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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It's All About You, But It's Not All About You

I've always been uncomfortable with money, especially asking for it. I come from a hard-working immigrant family and there wasn't a lot of extra income when I was young. And asking other people for money? Forget it. Every time the band fundraiser came around, I would go to the two neighbors who I knew would buy a tin of cookies without fail. The prizes for the student who raised the most never motivated me. In this area of my life, I had no problem coming in last place.

So when I heard the word "fundraiser" at the dojo, I thought, "ok, I'll do my part, I'll buy a ticket, I'll help clean, and that's that." After coming back from summer camp last year, which was paid for by a dojo scholarship, Sensei pointed at me and said, "You. You'll be good at raising money. You're going to help with the fundraiser." I wanted to tell him, "No, no, I think you might have it wrong. See, I'm terrified of asking people for money. It makes my stomach churn." Instead, I replied, "Uh, ok, yes, sure."

To maintain distance between myself and the discomfort of asking for money, I focused on logistics. If you're keeping your head down and working, no one can really find fault with you, right? It's a good way to hide. But surprise! I chose to train in a martial art that's about the opposite of hiding. “Present yourself!” Post-fundraiser, during the follow up, I messed up and some things fell through the cracks. When we discussed it as a team with Sensei, I wanted to say, "It's not my fault. I really hate money. Also, I don't know what I'm doing, and no one told me what to do." Thinking about it later, I realized that I didn't just have an issue with money. I also hesitated in stepping up, taking responsibility, asking for help, or even being ok about making decisions. It was hard to say "Yes, the buck stops with me on this. So if it's messed up, it's me. And if you need to know what else needs to be done, that's me too."

I decided this year would be different. If I saw what needed to be done, then I would step up and do it or ensure it was done by providing guidance or a helping hand. I wasn't going to look around the room and wait and see who else would do it. Shockingly, I was also excited about raising the money. What changed? I'm not quite sure. Maybe it was just an accumulation of seminars, hours, injuries, and off-the-mat experiences, but it was clear to me that the dojo was central in me seeing myself differently, and in making better choices for myself. The fundraiser was no longer only about asking people for money. If I thought about the dojo like a well from which I drew water, then I wanted to help replenish that well for myself and for others. And how long was I going to keep hiding behind my fear of money? If I was serious about Aikido, then it was time to present myself to my fear and do it. I felt this shift in attitude palpably when I accompanied Sensei to Athens in September. My sempai, Andrés, hadn't arrived yet, and even though there was a former uchideshi there, I was the only student from Brooklyn. Stepping onto the mat straight from the airport in a surreal haze of jetlag and sleep deprivation, I thought, "Shit. It's me. There's no one else."

At the same that the fundraiser pushed me to see that “it's ME, I'm IT,” I also saw that it wasn't all me. It wasn't about me keeping my head down and trying to do everything. First, that's impossible. Second, that's hiding and will mess things up. And third, it's unfair to the large, strong community of people who are pouring themselves into the dojo in so many ways. In lifting my head up to present myself, I also got to see all the beautiful things that others were doing. Festival quality films got made, posters were designed, donations were made from around the country and the world, spaces were organized, quiches were baked, prizes were donated. Everyone was presenting themselves, and it was humbling. I guess this is the weird paradox that Aikido points to: be focused, see the target, be present, present yourself, but also see everything, also step off the line, also absorb. It is all about you, but it's not all about you.

-A. Shridhar

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Memorial to My Father


 Dominic J. Savoca (on right), Paris, France, August 30th, 1944


A memorial to the recently deceased is a highly personal thing, and not something I would ordinarily post on the internet.  But my father, who passed away last Tuesday, will always be inextricably linked to this dojo and therefore I feel it is appropriate to write of his life and of his passing in the context of this dojo forum.  Brooklyn Aikikai would not exist without my father and I don’t mean that merely in the obvious way – in that he brought me into this world.  It is much more than that.

