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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…

Article Name
Beginning Aikido




9 responses to “MUSINGS FROM A RELUCTANT AIKIDOKA – Part 1 By Jason Costanzo”

  1. Carolyn Champ Avatar
    Carolyn Champ

    That’s a great story Jason- thanks for sharing!

    1. Jason Avatar

      Thanks, Carolyn!

  2. Kim Avatar

    This is a great blog entry! I like the way you look at Aikido being about the battles within ourselves.

    I also train with my children, and it really adds to the journey. It is a great thing to share with them.

    1. Jason Avatar

      Thanks, Kim!

      About Aikido and the battles within ourselves…I think that as individuals (really life in general too) we can broadly be summed up as a series of conflicts that require management. Yes, I know this is a very simplistic and academic view, but think about it for a moment. We as individuals – we are constantly physically battling our bodies, constantly battling our minds, our emotions – either we want to be skinnier, smarter, stronger, happier, etc. It’s just a series of conflicts we have with ourselves that we need to learn how to manage. There are several ways that we go about managing these conflicts…or not, I guess. We medicate, we study, we imbibe, we exercise, we scream, meditate, manipulate, treat, yell, fight, cry, laugh, talk, etc, etc, etc. And yet, even sometimes we do nothing.

      Without getting too deeply into this (although perhaps I already am…), I think the way Aikido teaches us to deal with conflict EXTERNALLY, is exactly how we can learn to managing conflict INTERNALLY. The circular and centrifugal movements of Aikido show the individual is always at the center of conflict or chaos. We take it, we control it, we neutralize it. Put very simply, if we can learn to handle our own internal problems the way we handle a shomen uchi strike, our world may be a better place. Again, I think it comes down to breathing, receiving, remaining calm, blending, and then controlling and projecting in a manner where everyone remains safe. And I guess when I’m saying everyone…I’m meaning our own mental health!! I know I’m using the manner in which we train here loosely as a metaphor, but I really do think we can apply our techniques in this manner to our own conflicts, both internal and external.

      We undoubtedly could write much so more on this. I think even Hoa Sensei touches on some of this in his book. I should look that up again and write some more on this. I’ve had his book checked out of our library for waaay too long already!

      1. Steve Avatar

        When we take control and neutralize a conflict, exactly what is the “we” that does this?

        1. Jason Avatar

          Well, I think I was referring to the royal “we” or the colloquial “we” or the proverbial “we”…or perhaps even the several voices I repeatedly hear in my head. Haaaa! I was speaking of the universal struggles and conflicts that “we” have as human beings and juxtaposing them against the training “we” all receive as Aikidoka to combat a physical struggle or conflict.
          I can’t help but wonder about the intent of your question – do you mean to tell me that we are all alone in our fights and struggles – that we’re responsible for ourselves? Or are you making a larger statement about the portion of the human psyche that feels the need to control and neutralize rather than going with the flow and ensuring a safe path for all? Or are you just trying to foster a discussion…?
          I think I’ll go with the latter, and end with a brilliant quote from the 1985 coming-of-age film Vision Quest. After Louden Swaine defeats his nemisis on the wrestling mat, he ends the movie with this voice over. “I think a lot about those six minutes with Shute, and the time I spent with Carla that season. Kuch had it right, it was a Vision Quest. But all I ever settled for was that we were born to live and then to die… we’ve gotta do it alone, each in his own way. And I guess that’s why we gotta love those people, Who deserve it like there’s no tomorrow. Cause when you get right down to it…there isn’t.”

          1. Steve Avatar

            The intent of the question was to challenge you to think. In Aikido if you are going to resolve a conflict, you need to correctly assess who the conflict is between. The point of the training is to realize we start with incorrect assumptions, and that is probably why the conflict arose in the first place. Practice leads us to question these assumptions and resolve conflicts when we develop a better understanding. You might want to look back at what Hoa Sensei says on the subject in his book.

  3. Jason Avatar

    What? You didn’t like my Vision Quest quote?
    You’re absolutely right, Sensei, and point well taken. I did go back and reread Hoa Sensei’s book – Chapter 5 entitled “What Aikido Does to You”, and believe he’s saying the same thing.
    I will return the book so that anyone who’s interested can read it. I’ve kept it so long because it is a wonderful resource to continually refer to.

  4. Kim Avatar

    Good points, Jason. I’m just reading this a couple weeks late! My take on it is that the ‘we’ is the set of assumptions, identifications, preferences, physical attributes, emotions, memories etc. that we feel is our ‘self.’ It is a construct. Just as the conflicts are constructs. But that doesn’t make them less real. It also does not mean that they are ‘fixed’ in any way. The degree that we can make space within any conflict, is the degree that we can have some peace with it. In actual aikido technique, I translate this into letting go, going with the flow, being present, not being attached to an outcome, being more open to the situation.

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