My aikido dojo, like other schools, is closed temporarily due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I founded Portsmouth Aikido in 1995, and still play an active role, but the current owner and Chief Instructor is Aaron Cass. Students call him Sensei (teacher).
Aaron joined our dojo as a high school senior, continued to study in college and in Japan, and became an avid student of the art. Now a fourth degree black belt, Aaron rejoined Portsmouth Aikido upon his return to the U.S,, and in time took over the leadership role.
Aaron initiated new traditions, achieving 501c3 non-profit status, finding us a dedicated practice space, organizing multiple children's classes, and inviting well-respected instructors to teach at P.A., enhancing its reputation nationally.
His latest initiative encourages students to stay active during the shutdown with online member communities, video aikido classes, and a "Weekly Challenge" essay contest. Each week, we're treated to essays on topics such as, "How Is Aikido Relevant Today?" and "Tell A Story About Using Aikido Off the Mat". The essays have increased connection, as we get to know each other in new ways.
I'll be posting a few of the contest winners on my blog, and today's post is by Brian Maguire, a P.A. student and dentist at North Hampton Dental Group. I hope you enjoy Brian's essay as much as I did--I especially love the "Floss" reference. Thank you, Brian, and thank you, Aaron.
How Is Aikido Relevant Today?
by Brian Maguire
I’m sitting at my desk, practicing the social distancing advised by the CDC. The kids are off in cyberspace and I’m awaiting news about a friend who is getting tested for Covid-19 exposure. Like many, I’m anxious about this situation. I’ve never lived through a pandemic and I’m trying to cope. Aikido has been helping with that.
Aikido training does much for a person. It teaches that through practice with scary situations, you can learn to control your emotional response. In aikido, this starts with the initial attack. You cannot stop the attack, just respond to it. You cannot control your attacker, just yourself. The attacker doesn’t have to be a smiling partner that says "onegai shimasu".* It can just as easily be a faceless virus. Maintain your center and calmly meet the attack.
Sensei often makes the point that when you are grabbed on the wrist, you still have freedom everywhere else. You can still move the rest of your body and you respond not by fighting the point of contact but by moving everything else. If you are pinned down at home by coronavirus, accept it. You still have freedom elsewhere. Try not to think of this situation as a limit, but as an opportunity to live differently. Go for a walk. Call a friend on the phone. Make a fancy dinner. Floss. Use the freedom in the rest of your life to respond to the limitations placed on it elsewhere.
In training, I often hear some variation of "maintain good posture" from sensei. I can control my posture. On the mat, good posture is staying out of your shoulders when you are anxious. It’s not sticking your butt out, and keeping your head over your hips and feet. When dealing with a virus, good posture is hand washing, covering your cough, and maintaining social distance. It’s what you can control in this situation. It’s what sets up the rest of the technique for success.
Ukemi** plays a role. It teaches you how to respond to a situation so that you minimize injury. Do the same today. Get some sleep. Eat well. Exercise. These are all parts of your ukemi. If you should fall down, do what you have been taught to do: get back up.
Aikido is still relevant today for many reasons, but don’t forget about the community. If you run into trouble, health or otherwise, take comfort in that you are not alone. Reach out to your community and say "onegai shimasu"*, and I’m sure that someone will be there to help.
*Onegai shimasu is the polite Japanese phrase to say to one's opponent before engaging on the mat, roughly translated: "If you please", or "Please do me this favor." You are asking your opponent/partner to practice with you.
**Ukemi is the art of falling safely.