For the many of you who have not met my father, he was born in 1924 in New Jersey, to parents who emigrated from Sicily.  He grew up in the Depression and lost his own father at a young age, which impressed upon him the need to work hard early on.  At age 18 he was drafted into the army for World War II.  He fought in the 28th Infantry Division which was known as “The Bloody Bucket” and fought in the Battle of the Bulge—one of the fiercest battles in the European campaign.  He considered himself lucky to have survived.  After WWII he attended New York University and Columbia University, and thereafter was associated with Transamerica Life Insurance Company for 58 years.

It is an understatement to say Brooklyn Aikikai would have been different had I had a different father. I learned the necessity of discipline, hard work and persistence from my father, and also my mother.  Although I could not understand the urgency with which my father educated me in the early years, I now feel blessed to have been the focus of such a drive.  It took me many years to understand that he was truly from a different generation—the WWII generation—whereas my friends’ fathers were the “baby boomers.” This distinction alone had my sisters and me growing up in a different direction than our peers.

This direction led directly to me being impressed with the traditional Japanese culture—one of hard work and trying to deeply penetrate one thing.  Giving your all to a discipline, come what may.  My father put me into Judo at age 12, and from there I found Aikido and have continued to stick with it to this day.

Who was my father, truly?  A solider, a husband, a father, a businessman…and yet all of these fall short of how I would describe him.  As one of my sisters recently said, he was a force.  He didn’t believe in giving up, or falling short.  He did his best through many impossible conditions and demanded we do the same in our lives.  One time, when he had to have the only surgery in his life (a quadruple bypass) I told him I loved him as the gurney was pushed into the surgery room.  He looked at me directly and simply said, “Don’t waste your life.”  I knew he meant to give all that I had to each moment, and I was amazed that he could say this at that time.  Such was the man he was. 

He was also a deeply devout Catholic and his devotion inspired me.  He had a tremendous faith – and I knew it had been tested.  He told all of his children that faith was essential, and this is something I feel must truly be brought into our practice of Aikido. 

Most important for me, however, is that I saw that my father struggled with himself.  It took me a long time to see this, and I often judged him harshly when younger.  But I know that he searched himself, and tried to better himself however he could.  Many people were inspired by him and knew him to be the gentleman he truly was.  As I get older, I can see a bit more objectively who my father really was, and it astonishes me it took so long.

In closing, I would like to deeply thank my father for giving me all that he could.  Our dojo is what it is due to his influence, my mother’s, and of course to all ancestors before them.  Perhaps it takes the death of a parent to become truly grateful. 

God bless you, Dad.

Robert Savoca

Brooklyn, New York

September 2, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

Shugyo by I. Tirado-Flores


I’ve been working 36 hrs straight on this case, my body long past fatigue. I would drink coffee, but that would only serve to agitate an already foggy mind, besides the uneasy queasiness reminds me that my body is slowly shutting down, as I still the tremors in my hands. A defenseless little boy needs me to bring him justice, to show him that the world has compassion. He no longer has a voice, but maybe I can speak for him. As my mind wanders off, I take a deep breath and bring my attention back to my center. I have trained for this for fifteen years, this is my Shugyo.

In my early days of aikido, Shugyo was the daily hours spent at the dojo training and the long hours spent working out afterwards. I remember practicing rolls and breakfalls on the concrete sidewalk in order to test my ukemi. Attacking hard, throwing hard, and expecting the same in return as we chipped away the imperfections of our technique and spirit. Looking back, those were good days; I miss the camaraderie, the familiar aching of my body, the arrogance of knowing I was working harder than anybody else on the mat.

After a time the Shugyo became Musha Shugyo as I began my pilgrimages to the various schools of aikido. “Look not to learn a hundred variations of a technique” my sensei admonished, “look for the underlying essence of a technique in the variations.”  So I traveled, traveled to Japan, to other States, and to the various schools this city has to offer. I did my best not to default back to past teachings, but rather tried to decipher the ideas and techniques of others in a quest for deeper understanding. The years of Musha Shugyo made me more humble, as I fumble to learn new a method of executing a technique I had performed thousands of times in the past. My ego slowly stripped away as I sought the assistance of lower ranking students as I explored the mysteries of aikido.

