From Kids Class to Adults Class: Personal Victory and the Thoughts that Go into Practicing Aikido
by Meagan Holm (Shodan test in June 2017)
This article was submitted as part of a requirement for Dan test. At the Oakland dojo, students testing for shodan through yondan are required to write an essay on an Aikido-related subject. This helps reinforce and strengthen student reflection, understanding, and ownership..
The author, training at the Founder's dojo in Iwama, Japan - October 2017
Everyone has different reasons for starting Aikido. Usually it has to do with some sort of conscious decision that spawned from the desire to try a new martial art, to find a hobby that involves physical exertion, or a desire to better yourself, whether it be your sense of awareness or ability to govern your own body. The first reason I started Aikido was not so much because it was specifically Aikido that drew me in. I didn’t learn about it elsewhere and then decide that’s the martial art I want to spend my life learning. I started because it seemed natural. My parents practiced Aikido and I was already always at the Dojo. We would even joke that I was already practicing Aikido before I was born because my mom was still rolling around on the mat while she was fairly pregnant with me. So why not practice it when I actually had the opportunity to?
Along the way though, my decision to practice Aikido became more conscious, especially after I took a temporary hiatus during high school and college. I initially started Aikido because it was what I knew and it felt like a fun hobby. As an adult, it meant something a little different. Once I had the ability to return, I could see what I had enjoyed before I took the break, but I could also see the opportunities it could provide in terms of personal development. My decision and my goal became that I wanted to continue Aikido and I wanted to improve myself.
Aside from being armed with the desire to continue and new goals to accomplish, I was initially nervous about returning. These emotions stemmed from the fact that I had been away from the mat for a few years and I had only recently made the jump from the kids class to the adults class before taking a break. Returning meant going back into the adults class while actually classifying as an adult. That meant people would not go as easy on me as they had when I was younger and smaller. What helped bring me back though was the fact that my parents were still there. They still taught the kids class so I was never really fully away from the dojo, and they still practiced in the adults class so it was never a room full of strangers. So I had the desire to come back, and just enough resolve to make it happen.
Returning to the mat itself was a whirlwind. There was plenty about Aikido that I could remember, but I was also rusty and the kids class emphasized different points than the adults class. Namely, fewer details were covered because you could only get some kids to focus on the broader movements of the techniques. After all, attention spans last only so long when you’re that young. That being said, after practicing for a decent amount of time while lacking some of the more basic points of the techniques, I could start to feel how close I was to being better by practicing in the adults class, but I was also not quite at the level I desired. It could be frustrating at times, but it was also beneficial because that is when I was able to fully reflect on what I was doing, and what was and wasn’t working. I could start to see how peoples’ bodies moved in relation to each other. I was starting to see some of the smaller points of how these techniques manipulated the joints to make them work. I’m obviously still trying to figure this out, especially when it comes to training with people of different body types, but there was improvement.
Sometimes it’s those small improvements that make a real difference. To an outside observer some techniques might look like barely anything is happening. Or when a sensei makes a correction, it may not appear to be significant, but to those involved in the practice, you can feel what is happening and the difference that is made. The best way to even begin to figure out how Aikido works is by actually practicing it and not just observing. Each technique seems like a puzzle and you have to find out how the pieces fit together. Although it’s also a puzzle that never really ends.
The author with her parents after testing for shodan.
Aside from the physical and practical aspects of Aikido, I began to really appreciate the philosophy behind the art. I appreciated that it focused on making the conscious decision to practice something for the sake of self-preservation without the intent to do harm. Instead of reciprocating ill will, you attempt to remove it from the equation. You absorb your partner’s energy and redirect it instead of clashing with it. It’s a philosophy I wish would extend further into the rest of the world, but at least I found it in a Dojo that I always call a second home.
Part of practicing Aikido whether it be the techniques on the mat or the quiet contemplations in your head, means showing you are willing to be dedicated to the art, to your dojo, and everyone in it. This is because all of those things and people already show their dedication to you by helping you progress in your practice every day. It might seem like a small thing, but when I took my first test in the adults class, it felt like I had finally graduated from the kids class. It felt like I had finally made some progress in my attempt to better myself. It was an accomplishment that was only possible with the help of the entire dojo. It was a personal victory, but it was also a collective one, and I can never be thankful enough. It is with this feeling of gratitude that I continue.