To be honest, the idea of a peaceful martial art sounded strange to me.
I had been introduced to aikido by watching my father practice a few times; this summer I was finally old enough to give it a try. After practicing for the six whole weeks of my summer break I have come away with a new perspective and a new passion.
I learned that aikido is more about bringing about calm than about punching and kicking. It is about redirecting the force of an attack but it is powerful and mighty. Knowing the right technique is essential. I liked both nage and uke because it’s important to experience both sides of a fight. (“Seeing both sides” is probably important in life, too.)
I also really like the tradition and the respect that is part of the dojo, especially for the sensei. As a completely new student, not only did everyone accept me, it felt like all of the “older” students took responsibility for helping me learn techniques.
Maybe I liked it so much because I had a nice dojo, with great peers and, of course, Dee Sensei. I went to classes three times a week and I liked it so much that I plan to join a dojo in my hometown, too.
Every year when I spend summer vacation with my family, they introduce me to many new places and activities. Aside from being with my family the thing I liked most this summer was definitely aikido.
“The ‘thought picture’ of what happened in a place is still out there. It is as if the action is still going on: if you stand very quietly you know they’re still there; you just can’t see them.” – Toni Morrison, Beloved
On a visit to Viet Nam I had the opportunity to enter a tiny portion of the vast Cu Chi tunnel system. The Vietnamese built the tunnels during wars with the French and, later, the Americans. This elaborate tunnel system is enormous — 124 + miles — and offered a relatively safe place for secret travel, food, shelter, and medical care.
In retrospect, upon lowering myself into this magnificent space I felt something eerie and haunting. It was as if there were still spirits from the war, patrolling the tunnels and maintaining the sacred grounds. I suspect I might experience the same feelings if I walked the beaches of Normandy or stood overlooking battle sites at Gettysburg.
I’m coming around to Morrison’s point of view. These locations (and thousands like them across the globe) are not only historical reminders of death and destruction: there’s more that you ‘just can’t see.’ I wonder if it’s possible — and extremely important — to honor the souls who transitioned from those places more than once a year? And can we offer more than flags? And how should we do it?
By accident I found a good first step from reading provided by the monk Thomas Merton who says, “For the real stuff dig deep; for real stuff look deep, a place of clear thought, quiet solitude a place where inner core is buried. There must be a clear space that’s accumulated all the cells of the body labeled private.”
So if we all took time to meditate and reflect deeply at these places, what would happen? What would come up? If we consciously spend more time considering the ramifications of our decisions would it take us longer to rush off to war? Would we be able to martial a more compassionate first response?
Merton wanted to station himself — like the artist, writer, or sage — in a margin that exempts him from complicity in society, the Church, monasticism. From that point he could speak purely, openly, and with wisdom. He called it living on the margin without losing faith in the world. It was his way of finding his center.
How might you live on the margins?
In her new book, Paradise in Plain Site: Lessons from a Zen Garden, Zen teacher and Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller wrote:
“These days I want nothing more than to enter an empty room with a group of strangers and sit still and quiet in samadhi, non-distracted awareness, for the better part of the day. I am always astonished by the presence of people who would dare to do such a thing—burn perfectly good day light to get nothing done.”
What struck me about that paragraph was that my first reaction was to translate that to Aikido practice. I caught myself transposing words to fit my life to get dojo. It goes something like this:
” These days I want nothing more than to enter the dojo with a group of practitioners and practice quietly the philosophy and techniques of O’Sensei — sometimes for the better part of the day. I am always grateful for the presence of people who would be here to do such a thing — burn perfectly good day light to get nothing done and come back the next day and do it all over again.”
In Gassho, Sensei Miller and O’Sensei.
In an article by Maia Duerr she reported on the passing of Bhante Suhita. He was the first African American to be ordained a Buddhist monk and also had the rare distinction of being ordained in all three major Buddhist lineages: Mahayana, Theravada, and Vajrayana.
Professionally he was trained as a social worker, and found deep joy in working with the homeless, those with HIV/AIDS, ex-offenders, and many others on the margins.
Duerr reported that, “he was not a Buddhist celebrity, so you won’t find much about him on the internet. He worked largely in the realm of the invisible.”
It strikes me that even if you’re not a Buddhist but simply human being like most of us who won’t show up on the Internet, we are in some ways invisible throughout our lifetime.
The question in my mind is, why is that so difficult to accept? Why is it difficult to work at knowing who you are and living your life accordingly. Being whatever that means and accepting yourself as “okay”? Simply accepting that I am somebody to my family, my co-workers, my friends, and my neighborhood, but never expecting to ‘go viral.’
I have been an aikido and meditation practitioner for many years and have been fortunate to practice in locations around the USA. Unfortunately, I have become pretty picky about where — and with whom — I practice. My personal shorthand for teachers whose practice speaks to me — with gratitude — is “the real deal.”
Author Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen Buddhist priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. Her book, Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden, was written from the soul and clearly from a place of joy.
Her book moved me toward greater appreciation that my home is where I am and I have what I need. I was better able to realize the magnitude of the gift of this life I’ve been given …and it’s mine alone to live. “What goes into sitting isn’t pretty, but after a while it becomes beautiful” struck a chord and helped soften my heart just a little more.
Her description of the beauty of her pond being that “it’s muddy” allows me more latitude to deal with what’s in front of me right now, in this moment and any other. It helps to ease up on the ‘being perfect’ expectations.
I am delighted to say that, in my not so humble opinion, Maezen and her books are the real deal. Savor and enjoy.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May you rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert opt red rocks, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blasé on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go Is lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you– beyond the next turning of the canyon walls. — Edward Abbey