Emily: Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it– every, every minute?
Stage Manager: (quietly) No– Saints and poets, maybe– they do some.
~Thornton Wilder, Our Town
I had my last aikido class at my dojo. Afterwards, Sensei had a party for me. I hugged a lot of people, promised I would keep in touch and visit– and I will.
It was in July of 2001 when I called Sensei and asked if I could observe a class. It was on Pepe’s insistence that I try aikido, after passing by the dojo one evening and remarking that he had a friend who studied that particular style.
It may sound melodramatic, but that call changed my life. I was on my way to learning about aikido, and learning more about myself. I learned how to have my mind and body work in tandem, instead of in opposing directions. I started to have an understanding of how I react in stressful situations and how to make the adrenaline rush work for me instead of against me. I began to find that core of calm self-confidence, my “center.” There was a lot of frustration, a lot of mistakes, and a few injuries in the process, but I kept coming back.
Why did I keep coming back? Because my dojo is filled with warm, encouraging, strong people who wanted to see me succeed, who care about me, who, regardless of rank, had something positive to teach me. They are wonderful on the mat as well as off, and I felt happy to be part of a vibrant community.
Aikido extended beyond the dojo as well. Pepe’s friend was none other than Nicky, who has been a great friend to me, even though we’ve never met in person and I have never had the honor of taking ukemi (being thrown) from him. Anthem (whom I’ve only met a couple of times) came to my blue belt test. I got to know a host of people on the other side of the country who have practiced (and continue to practice) aikido with Nick– people I would have never known otherwise.
The answer to Rick-sensei’s question just occurred to me. Why did I stay? It wasn’t about moving up in the ranks, or becoming the best aikidoist. I stayed because of the people. I stayed because of the community. I stayed because of the love.
And now I’m leaving, after eight years. I feel like I’m leaving a family who has nurtured and cared for me all these years, to strike out on my own.
Part Two to follow.