I didn’t even know how to spell Aikido. I had no interest in Martial Arts. I thought it would ruin my hands. I’m a pianist — why would I do something that would ruin my hands? Plus, I’m a body builder and weight lifter. I like to flex my muscles, not relax them. And I’ve been working out for a long time. I’m not going to change now. Plus, I’m a little older now and I’m set in my ways.
But Roger had given me a gift certificate for 3 long months, I went to the gym that afternoon, pumped myself up, and walked through the Aikido Institute door.
I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I had not even seen a martial arts film. “Put your right foot here, put your left foot there. No, your other left foot.” What am I doing here? I’m 52 years old. I remember my co-workers saying” Eduardo, for Pete’s sake, know your limitations. This is not for you.”
But I was not going to let Roger down, so I kept going to class. Some people would make fun of how stiff and uncoordinated I was, but I kept going to class. And many times my shoulders would hurt when I tried doing forward rolls or doing high falls, but I kept going to class. And one of the instructors (no longer at the dojo) was fairly nasty and would hit me in the knee yelling, “This is the foot that goes back. It’s this foot.”
But I swallowed my pride and kept going to class.
And as time passed I learned to relax more. I saw how the others moved and how relaxed they seemed. I tried to do the same. It was like learning how to walk all over again. I’ve been walking for a long time. It was hard enough the first time. I didn’t want to have to learn it again. But I kept going to class.
And then I started making friends. Some of the most fascinating, interesting, colorful, imaginative people you could ever meet. Right here in my own dojo. And we all wanted to improve our Aikido. Now, I wanted to go to class. I wanted to train with my friends. And they wanted me to do well. We became very close, trained really hard, and it was fun. That’s very different from piano competitions or piano teachers. Piano teachers always taught you just enough for you not to be better than they were. And in competitions, you wanted everyone else to fail so that you could win. And bodybuilders? They’re really nasty. They cheat as much they can to win, and hope you do badly.
The atmosphere at the dojo was different. People wanted you to do well. That was new for me. I started enjoying my training. Now it was fun. This is a safe place. People aren’t out to get you or to prove you wrong. I could relax and enjoy my training. And we became a family, which is very rare. Once I let go of all the negatives, my Aikido started to improve. I discovered the elegance, the beauty of movement, my center, weapons practice. It was like new life.
Those were my white belt days. They were wonderful. Discovering little nuances in techniques. You attended class knowing you would learn something. Everything was fresh and new.
Now I’m a Sandan. That’s a rank I never dreamed I would achieve. Actually, I still think of myself as a white belt with a Hakama. I attend class with the mindset of a beginner, as if doing the technique for the first time. And I always learn something new.
Aikido is a living art form. Just like my piano playing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played the Chopin A♭ Polonaise or the Ballads. But every time I perform, it’s different and I find something new.
Aikido is the same way. Every time you do a repetition, it’s different. Because it’s a living form. It’s not like a painting or a sculpture. In these art forms, once the masterpiece is done, it’s frozen in time forever, to be admired. But Aikido, like music, is ALIVE. It’s forever moving and changing.
And that’s inspiring.
I guess that’s what it means to be a Sandan. That’s a teacher level. It means that I should try to inspire students while allowing myself to be inspired by others. That’s how you keep the momentum and improve. I’m not the best. I’m never going to be the best. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I still get inspired, continue to improve, and keep going to class.