Finally, last Friday night, after 5 years of stalling, I took the 4th kyu test in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. I took the test for two reasons; friendship and beauty. My friends in the dojo were beginning to pressure me. I actually began to train in Aikido 7 years ago, shortly after I came to live in Asheville, North Carolina. I went, then, on a chilly new year’s day to watch my cousin practice Aikido for the afternoon. I went because I love him, but, also, it turns out he is a very accomplished aikidoist (I know it is a strange word, but it is THE word, and it connotes, among other things, that in addition to loving rolling on the floor and flying through the air, you also like beer :)).
Watching this magical display of grab, fly, roll, and run, I couldn’t help but be enchanted. As with so many things in my life, I followed my intuition that Aikido would be something I might enjoy. What I didn’t adequately account for was that it might also hurt. In the first few months, I wavered. It was cold in the dojo. Classes were in the evening. It was dark outside. But, inside, it was a sparkling game. And so, like a bird with shiny objects, I couldn’t stop coming back.
I have always loved movement. Growing up, I took classes in modern dance and ice skating. In my twenties I started cycling, in my thirties I took up yoga. In my forties, I started skiing, swimming and surfing. For my fifties, apparently I’ve taken up Aikido. In the beginning, I jumped every time someone hit the mat anywhere in the dojo. Due to the fact that it is a point of some pride if you slap the mat as hard as you possibly can when hit the ground, this happened often. Especially loud was the Sensei ( the word for treasured teacher in Japanese). In some dojos, they also yell when they throw people. Thankfully, not in Asheville, though they may be the loudest-ever slappers. Loud noises have always frightened me and I have a hair-trigger startle reflex. I felt paralyzed when someone grabbed me and my first instinct was to run away or crouch on the ground. I cried all the next day after every class pretty much for no good reason. Perhaps Aikido was not as much fun as I thought.
Aikido is beautiful. Beauty like harmony, order. Beauty as in an eagle circling. Watching people practice together, this is easy to appreciate. I am often captured by the beauty of their motion, their bodies responding to one another, their ritual bows, the sweat of concentration. (Wish I could show you action at Asheville Aikikai, but no videos yet of them on YouTube.)
And, according to the Sensei who first taught me weapons, Aikido is also the art of forgiveness. Even as recently as a few days before the test, I had to ask someone to lessen their grip on my wrist. Strange as it may sound, this is not an easy thing to do. It is very disturbing to admit that you feel hurt. Almost everyone in the dojo is bigger than me. And male. My wrists are easily injured being small in structure. In theory, it is possible to exert very little to no pressure to achieve spectacular Aikido manuevers. In fact, the founder of Aikido was a very small Japanese man and he could throw people while barely touching them. Clearly, it is not necessary to exert a damaging amount of pressure.
Emotionally, separating too much pressure on my wrist, from real aggression in the moment is tricky. I know for sure that no one in the dojo would intentionally hurt me. Yet, often, I walk away with bruises and aching joints. Some of the aching is most certainly due to an hour of hitting the ground and jumping back up, but the wrist aching, well, that can only be due to someone grabbing my wrist.
I took the test on Friday and on Saturday, I went to a friend’s house to meet her horses. The first thing she said to me was “all relationships are about pressure.” Sh*t! Really! After the whole tension and release of training and taking the Aikido test, I wasn’t really up for another type of pressure. Or so I thought. Then, as I stood in the pasture talking with my friend, speaking with passion about my work with people to bring them into their own bodies and their own knowing, one of the horses walked up behind me and nuzzled my shoulder. Wow! Now what? My friend handed me the halter and I stood there feeling silly, stupid and maybe even a little bit nutty. No talking or walking allowed. Just standing with the halter in my hand about 8 feet away.
Nothing happened. The horse continued to eat. I continued to feel silly. I realized that I was reluctant to put any pressure on this being to do as I would like. What is it I would like? Well, I would like this horse to want to play with me, to let me touch her. But the horse was pretty busy eating.
So, how do we let another being know we are there and we want to chat? We apply a little pressure. The kind of pressure we are talking about here is the kind that you feel when you get in the bathtub or when someone hugs you. Loving pressure, even, gentle, surrounding pressure. Pressure lets you know you are having a relationship. Whether it is a relationship with a person, an animal or yourself, a little pressure is a way of showing love and care.
It would seem that much of the time, we are completely unaware of the pressure we place on others, both literally and figuratively. We allow our momentum to carry us into contact with things and people before we have even a moment to consider what we might be engaging. Or we shy away. Or we are too busy eating. Finally, after a very certain amount of pressure, showing up, feeling my feet on the ground, being clear I had love to give, Bailey stopped eating and came over for a good neck rub. She loved it. And so did I.
The result of a very certain amount of pressure it turns out is friendship. That, in fact, after all, all the training, all the pressure, all the sweating, the result is joyful, even simple. Simple, joyful collaboration in motion, under pressure, exactly the right kind in exactly the right amount. And, remarkably, thanks to the stellar friendship of the men on the mat, I started thinking about the 3rd kyu test…
Two great friends. Under Pressure.