So here I am, in an interview room ready to do battle with a perpetrator of a heinous crime. This is not a battle of brawn, but of mind. I calmly deflect her displays of anger. I seek out the tsuki (opening) in her deceptions. Her opposition is hopeless as she fights against the void, and I slowly lead her towards the truth which she cannot admit to herself. And when the time is right I extend my ki and watch her crumble before me. My job is done; hopefully I have done my art proud.

Later that night, after a few hours of sleep I kneel on the mat, as tears begin to well up in my eyes. I take a deep breath, find my center, and the outside world slowly dissolves away. During practice I marvel at the next generation of aikidoka, seeing the passion ablaze in their eyes as they pursue this art with youthful abandon as I once did. Their intensity pushing my body to its physical threshold, forcing me to draw more heavily from my understanding of aikido in order to keep pace with the tidal relationship of uke and nage. At the end my body is both spent and yet invigorated; my mind enters a state of sublime repose.

As I put on my suit, I reflect on the work I have accomplished both on and off the mat. My only wish is that my fellow aikidoka will be able to manifest this art in the outside world with the same passion and dedication that they have shown here. I put on my hat, walk out the door and smile as the nighttime air resonates with the memory of thousands of such nights, and the promise of thousands more nights to come.

- Isaias Tirado-Flores

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Training at the Farm by D. Hall

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to accompany Sensei and some other dojo members to Krissie’s farm on the edge of New Jersey.  When I’d heard about the trip I was eager to go along.  I spent a lot of time on farms and in the countryside as a kid.  Where I grew up was 10 minutes from the town centre and not much further to ‘the country’, although, on reflection, it all kind of overlapped really.

One of my grandfathers worked on the dairy farm next to his house.  My other grandfather has kept poultry and other animals all his life and has lots of friends who are farmers and small holders and outdoors enthusiasts.  From the ages of 2 to around 13 or 14 I spent many a weekend and holiday hanging out with my grandad, feeding animals, collecting eggs, picking potatoes and mushrooms, messing around with dangerous, rusting archaic machinery and tools and bales of hay in crumbling barns, catching things, shooting guns, nearly getting run over by tractors, nearly drowning in a river.  All great fun, and a suitable counterpoint to Space Invaders and antagonising security guards in town. 

The weather was absolutely perfect for a retreat from the city.  It was indeed a real treat.   Both days we sat zazen, undertook samu, and practiced weapons art, if one craves formality.  Another way of saying it would be how nice it was to hang out and enjoy a little bit of how life could (have) be(en).  We chopped down a couple of (small) trees–horrifying, I know– to make way for some fruit trees.  The old trees were given a new role, though, with branches used for path edging and the trunk chopped into logs which we then plugged with mushroom spawn.  Being bare-footed on grass felt incredible.  It also offered something of a respite for the knees.  Not being hemmed in by sheet rock was a great feeling, and being in sunlight?  My gods!  Phenomenal.  It’s been great at the dojo since the installation of the new gate, with sunlight streaming in through the narrow windows above on mornings, and with it becoming an appropriate time of year to actually open it too, but to be outside, all day, working and practicing brings a whole other dimension.

When Sensei asked me to write something about the weekend for the blog I initially thought I would write about these differences, of training outside compared to inside the dojo.  Actually, I immediately thought how fussy and linear the written word can be. Compared to speech there’s too much time elapsed between thinking and mechanically recording those thoughts.  Actions speak louder than words, it is said.  “No pressure”, Sensei said.  None at all, except that which had just been exerted.  Taking some time to think about it, however, the overarching experience and impact of the weekend for me were thoughts on the importance, experience and permeation of connection. 

