“Come to Aikido Rob, you will love it…” those were the words my good and oldest friend said to me when discussing something I could do that was physical and enjoyable and fun. Then perhaps to better wet my appetite he showed me a few basic things including the Nikyo which always looks so damned cool.

So I now sufficiently curious agreed and not long after took my first steps in the Dojo, where I was given a warm welcome actually very warm, being somewhat of a more rotund looking person the usual response of walking into a place where exercise and physical pursuits is not exactly warm in fact in the past it result in some very funny looks indeed. But from the moment I first set foot in the Dojo I have always been made to feel welcome and that speaks highly of all those within the school.

That first session I remember well being shown the basic stance by Sensei Phil and then….rolling. Rolling from a kneeling position no less, still I gave it all and promptly collapsed to my side in a heap rolling across my neck as opposed to my shoulder, ouch after a few of these it was time for the back rolls (ironically as Sensei Phil told me a roll that should be easier) same result. Enter the frustration, sooooo much frustration, something that looks so easy to do and I’m unable to do it. I have remembered that feeling of frustration from my first attempt at rolling, It has never been a frustration at Aikido but directed inward at myself, The rest of that first session was an introduction into the basics ending with the Shionage but walking out of the move. Walking out of the moves would be a recurring theme for the next few sessions I attended, and rolling was still the most frustrating thing, however amongst my frustration I was enjoying learning and the physicality involved.

It was at the winter Misogi that I really got the feeling of community and almost familial nature that the school has over a bowl of lovely stew after taking a rather refreshing dip in the ocean which given how cold the sand was, really was a refreshing dip. It was here I was able to speak to my Sensei’s (not that I said too much, I tend to be an active listener.)

It was being able to do this in an informal and friendly manner that I think really helped me start to feel more comfortable. So first session back after the winter break, started with a triumph. I was asked to do roll’s (I can remember the shudder as Sensei Tre said this) but this time on Sensei Tre’s suggestion do it from standing. After getting myself ready, bam! I went over properly and I wasn’t hurting, again and again and again each roll improving as I grew used to doing it.

I then experienced a deep feeling of satisfaction, yes it was just a roll but it was something that had caused me no end of frustration and knowing I could now do them correctly meant I could now really throw myself (unintentional pun) into it.

So now my next task in my own mind was to start trying to get to grips with the names of forms and the techniques, luckily that seems to be what the Sensei’s where thinking to as the sessions that followed did exactly that. While also reading the links on the Schools website, (they are helpful), as well as trying to come up with my own way for remembering things. Through this combination I began to feel some of the mist lifting when it came to the names of things. However that mist came back strong as ever, especially when asked to demonstrate in front of the class (This is where Sensei Tim’s advice is very sound, as your instinct is to try and rush through, that is a mistake, things work much better when you breathe and relax.) Relaxing as best you can when doing techniques is key (second unintentional pun) I freely admit it’s something I have become aware of now but more often than not I have to either remind myself or be told to breath, in fact it is something I will always have to work on, as all my life when under any sort of strain my natural way of thinking is to become tense and stiff and to try and use power.

As I go along the more I learn those things aren’t what are needed, your first response shouldn’t be to tense up, but to calmly relax and breathe as you redirect energy that has been directed at you. Your movements should be flowing, at times when watching the Sensei’s demonstrate you could compare it to a painter using masterful brush strokes to paint a picture.

Of course above all else knowing where your centre is (something that doesn’t come easy and still hasn’t for me although I am beginning to get an inkling, just and inkling I might add) So at this point I come to my most recent sessions, as sessions go it was very intense, still fun and enjoyable but intense. As names of techniques were called out making me think on everything that I had been doing in every other session I realised I knew most of what was being called and needed only slight prompting from others.

I get knocked down, but I get up again would make a great anthem to explain what it’s like in an Aikido session because you will get knocked down and get right back up, and then do it to the person you are working with and its great.

But yes the session was intense and made me think and work hard and was still fun all at the same time (a big part of why I keep coming back) then, then I was called up to demonstrate and my mind just went blank. It was almost as if the moment I was in front of everyone else my mind had reverted to some cave man like state where I suspect the beauty of a flame would have had me mesmerised like a fool. Once again this is where Sensei Tim’s advice of Relax (also perhaps another great song to use or then again maybe not) came in handy.

Once the initial panic began to wear off my concentration came back to me and then it was a case of fighting myself (in as much as being the rotund out of shape man I am fatigue can start to play with you. Although my fitness level has been improving it still has a long way to come.)

My only thoughts were “I got through it” and that “I will sleep tonight” So the surprise at the end to be told I had now earned my white belt was immense, although I’m sure all anyone could read on my face was a look of sheer exhaustion, I was in fact surprised, slightly shocked but more and more proud.

I like the fact that you have to earn the white belt, I like that commitment and hard work pay off and it is always nice to have those things acknowledged in something as simple as a white belt. I like the fact this is a step in a journey that I am taking with others while also being a journey of self-discovery. But more importantly I look forward to the many sessions to come and the many other steps in this journey. Ultimately I am thankful to all those at the School who have worked with me and made me feel welcome, and of course to Tom who had he not said “Come to Aikido Rob…” I may never have discovered something I look forward to and I certainly would not have the feeling of personal accomplishment I feel currently.

To end I’ll quote someone many may never have heard of but I love this quote.

“I admit, I don’t look like the athletes of today are supposed to look. My belly is just a little big, my hiney is just a little big, but brother, I am bad”- “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.

Perhaps something a little more relevant and well known: “Avoid, rather than check. Check, rather than hurt. Hurt, rather than maim. Maim, rather than kill. For all life is precious, nor can any be replaced.”

By Rob Ponsford

March 2016

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