Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the “Shelter-in-Place” self-quarantine, I don’t have Aikido class on Sunday mornings. So, I maintain my Aikido training by practicing at home in isolation. It might be kind of like what the legendary rogue samurai (ronin) Miyamoto Musashi did in Reigando, his cave dwelling in Japan. There, Musashi composed his Book of Five Rings near the end of his life in secluded training and meditation. The Book of Five Rings is consider the ‘Bible’ of Bushido, The Way of the Samurai. The biggest difference: Musashi was a great warrior; I’m not.
I practice striking my bokken (wooden sword) at home. I’m very mindful of not hitting the ceiling with my bokken, at least for the most part. I practice the 13 basic techniques, as well. In my bokken practice: I strike 100 times in right hanmi (stance), 100 times in left hanmi, and 100 times with both feet parallel apart. I’ve been practicing at home for about 2 months.
Last weekend, I mindfully followed Sensei Bobby’s instructions: Keep my shoulders down. Cut the bokken way out in front, over my head. Keep my proper grip.
So I struck my bokken over, and over, and over, and over again. I heard that sound I had not before. I heard my bokken cutting through the air with my strikes.
Immediately, I thought I got lucky. So I kept striking over, and over, and over again. I continued hearing that sound. I switched feet. Repeated striking. Then I switched feet again. Repeated striking. I practiced the 13 basic techniques. I still heard the same sound with my strikes. I was so happy.
This Sunday, I got up and practiced with my bokken. I made the same sound in all 300 strikes. I made that sound practicing the 13 basic techniques. I just trained. I put in the work. Now, I keep it up. I strike over, and over, and over, and over again. I’m so very happy. My strikes are becoming natural.
In over 30 years of Aikido, I never consistently made that sound of the bokken cutting through the air on my strikes. When I did so, it was fleeting. Or I had forced it way too much, and could not sustain the strikes.
Throughout 25 years training with the late Mizukami Sensei, we rarely practiced weapons techniques at the Dojo. Primary because, Sensei had bad arthritis in his hands, which made it very difficult for him to properly grip the bokken or jo (wooden staff). Now following Sensei Bobby, I get that the proper grip is essential for all technique.
Now, Sensei Bobby and I learn from Hanshi, who’s master of O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba’s fundamental bokken and jo techniques and footwork. So it’s my time to go to school. I learn the new old school basics and retrain old bad habits. That ain’t easy. Yet, it’s so exciting. I fail a lot. I learn from my failure. I have fun. I create what’s next.
Mizukami Sensei saying, “Just train.” He reminded me, “Get something new from every practice.” He said, “It’s just repetition.” That’s Sensei’s legacy.
After more than 30 years of training, hearing my bokken cut through the air makes me so happy. Sensei Bobby would be proud, albeit he’d tell me to practice more. Mizukami Sensei would be proud. I’m proud, too.
I continue to train in Aikido over these many years, because I still have fun discovering what’s new. I get something valuable every time I practice Aikido, be it at the Dojo or not. There’s something to learn, to fail, and to evolve into. In my training, I have that sense of wonder in what I just love to do. Amen. I’m so very grateful.
19 year-old NBA Phenom Zion Williamson guarded 35 year-old 3-time NBA Champion Lebron James when his Pelicans played Lerbon’s Lakers in New Orleans. In the 4th quarter, Lebron drove the ball on Zion, then dropped a step back 3–point jump shot over Zion.
Zion broke into the widest smile. As a kid he watched his Hero Lebron play basketball. He probably thought, “Damn, I’m playing Lebron James! I love it!”
Like Zion, I have that childlike sense of wonder in what I love to do. Even after 30 plus years, I still take my baby steps. My baby steps often make me smile. I have my new ‘Zeroes’, my new starting points. I see the possibility of evolving, even at 58 years-old. That possibility is present, whether it’s for NBA Basketball or for Aikido.
So what’s next? Well, just train. I have that sense of wonder in what I love to do. Both keep me young and alive, too. Just saying.