Welcome to the Brooklyn Aikikai web log. Our purpose is to provide to our community and beyond an online account of weekly articles, thoughts, and community happenings. The web log is moderated by Ryugan and Kate Savoca. We welcome any submissions in regards to Aikido, Zen, Misogi and Iaido or weapons study. We would also be interested in receiving any thoughts on cultural activities or practices that support a healthy, organic lifestyle with particular emphasis on their relation to the above mentioned arts. Please send only serious submissions – we reserve the right to edit articles for content or length, however, we will work with authors to preserve the integrity of their thoughts. Thanks for visiting and please check back regularly!

-R. Savoca

Friday, July 17, 2009

My First Day

by Andrés Cruciani

When I opened the plastic bag, I couldn’t help but think my canvas gi was made of cardboard. This was not the same as the ones I had seen others practicing in the day before: Mine bent rather than swayed, folded rather than fluttered.

I put on my cardboard suit and followed an advanced student’s directions on how to tie my belt. As I walked onto the mat, I marveled at my gi’s size, at the amount of space between my skin and the canvas. I felt like a small puppeteer commanding this cardboard frame – this stiff, canvas exoskeleton – to move at precise angles. I wanted to jump out of my uniform: I was sure the gi would stay in place, standing rigid and alert.

I tried to mimic Sensei’s stretching, but I kept moving left when he moved right, right when he moved left: my feet were wrong, my arms weren’t in the same rhythm, my pants were falling.

He told us to roll. I tripped my way across the mat. Instead of a circle, I was a tumbling brick. I did not roll. “Backfalls!” he said next. Now this would be easy! I thought. But for 27 years I had been perfecting my ability to not-fall. I had so long ago grown out of falling that the floor repelled me. Through a succession of labored manipulations I worked my way to the floor. “Now try falling,” I was told.

For the rest of that class, we practiced a series of movements that I recognized as Aikido but that my suit and I turned into a mishmash of awkward gestures – a Japanese-inspired performance art of flailing limbs and bows. I finished the class like I had jumped into the shower without removing my gi; even the tips of my belt were soaked through with sweat.

Almost a year later, I look back on that first day. I felt alien, and so my canvas space suit was appropriate. But I also remember a spirit of adventure, a sense of determination, and an expression of will over fear. That first day Sensei had shown us a submission move. “Do you want to try it?” I had been asked. “Ok,” I had shrugged apprehensively. But it is that same ok that I have carried with me over the past year. That same ok that is helping me to slowly alter my gi from cardboard to silk, or at least cotton. Whenever I forget the newness of that first day – that exertion of will power to just let myself fall – I just look at Sensei’s outstretched arm, grab tightly, and “Ok,” I say, “Ok!”

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