Aikido: from Fear to Trust

For the last six months or so, I’ve been doing aikido. It’s about the longest I’ve done anything that is like a sport, and the first time I’ve practiced a martial art. I’ve done it for many reasons – because I like the philosophy, because I wanted to train myself to do something on a regular basis and stick with it, because I like doing something physical for a change. But somehow, I did not feel really committed, and happy about it, until last Tuesday.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened last Tuesday. I went to practice, I stretched, I did the exercises sensei told us to do. At the same time, something very substantial happened last Tuesday. I no longer felt scared on the mat.

I’ve done physical things before in my life, but like I said, I’ve never really done a martial art. The closest I’ve come to being in a fight-like situation with another person was fencing, which I really enjoyed, but fencing was very different from aikido. You wear padding, and the blades are dull, and yes, you get beat up a lot, but you don’t use your whole body in the way you do in aikido. Again, I am not knocking fencing – I had a lot of fun with it – I’m just saying, I never felt that immediate, terrifying sensation that vital parts of my body were absolutely at the mercy of a person who weighed twice as much as me, when fencing. When doing aikido, I would feel it every practice, twice a week, for four hours on the map.

And then, suddenly, I wasn’t afraid anymore. It’s not that I stopped believing I could get hurt – a bad fall off the edge of the mat could still kill me, and more mundanely, I am very aware of the stresses on my body every time I finish two hours of practice – but my body began reacting to practice in a new way. Instead of tensing up and worrying about what might happen, I relax and I trust. I trust sensei, I trust my partner, I no longer have to stand there and steel myself for having to fly through the air, or getting picked up behind my knees and dropped to the ground (that was last Thursday). I just take the fall, get up, adjust my kidogi (which still happens embarrassingly often), and, in the words of sensei James Knight from Cambridge, get on with it.

In part, my body is acting differently because I’ve trained it to deal with practice. I know what to do when somebody sends me flying through the air, or picks me up and throws me. But I’ve know that for some time, and still, in the back of my mind, there had been this fear that Something Would Go Wrong. I did not trust my partners. I mean, why should I? I barely know these people, and here they are, in my face, locking my wrist and taking complete control of my body, go after go! It took me a long time to realize, on a subconscious level, that I do the same to them. It took me a while to accept my partners as people, just like me. They are not the Other, scary and unknown. They and I are the same blood.

I am sure that I will have more obstacles to face on and off the mat, with Aikido. But it feels really good to be here. And I know I want to practice more. I come back to the mat next Tuesday, aware and mindful, but trusting. And I do not dread the moment when I step on and have to face a pin or a throw. I look forward to it 🙂

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One Response to “Aikido: from Fear to Trust”

  1. Miguel Garcia Says:

    Ironically, I’m betting the more you stress about getting hurt the more likely you are to do so. It’s one of the reasons drunks are more likely to walk away from crashes they cause. Their bodies are relaxed and therefore less likely to break bones or have other serious injuries.

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