Getting on the Mat

Over the past seven months, I developed an undiagnosed case of dizziness. This dizziness has crippled me in my daily life when it is at its worst; it has kept me from going to college classes, from walking safely for distances longer than a block, it has sent me to the ER when my friends cannot keep me upright. Almost ironically, this aggravating and confusing dizziness has kept me from my practice of balance and calmness. The art of aikido has previously centered me in times of distress and grounded me when my life seemed to crack around me. To me, these past seven months have been a testament to the enormous role aikido plays in my life.

Aikido came into my life in the form of an outreach fitness program at my middle school. A handful of my peers and I were sent to Two Cranes Aikido to have an introduction to a peaceful martial art. I remember little from my first experiences with aikido, but it clearly made a strong impression me, as I joined the dojo formally shortly thereafter. Seven years and six kyu tests later, I find that aikido is an essential part of my life that is inseparable from my sense of self. My most basic movements, physical or otherwise, were shaped through my adolescence by my practice of this beautiful art.

I have never been a particularly well-balanced person. My recent dizziness has only added to my general lack of balance. My friends are used to me wobbling or falling over if bumped. After a few years of practicing aikido, I wondered why my everyday balance did not improve. My continual struggle on the mats is to lower my center of gravity and have impeccable posture. More recently, I have found that aikido does help me with my everyday balance, just not in the way I thought. Aikido has allowed me to take ukemi from my environment. Should someone run into me, my goal is not to be an immovable wall, but instead to allow that energy to flow past. My way of taking ukemi in life may make it seem as if I am poorly balanced, but in fact, I am naturally absorbing and diverting the energy that comes at me. I have more to learn in the way of elegance, but I can take pride at the moment in the fact that I can keep myself and others safe with simple ukemi.

A highly essential part of aikido for me is learning to ground and center myself, and not only in a physical way. Aikido gives me important moments of meditation and quiet, which counterbalance the tumult I often experience day to day. These aspects of the art help me move through large stressors that often barrage me, including my current bout with dizziness. I particularly try to use my training to ease my debilitating anxiety. When I feel a panic attack coming on, I am sometimes able to slow or halt it by practicing kokyu. When my family went through a tense rough patch three years ago, I took it all in stride with as much positive aiki energy as I could muster. Unfortunately, my anxiety does still show up on the mats. I nit-pick at my own technique and can be vastly self-deprecating. Especially in high pressure situations like preparing for a rank demonstration, it is difficult for me to love myself. It is my training to continue to calm and center my chaotic feelings and learn to see the good in me.

It is intensely frustrating to be frequently unfit to train due to my health issues. I want to be able to power through, but that is not a good idea for my body. These months of dizziness have been a rollercoaster of forcing myself on the mat when I feel terrible and making myself feel worse. I do find the strength occasionally to sit down and watch when my body is screaming at me. The latter action tends to be the wiser one. As I navigate the terms of my strange condition, I have been able to better balance being on the mat when I can and stepping off when my body needs to be still. I reiterate that this is the most frustrating outcome of this dizziness; my anxiety and drive towards perfection torture me when I can only watch class. Another important aspect of my training now is to accept the need to care for myself from the sidelines of the dojo so that my future self will be healthy enough to step on the mat at all. Luckily, I am supported in this endeavor by the beautiful dojo community. My fellow aikidoists have given me the strength to put my health before my training, and allowed me to know that I am not weak for needing a break from the mat every now and then.

Aikido is still a very difficult practice for me, given my dizziness and anxiety. Slowly, I am accepting the teachings of aikido that let me release all of my tenseness and unsureness. It can be very easy to let go of my worries in the dojo thanks to the wonderful people in Two Cranes. I feel comfortable calling Two Cranes a home for me, where I can be cleansed of nastiness I experience outside of the dojo. I hope that I will be able to turn all of the loveliness I take in at the dojo around and give back properly to my dojo community. For now, I am very good at receiving positive energy, but I do plan on returning it tenfold.

Isabelle Moore