Sometimes a single event can change your entire life.
Since my school days I have respected and loved Aikido as a peaceful defensive and mysterious martial art that uses the energy of the opponent`s attack against him without causing undue injury. Five years ago, for the first time in my life, I had a lucky opportunity to participate in a trial Aikido class in Iwaki Aikido Keikokai.
As I had no martial arts experience, everything in the class was completely new to me. Entering the Dojo, I saw barefoot men and women wearing aikidogi (an Aikido training uniform) and hakama (divided pleated skirt-like black pants). They looked incredible! My aikidoka friend kindly introduced me to the members of the circle and they greeted me warmly, one by one. I was a little nervous, expecting Sensei to look like a short, elderly man with broad shoulders and a gray beard, one able to inspire awe in everyone (which was probably an image of Osensei, the founder of Aikido). Suddenly, I felt a fast noiseless movement and a slim tall young man in his forties, with ‘samurai eyes’ appeared right next to us. Much to my surprise my friend said: “Meet our Sensei, please”. Sensei introduced himself. Despite his soft voice and modest manner, I sensed an aura of calm confidence. He was certainly no ordinary person. Miracles had begun!
The training session started with jumbi undo (meaning preparatory exercises or warm-up stretching exercises), which were really good. Then it was time for zenpo kaiten – a forward direction roll method. Suddenly, all the participants began to roll forward like big yin-yang balls without making a sound. This metamorphosis was truly mesmerizing! I tried too and felt embarrassed by the result. But Sensei kindly praised my attempt.
Then the students lined up in seiza (a traditional Japanese kneeling position) at the side of the Dojo. Sensei started demonstrating a technique with his uke (a term for the receiver of a technique who is then thrown or pinned) in front of the class. It was the dynamic irimi-nage, which is a type of entering-body throw. The student was a very passionate aikidoka, he attacked fiercely, but Sensei controlled all of his attacks easily, softly redirecting the force of the attacks and throwing the student onto the tatami mat. Their movements were fluid and circular and resembled the eternal struggle of fire and water, where both elements elevate the best in each other. It was breathtakingly beautiful in its harmony!
I should mention that there is a unique etiquette in Aikido classes, but it is so in-depth it requires a separate article. The explanation of techniques is done in the Japanese language which is incredibly rich in specialized terminology. After the explanation of the technique is finished, the students practice it with each other. The forms and techniques are practiced in both right and left stances, with omote [front] and ura [back] variations. Students change partners during the class.
Each of my partners taught me with great kindness and care, supporting and praising each small success. Sensei was very attentive to everyone in his class. By the end of the lesson, I already knew: “I don`t understand anything about this yet, but I definitely want to be a part of it! I had finally found my Way!”