We are almost always connected in this modern condition, whilst simultaneously being mostly disconnected from each other.  Now!  Now!  Now!!  We need it now!!  Actually, we needed it yesterday.  We literally have the sum of humankind’s knowledge at our fingertips, but instead we mostly scroll through trivia and the outrageous antics of ‘celebrities’, or organize colored shapes on a tiny screen instead of engaging with each other on the subway or bus or wherever­– it cracks me up that we mostly choose to ignore our own species, while two dogs passing in the street hardly ever fail to acknowledge each other’s presence.  My wife has a colleague who cannot send one email at time.  There’s always two, one right after the other, with the corrections or amendments to the hastily sent first, and I was sitting at dinner one Saturday night, laughing internally at a friend’s attempts to legitimately induct into the soirée the smart [sic] ‘phone he cannot bear to be disconnected from for more than two minutes at a time.  Incidentally, the subject of one of the latest unread emails in my burgeoning inbox was What To Read When Dining With An iPad.  I can only hope, but will never know if, it is satire.

It’s not all bad of course.  Great things have occurred partly due to this connectivity.  It has allowed the spontaneous rallying of like-minded individuals to organize and protest against cruel and corrupt organizations and governments.  So effective has this been that ousted president Mubarak ‘turned off’ the internet in Egypt 2011, as did Syria in 2012, and in the last couple of weeks Turkey has made (futile) attempts to ban Twitter and YouTube.

Individuals with doubts, misgivings and suspicions of events and situations in Iran, Venezuela, Ukraine, the United States, Europe– pretty much everywhere in the world then– have all effectively been brought together to publicly demonstrate their objections by social media in a time when increasing distrust of traditional news media prevails.  And rightly so!  We need to swim against the tide of divide and conquer, the stay in your homes and gorge yourself on Miley Cyrus, on LOL cats, entire HBO series back-to-back, swedishcrutch.com, zombies, vampires, Hunger Games, Scarlett Johansson’s arse, who wore what to where and when, 25 Celebrities Who Used To Be Ugly/Rich/Men/Women, Zappos, Amazon, etc, etc, etc… culture of artifice.  We need to connect with like-minded, but more importantly, right-minded people throughout the world and establish and maintain an intellectual order in order to save ourselves from our own stupid selves.   

Not once on the farm did I think about ‘checking’ the internet– you know, just to make sure it was still there– or sending email.  I only sent my wife a text on Sunday afternoon as she would be leaving for Paris before I‘d get home.  It was really good to (re)connect with the self, others and the ‘countryside’.  It’s been a while.  It must have been.  I took earplugs to a farm.

And you could probably stop reading here and know how I felt about it.  But like a dog with a bone, or a Frisbee, give me a subject and watch me go.

Ergo:

There was, for a time, a sign in the men’s changing room at the dojo urging we Enjoy Work For Its Own Sake.  I simultaneously read it with an accent as Enjoy Work For Its Own Saké, which I think is just as valid an interpretation– you’ve got to earn it, right? 

It’s funny how the concept of work has changed. It used to largely comprise moving matter around the surface of the earth.  While that is already a somewhat dubious endeavor on the grand scheme of things, it is slightly more tangible than moving data around a largely invisible network, in an increasingly, blatantly illusory world.  A couple of weeks ago the bank of England released a report that admits and confirms money is an illusion, and our businesses and aural and visual entertainments are being pushed further and further into The Cloud.  Ever since the invention of the wheel, nay, the spear, technology has supposedly existed to make our lives easier, but we all still seem to be so busy. In fact ask anyone and chances are they will proclaim it with a kind of pious, virtuous zeal– “I’m SO busy!” 

There’s nothing wrong with work.  I think we need it in some shape or form as a counterpoint to our leisure. In fact, with some sort of manual labor or quotidian physical exertion we wouldn’t need to do as much running as we all seem to be doing. If we’re not busy, we’re running.  Runners are becoming more of a menace than cyclists.

