This essay and my Sandan examination are sincerely dedicated to my Aikido sensei's and all my training partners. I also want to give my love and special thanks to Steve Atkinson Sensei for placing my feet on a path that changed my life forever.
Little did I know when I took my first Aikido class from Atkinson Sensei that I had embarked on a journey that would last a lifetime or more. Neither did I realize that in addition to learning and perfecting techniques, I would advance in my mental and spiritual development as well.
Over the past 11 years of training, I have progressed through various stages of technical advancement, all of which were very challenging, revealing and rewarding. After reaching a certain level of training and understanding, however, I realized that there is no "end" to learning techniques. Rather, new variations and dimensions of techniques continually reveal themselves and are only as limited as your mind is.
Along with technical improvement has come a better understanding of myself, other people, the environment, and my relationships with them. Aikido has transcended the mat and become a part of my everyday life. The themes and skills learned on the mat are adaptable to many circumstances. Those intangible lessons learned from Aikido have allowed me to cope appropriately with a multitude of situations at work, relationships, conflicts, my health, and more.
This past year has been particularly significant for me in gaining a deeper understanding of techniques and principles of Aikido and also for understanding the concept of unifying the body, mind, and spirit. These steps toward understanding were facilitated by two factors: my concern that this past year would possibly have been my last year to train because of physical problems; and my strong desire to express my gratitude and love to my sensei's and friends for all they have added to my life in a language we all understand, Aikido.
I have to confess that preparing for the demonstration has been unlike any other exam I have prepared for. This time, the process of preparing for the demonstration became the focus. The lessons learned along the way have been so valuable that the demonstration itself became another moment in time rather than a goal which overshadowed everything else. At the demonstration I want to communicate a message to everyone but will do it more spontaneously and as my true self. I believe that the demonstration should be a reflection of who I am, where I am now on the Aikido path, including mistakes and accomplishments.
While training over the past few months, there have been many highs, lows, and plateaus which were exaggerated by fluctuations in my health, which in turn affected my mental state. However, rather than seeing my physical conditions as limiting, I am finally accepting them and am learning ways to cope with them and to actually capitalize on them. Because my stamina is less than it used to be, I am working on ways to conserve energy. Consequently, I am in a transition and am in the process of moving away from such a strong focus on techniques. I am returning to the basics.
For example, the basics of set - up, control, spiral motions, and taking balance are the initial and important elements of executing a technique. If I can be in the Zen state of no - mind, and have control, then that space is endless like the universe. Time seems to expand and techniques reveal themselves that are appropriate for that moment.
Also, if I am not tied up in my own mind and concentrating on executing a technique, I am centered and more free to receive an uke's intent and what is communicated to me through their body. By receiving the communication I should be able to detect when their balance is taken, and adjust the technique to be more effective and efficient based on that individual's body and ukemi.
Because I am not a large or physically strong person, I am also working on ways to make size and strength differentials work for me instead of against me. The principles of relaxing and using ki instead of muscle are critical as are moving from the center, using the hips and moving with the whole body.
Having the right attitude or frame of mind is also important to training. By working with and observing people, it has become easier to know what is going on in another person's mind by their body language and intuition tells me what another person's intent or thoughts are. Conversely, if I do not have a positive state of mind or good presence, it is reflected in my Aikido and life. Therefore I realize the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, remaining calm and centered, and not letting myself feel trapped or limited.
Thus, by coming to terms with my physical conditions and accepting them, I am working through them mentally and physically. I do not feel so trapped and am stretching those limitations. By working through this process this past year I have gained more confidence and the courage to go on.
Finally, because of my physical condition, I have taken training in Reiki and Shiatsu so I can help others who may be suffering from similar problems. Amazingly, some themes I learned from Aikido also apply to these arts such as; using ki, being relaxed, breathing properly, moving from and pulling energy up from your center, moving from your center with your whole body, and communicating through touch and intuition. I am also better understanding how spiritual and mental imbalances affect our physical bodies. As I look more at those themes and what a Zen roshi told me, it seems that what used to be disparate threads are becoming clearer, universal themes.
Respectfully submitted by
Carol Hoshiko, July 16th, 1993, Aikido North