and pasta until I couldn’t speak anymore. I no longer have my grandmother stuffing me – but I’m still very pudgy. Needless to say, I never attempted Aikido instruction when I was younger. But I never lost interest in it either.
I remember when I was in high school I bought a book about Aikido – Aikido for Life by Gaku Homma. I read it and it only increased my fascination with the art. I told myself that I was going to lose some weight and then sign up for classes. That never happened.
Then when I got to law school, some friends and I almost signed up at an Aikido school. We found a school right in town. We sat in on a few classes. It looked cool. I never got around to doing it though. But I did continue my research, adding to my growing Aikido library.
Then life happened. Started concentrating on a career, then marriage, then children, and after that you find you don’t have time for much of anything anymore. Those interests that I once had became ancillary to my primary responsibilities of work and family.
It wasn’t until I was seeking an Aikido class for my 4 year old little boy that I actually came to enroll in a class. I went in, spoke to the Sensei. I told him of my fascination with the art. I told him of my desire to one day actually practice it, become proficient. And then when he asked why I’d never started I told him how I thought I was always too fat and how I’d always set goals for myself which I always seemed to fall short on. I wasn’t really sure that I could physically handle it. I told him about time constraints and being too busy. But hell, there was always some excuse that could be used. Not enough time, not enough money, too fat, too sedentary. Sensei said that was all nonsense. I left the dojo that day assuring him that at some point I would enroll, although I wasn’t absolutely sure what I even meant by that. But the planets were about to align for me.
I don’t think that my drive to practice Aikido was ever based on a desire to defend myself. I think it always had to do with something much deeper. It was probably after the first time I got a real ass kicking in 7th grade that I actually learned how to handle myself pretty well. You get a few fights under your belt, high school, even law school and you learn a few things… about fighting, about yourself. With Aikido, I was less interested in the self-defense aspect. My desire to practice, I think, stemmed from a much deeper desire to, and I don’t mean to be trite or clichéd here, to harmonize with the energy within me, my mind and body, and then harmonize with that energy around me. I was really looking for lessons that would teach me to view things differently, to attack the problems of life from a different angle, to experience life on a different level. For me, that is Aikido.
For the most part, I’ve always been a very easy going, laid back and carefree individual. My job after law school took care of that fairly quickly. If the ten years following law school graduation, marriage and children, did not do away with it entirely, creating and building my own law practice, snuffed out any stress free lifestyle I once had, and took me in the direct and polar opposite direction. I had now become an extraordinarily high strung, stressed out, angry, manic, type-A guy that I never ever wanted to be – not for my wife, my children or me. It seemed as though I needed Aikido now more than ever. I was in harmony with nothing and nothing was in harmony with me!
It must have been one of my son’s first Aikido classes – nobody else showed up but he and I. Sensei said, “Well, it appears that you’re going to have your first Aikido class.” Here? Now? I really don’t know what I was afraid of, honestly. Why I was so reluctant, I really don’t know. But I can honestly tell you now that at that moment I had some anxiety. No… I’m not ready yet. I need to think about this a little more. That probably becomes the problem sometimes. You get to thinking about things too much, you start over-analyzing things and begin to create and manifest ideas and notions that may not even exist. Of course, the opposite is true also… when you don’t think about things enough, but that’s another paragraph. Luckily, through Aikido you learn to strike a balance to everything and anything. And that’s exactly was I was about to learn.
I practiced that day with my son. I can’t tell you the feeling I had, the emotion that was within me. I was finally doing something I had wanted to do for nearly 30 years, and I was doing it with my son. We were both doing it together for the first time. The joy and delight I felt that day can only be described as intoxicating. Again, without being trite, it was as though someone was opening up a door to a whole new world, and at the same time there was an incredible release of pressure and sense of calm and relief. And the fact I was doing this with my son made it that much more special…it was enchanting.
Little does my boy know that he actually shared that special moment with me. It was just another day for him. But I guess he’ll find out someday. And that was it, the start of my Aikido career and the start of a new love affair. And little did I know what I was truly in for…