Our work has made us mostly sedentary, and snack-fuelled, hence the need to expel excess energy.  We also need some sort of structure, no?  Otherwise, without a framework what do we have to kick against?  “The greatest danger for an artist is total freedom,” (Fellini).  We want to eat, right?  And sleep in a bed, in a shelter of some sort?  Some effort needs to be exerted somewhere in exchange for all of this.  It doesn’t go unnoticed, though, that we, the most ‘advanced’ species on the planet are the only ones who actually pay to live here…

But I digress.

Usually.

I’m not talking about adhering to the myth of the Nobility of Toil by the masses that mostly benefits, and is perpetrated by, the privileged elite– anything ‘honorable’ is generally not very easy to attain.  However, I’ve yet to hear a convincing argument against the need to perform or undertake some sort of useful role in society. 

We all consume something that is the product of labor and it is woefully idealistic to believe otherwise.  There is also, I believe, something satisfying about altering or transforming one’s immediate environment through work.  Cleaning, gardening, decorating and the like, while all being somewhat necessary, offer some intrinsic, short-term reward of joy or contentment.  Every thing, action, endeavor is, could or should be a meditation, a contemplation of existence, a mode of consciousness.  So on the farm there was the obvious, immediate, physical connection with the earth and with the Earth; the landscape, soil, the tools, the trees, the mycelium plugs, the uneven grass underfoot during weapons, and the sun on exposed skin –- things that are easily forgotten or overlooked in the city.  We didn’t directly or immediately produce anything we consumed, but the facility exists and has essentially been put into motion.  Literally, you reap what you sow, and we were sowing apples, peaches, pears and mushrooms.  What is more connected than the mushroom? 

The largest known living organism on the planet is a 2400 year-old, 2200 acre mushroom mycelium network in Eastern Oregon.  It is the subterranean fibrous mat that holds the distinction, not the fruit.  Alas, there is a no single, giant mushroom the size of 1500 football fields, or a town, up in the Blue Mountains.   Mycelia can transmit information across their huge networks in a similar way to the human brain and the internet– almost, and for all intents and purposes, instantaneously.  Or, more correctly, one supposes, the human brain and the internet conform to the same behavior as mycelia, seeing as they’ve been around since pretty much the dawn of time.  While many a TED Talk, ‘alternative’ website, or conversation with amateur mycologist or urban shaman make convincing arguments for the ecological importance, sentience, evolutionary correlative traits and primitive/cosmic power of the mushroom that go largely over my head, the connection of connection was not lost on me. 

At a phenomenal, and I dare to say well-earned, dinner that evening we discussed, among things, haptics, albeit not quite so formally heralded.  Our talk meandered to the different notions of acceptable displays of intimacy and personal touch–physical connection– that exist in different parts of the world from our own.  It sounds obvious, for I think we all ‘know’ it to be true–I for one believe it to be a truth–but in Mexico and Greece people are generally much more visibly passionate and tactile with each other, as compared to, say, North America.  India, too, has different codes and behaviors– of course, we’re not totally homogenized just yet, thankfully– with men showing an incredible level of intimate touch with other men, yet little or none in their outward displays of affection towards women, including their wives.  Plenty of these wives, though, have had no qualms about plonking their children on my lap and declaring me Uncle! whilst grilling me on my salary why I wasn’t married or had no children of my own. In Britain, meanwhile, the notional pedophile is having a deleterious effect on the acceptability of showing affection towards children not one’s own.  While I am aware that crimes of all kinds occur, should we raise a generation devoid of physical human contact for which emotional connection is somewhat alien? Do we add this to the two generations of China’s one-child Family Planning Policy only children, and, though by no means entirely exclusive to Japan now, the self-imposed shut-in otaku?  OK.  We may glean some connectivity from the internet, but there needs also to be physical human connection to maintain health, well-being and sanity.  We are by nature social creatures and need other human beings to interact with, to exchange concepts, energy, stories and jokes.

Thus:

What’s brown and sticky? 
A stick. 

And by a stick I mean a jo.

