This will be kind of a non-linear post, I think.
Just finished listening to Episode 3 of the Mike V Show, Mike Vallely’s new podcast. As most of you know, I am a Mike Vallely fan. I like it when people do their own thing, their way, and forge their own path. That kind of thing fascinates me. In this episode, Mike is joined by Daniele Bolelli, of the Drunken Taoist Podcast.
As an Aikido practitioner for going on nine years, and a skateboarder for 40, I found their thoughts about “kung fu” – people who have kind of an emotional/physical presence about them – very engaging.
I am far from a master of Aikido. Aikido is so hard to do well that most people give up within two weeks. Even among martial arts enthusiasts Aikido is often misunderstood. That’s a huge topic and I’m not going to write about it. What I want to talk about is how it changes you. I think this is true of most martial arts, but I only know Aikido, so that’s what I will discuss.
Like most activities, when you start you don’t know shit. It’s the simple truth. When you walk into the Aikido dojo, you may think you know something. You may have seen some videos on youtube and thought “that looks easy and soft.” You may think you are in good shape. You quickly find out that 1)It isn’t “soft”, 2)it isn’t easy, and 3)you are not in good shape. Then, if you are among the small percentage that come back after limping away from the dojo that first practice, you go through a couple of other transitions…
- You realize that you don’t know shit. Everything you thought you knew about what you were getting into is totally wrong. What you thought was happening in Aikido isn’t happening at all.
- Some time later, after a significant amount of practice, you realize you know even less than you thought you did when you first realized you don’t know shit.
- After more time and practice, it begins to dawn on you what you are actually doing. You don’t really understand it, but you have a glimpse. Something happens in class that gives you a small “a-ha!” moment.
- Then you see more new people come into class, and you see their confusion, and see that they are where you were months or years ago. Then you look at your Sensei, who has been practicing or 30 or 40 years, and realize it is a long road, and you will always be learning.
- At some point, you start to notice that the long-time students have something that you don’t. They are more “there” than you are. Then you take hold of their wrist, even though they are light people, they feel like they weigh 1000 pounds. A half-ton, but a half-ton that can turn to liquid in an instant, move with quick fluidity, or exist in both states simultaneously. Then you realize that to the new student, you feel like that. You are on the path, but it’s a long path. You need to stay on it. But it has to be your path.
So, back to my original line of thought. People who have that presence. When I heard Mike and Daniele talking about this, I remembered the feeling of being at an Aikido seminar, with black belts of various degrees all lined up in front, sitting in seiza, taking up the first 3 rows as we bow in at the start of class. That is heavy. That is emotional content. When that heaviness and presence first dawned on me, I understood what you actually get from Aikido. You can get it from other things. Some people, remarkably, seem to be born with it, but that is what you get from Aikido. You begin to appreciate and cultivate a centered strength that you can depend on and eventually others start to notice, and you learn to bring others up, as others lift you up.