Introductory Class at Two Cranes Aikido 2005: Aikido is self-correction

            When I watch people who’ve been training a long time, Aikido looks like it would be a simple to learn.  That’s just it, it is simple.  But we are complex human beings and skillful at complicating things.  The depth of our emotional experience is grand and the richness of our neurosis, extensive.  The Aikido movements we study are natural and graceful. We want to flow like a clear water creek or float across the mat like puffy cumulus clouds.  The redwood trees stand so tall. We would like to feel that unwavering uprightness in our bodies.  The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba (fondly referred to by his students as Great Teacher) tells us, “Aikido is like walking’. If you can walk, you can do Aikido.” In addition to learning about defending ourselves, we can improve our physical and mental communication skills. We learn how to relax under pressure, and feel a sense of connection as we move our bodies through space.  We might discover that ease we had as children; that ease we have when we take a walk in the park.   Just the gesture of raising our arm without a decibel of tension might equal a black belt in daily life. 

I see Aikido as both a martial art and a movement meditation.  It is a place to study ourselves and our relationships with others. We come together to practice resolving conflicts, and feel the exhilaration of connecting body to body and spirit to spirit with our partners in a safe and non-sexual manner.   It is a place to learn about ourselves; a place to learn how to work with our states of mind and body such as our aggression, heartfelt generosity, our shyness, and our fear.  The dojo is a laboratory for this active study.  At Hombu Dojo Headquarters in Tokyo, Japan there is a plaque on the wall in the entry hall that reads: ‘Always train in the spirit of joyous exhilaration.’  It is one of his most significant teachings.

            Another pivotal instruction is “True Victory -self victory.” It is one of O’ Sensei’s significant teachings. ‘To thy own self be true.’   So we practice to refine our bodies and our minds. When we offer our hands to our partners, our first task is to ground physically and connect with the energy of the earth and align our spines.  Next we align mentally by clearing out any negative thoughts and ideas about how this is going to be. We actively create a state of clarity.

            In 1925 O’ Sensei had a vision: might doesn’t make right. No matter how strong you get there is always someone stronger. Aikido is the middle path. It’s not aggressive in nature and not passive. It asks its students to find a grounded assertive and balanced response to energy -to conflict.  By balancing ourselves, we invite our opponents to do so as well.


Primer Points for Introductory class:

1. Welcome beginners.  This is not only a beginning class, but also an opportunity to celebrate the practice of Aikido.   

2. Invite new students to honor the life and vision of O Sensei. He devoted the majority of his 86 years to creating harmony in the world. “Plant your feet firmly on the path of self- realization.” O’ Sensei

3. Acknowledge the power of breath. Aikido is about coming into balance: physical, mental, spirit, balance. We will begin by breathing together.

4. Introduce Chinkokyu practice. It invites us to celebrate the power of the vital elements of Fire –as we envision sunlight pouring down upon us and Water -the power of an rushing waterfall and the Center of the universe, the circle- representing serenity and connection with omnipotent and divine life force.

5. Emphasize that Aikido is the cultivation of the spirit of loving protection. O’ Sensei spoke of the goal that the people of the world would come together in the spirit of friendship and cooperation.  In this first connection we make with partner we offer our hand in responding to his oncoming energy. Much like a handshake of a good friend.  Our arms are relaxed, our bodies straight, hands extended.

6. Mary Heiny Sensei tells a story of one of her teachers that was 80 at the time.  In early morning practice was not going well for Mary. Her frustration was bountiful and not shrinking. He sidled up next to her to offer a few word s of direction. On good days when practice is pleasant that is the easy time like having a picnic and enjoying the pleasure. That is good. But we need to welcome the frustrating and disappointing moments.  That is the learning time; that is when deep understanding happens. We need both in practice the pleasure and the difficulty. I began training when I was 60 I always was in a rush to learn and created much consternation for myself.  Now I see that the learning was imminent to teach me that I have time and that I must relax and bow to the frustration as Kami (God)”

7. Aikido teaches us how to cope with frustration.  Aikido is simple. The complexity is being a human being the ups and downs is an essential feature of life. In this new century it is more significant than ever that we willingly begin the cultivation of our spiritual selves.

8. Enjoy your time exploring this practice. Always train is a joyous manner. Or at least give it a try.

Kimberly Richardson