“Sticky!  Sticky!” shouted Sensei as we practiced weapons.  “Keep connected!”  Of course!  It finally made some sense.  And there again was the concept of ‘connection’ made manifest, for that is the crux of aikido– maintaining contact and blending with your opponent. That has been a difficult idea for me to grasp and I have literally wrestled with it and plenty of people during practice.  It’s not that I’m trying or wanting to be alpha or macho or antagonistic, it is, to me, and I’m sure many others, totally counter intuitive to combine one’s energy with that of one’s assailant.  Historically, I’d usually meet force head-on with force.  But it’s not just muscling it or steaming in, is it?  It is called martial arts, right?  And “art establishes the basic human truths” (Kennedy, John F. 1963).

Connection is the fundamental principle of aikido.  By blending, ‘going with the flow’, the struggle ceases and so then does the opposition and thus the conflict.  For me personally, this is something of a major breakthrough.  Whether I’ll actually be able to maintain that on the mat is another thing.  “The difficult must become habit, habit easy and the easy beautiful” I read in a book on acting from the bookcase in the room I’d slept in at the farm.  I will endeavor to be mindful of that.

With technology and popular/consumerist culture, there has been a slow, steady drift away from a sense of self as part of nature’s whole– of course.  Buy your happiness, stupid.  As technology advances there is a danger that we will retreat or be forced into a virtual world, instead of maybe addressing socio-political problems propagated by poverty.  What is wrong with reality?  Why do we, collectively, seem to want to retreat into a virtual one, with infinite choices and micro-control?  Part of the many reasons I think I was vegetarian for over 15 years was to simplify the menu experience.  I do not need that much choice.  Am I hungry?  Yes.  OK.  Crack on and address that urge.  Do I really need Instagram or Google Glass or a whole host of other interfaces and apps I don’t really (care to) know about in order to live a more complete and more fulfilled life, and what happens when the internet goes down? Do I really need to perform ‘better’ and progress ‘further’ in my personal and professional life?  And does there need to be a split between the two?  I know children of six and nine with laptops who live in homes with giant TVs who have atrocious handwriting and spelling and even more atrocious attention spans, who hardly ever play outdoors.  I see them being set-up to chase the holy grail of unattainable, materialistic, disposable lifestyles marketed to them via this proliferation and invasion of media.  They know more about Moshi Monsters than they do about mathematics…

It’s easy to become nostalgic about the past, and memory is wonderfully selective.  I can’t decide if I’m getting old, wising up a bit, a stick-in-the-mud, an out-moded artisan smashing looms, if I read too much dystopian sci-fi as a kid, or a mix of all of the above, but last weekend re-affirmed a connection with what it is, to me, to be human; manual labor, cooking, eating, being outdoors, communing with others and having time and energy to devote to contemplating the existential.  It was also an opportunity to establish and nurture connections with some of the people with whom I occasionally share a tiny part of the multiverse.

Right.  I’m going outside.


Blissings.

Darren

Sunday, March 16, 2014

On Pain - by Z. Ludescher

Pain comes in many forms.  There is of course physical pain, which comes in the form of sore muscles, stomach aches, and stiff joints. But emotional pain is common as well: sadness that accompanies loss; fear that shows up when facing a dark, unknown path; or guilt that rears its head when we accidentally harm the ones we love.

To separate the two seems a bit misleading, as “emotional” pain is often felt in our very physical bodies.  Any teenager who’s been dumped can attest to the very real pain felt in their chest.  While watching a horror flick, muscles tighten as the killer closes in on the protagonist.  And every over-worked, stressed and anxious New Yorker I know has felt their blood pressure rise as deadlines have closed in.

Yesterday, Sensei mentioned that pain is unavoidable.  Continuing that thought, I believe that not only is pain unavoidable, but that we can also find value in pain.

To begin with, pain can be a useful learning tool.  Pain can let us know when to move, to get out of the way.  There are times when I’m practicing Aikido that I don’t move, that I try to use brute strength to accomplish a goal.  When I’ve done that with a more senior student, I’ve ended up with screaming pain in my wrists, or hands, or stomach.  And so I’ve learned to move, to study the techniques more closely, and to become more sensitive to what is happening around me and to me.

