Between the two types of classes- regular and beginner- there is widespread anxiety in moving from the beginner to the regular class. When experiencing hesitation in “going upstairs” to the regular class practice hall, you feel as though there is no hope- like planning on going to an event and hesitating till the last moment when you have no choice but to not think and get ready to go.
The regular class embodies one of the central myths to aikido practice.
It embodies the heart and spirit of continuous motion in blurred focus.
For an hour you have the same partner. This person inadvertently becomes your point of focus. In a packed class, the little space you and your partner have a speck of the whole when you survey the sea of people bobbing and falling till the building’s far corners. When you keep your focus on your partner, you remain intent on navigating with them through space. However, instead of putting blinders on or a cone around your head, you take these focusing devices off and work on expanding your field of perception to your surroundings.
Like Dolby Digital surround sound, your sense-perception takes in all that is going on around you. When your partner hits the ground you take care to avoid letting them down on top of others or into any anticipated collisions. Embracing the exchange will enable you to have the greatest level of competency along with a symbiotic relationship between you and your partner.
Pro-tip: Remember that the social anxiety of “what if I suck?” is a deterrent for your curious self. If you must, ride on the endorphin high of a beginner’s class and get up there, “go upstairs”. It’s just another class, so learn away. Use whatever’s appealing to make the class work for you. Move from one point of correction to another, and see what your partner is trying to tell you.
The flurry of adrenaline and flow made my mind ping like it had just made contact with the cosmos. I craved that dopamine hit, and that was enough to walk into the large hall, make my bows at the door. I question if I was merely training because I craved a self-served drug cocktail. I am convinced that somewhere in the midst of blurred white and black set dogi-hakama waverings, I had encountered a momentary feeling of being in unison with a primordial energy. As the aikidoka in Tan Twan Eng's The Gift of Rain put it, "the earth and I were spinning in harmony " (Tan 33). There is something intimately grounding about the flow of aikido at Hombu that makes it electrifying.
And, yet, approaching the practice as a regular is scary. "It scares me every time [to go up to the regular class].," said Yoshiko, a student who recently received her black belt in the art. I think she is not overplaying the daunting nature of the process of being an aikido student. To be there and open to the momentum of bodies in space, both your own and another, requires a deep ability to stay present amidst unpredictable forces.
Post-Watson Reflection, September 5th 2016,: I threw myself into the practice of aikido for the entire month, embraced it as much as I could possibly imagine. On day 27, I rolled and sprained my lower left back. Never in my life have I been immobilized as much as this incident. I look back and see how much I put myself in the training. I immersed my reflective and physical capacities. While I retained constant discussion over my involvement, I still managed to push myself past my perceived limits. Through the injury, I came to know myself even more. Pain facilitated a conversation between my existing way of perceiving the world and the body's. I listened deeper, kept on misjudging my needs around rest and self-regulation. The injury was the start of a deeper exploration of self-compassion.