Pain can also be a valuable aid in overcoming obstacles.  At one point in our evolutionary history, the surge of adrenaline that accompanied fear may have meant the difference between outrunning a predator and becoming a meal.  As the over-worked office worker’s deadline approaches and stress levels increase, the body releases cortisol, which serves to divert energy from low-priority systems (like immune response) to higher-priority systems (like brain function).  The re-routing of energy may give that worker the boost he needs to finish his proposal and spare him the wrath of his boss.  (He may not be spared the wrath of a sedentary, high-stress lifestyle, however.)

For much of my life, like many people, I have worked to avoid pain and maximize pleasure.   There’s a certain, irrefutable logic in this.  Given the choice of a banquet or a torture chamber, humans seem built to prefer the former.  However, over the last few months I’ve begun to re-evaluate my opinion.

I came to Aikido at a time in my life when my short term pursuit of pleasure over pain was starting to catch up with me.  I’d just turned 30 and I realized that I was considerably healthier at 20 than at 30, and that if I continued the trend I would be even worse off at 40 and less healthier still at 50.  Not the trajectory I wanted.  For the past decade, I’ve been slowly watching t.v. more and exercising less. Reaching for the frozen burrito over making a healthy lunch out of fresh ingredients.  Buying bread more instead of making it.  Reaching for substances that are pleasing to my senses instead of getting a good night’s rest.  And though I was not an overweight, depressed sloth, I was noticing that I was certainly moodier, I was slowly putting on weight, and I had less energy for the things I wanted to do in life.  Over time, small choices add up.

And so I began training Aikido.

I made a commitment to myself that I would be healthier at 40 than I was at 20.  Which meant I had to face the pain.  The pain of making time in my schedule.  The pain of say no to staying in and watching netflix and instead getting out the door and to the dojo.  The pain in my wrists, my hands, and my legs that accompanies a martial dialogue with someone far more capable than myself.  The pain of not knowing, of being unsure of myself when everyone around me seems to know what to do, how to do it, and why.

Some of my friends look at me strangely and ask why I’m doing this.  Why would anyone choose to get beat up day after day?  It’s not like I face a lot of violent threats in my day to day, so martial arts seems superfluous to my lifestyle.  What they are asking is why would I go through the pain.

To me, the answer is becoming more and more obvious.  In just a few short months I have become stronger, more limber, and my energy levels are skyrocketing.  The layer of fat that was slowly building up around my belly started shrinking.  That sluggish, low-energy feeling that was becoming more and more common is dissipating.  I’m happier.  I feel more prepared to face the world, the challenges of my day to day...even if they are just finishing an edit or vacuuming my apartment.  In facing the pain, I have learned, and I have gained.

There are times when it is harder to face the pain.  When getting out the door to the dojo means I will have to work harder when I get home.  When I’m sore and tired and the last thing in the world I want to do is get tossed around by someone almost 10 years my junior like I’m a toy.  However, on those days when I’ve resisted coming and still packed my gi into my bag, I walk out of dojo feeling more alive than ever.


And so lately, I’ve been coming around to the idea of embracing pain, or at the very least facing it head on.  Because I’m realizing a few things about pain.  For one, pain is often ephemeral.  The discomfort of saying no to the comfort of a book on my couch in favor of training is minimal and forgotten quickly.  The aches and pains in my muscles subside in a week or so.  And though they are more often than not replaced by other pains (why does the top of my foot hurt?), those too will fade. But more importantly, I’m learning that I can often gain more when I push through.  The pleasure I feel having more energy, breathing deeper, and being able to run for longer with my dogs far outweighs the pain I experienced getting here.  The embarrassment of not knowing how it is that someone 10 years my senior could so thoroughly destroy me on the mat is trumped by the satisfaction of learning something new.  And I look to the future with more hope and optimism, knowing that the pain I push through today makes me stronger, healthier, and more resilient.