A big part of budo life is taking complete responsibility for yourself – for both your own physical and mental well being. None of us is without limitations. Some combination of our age, physical attributes, past injuries or emotional issues will ultimately threaten all of us along the way.
Sometimes the first challenge in Aikido is simply sitting on your knees (called seiza). It’s a position unfamiliar to most American adults. Some people take to it easily. Others struggle for a few weeks until tight muscles and stiff joints become more supple. Through training you will soon learn that you are capable of doing many things you might not think were possible. But as you age some of these activities can be difficult. Nishio Sensei was unable to sit seiza when he got older due to old injuries from his youth, but I’ve seen people in Aikido well into their 80’s who do just fine. The point is that if you’re unable to do certain things it doesn’t mean that you can’t train, it just means you have to train differently.
When I was taking my second dan test many years ago part of the test is dealing with multiple opponent’s called randori. In a randori involving a group of five opponent’s the examiner included a small woman with a known injury as one of my opponents. Even within the chaos of handling five opponent’s, four of them large guys, I also had to deal with her attacks effectively, but without injuring her. Afterward I learned that the examiner intentionally included her as one of my opponents just to see if I would maintain the presence of mind to take care of her. If you have physical limitations you can nearly always find a way to make progress in your Aikido in a safe and enjoyable way. It’s also our duty to be aware of each of our partner’s limitations and respect them. For example, when you’re young and in good health, falling and getting up and down from the ground isn’t too difficult. But with age or injury you may have to modify your training and not take techniques to the ground. This should not be a problem for anyone you work with because regardless of our partner, there are always aspects of our practice that we can polish.
There are five types of training:
1. Partner training
2. Solo training (when alone or recovering from illness or injury)
3. Observation training (attending class and watching when injured or mildly ill)
4. Contemplation training (using your imagination)
5. Teaching (developing a deeper understanding)
Many people assume that because they can’t do the first type of training that they can’t train at all. This is not true. If you’re injured or mildly ill you can attend class and observe. If you’re able to move you can do solo training which can include moving through techniques with an imaginary partner as well as ken (sword) and jo (staff) practice. Some of my greatest progress in Aikido was at times I was recovering from illness or injury and did a lot of solo, observation and contemplation training. Nishio Sensei said that when he was a student at Hombu Dojo in Tokyo after WWII times were very difficult. Often he would arrive at the dojo and no one would be there, not even a teacher. So he would pick up a boken (wooden sword) and train alone, polishing his mind and refining his sword work. Later his sword skills would become famous throughout the martial art world. Even in difficult circumstances a dedicated student will find a way to train. If you’re able to walk you can train at some level.
We all come with a history and that history can include emotional trauma. When faced with the vulnerability and awkwardness of learning new skills your emotional past might sometimes threaten to surface. Nearly everyone has negative voices in their unconscious mind that can appear uninvited and remind us of our fears and feelings of inadequacy. Part of Aikido training is not only learning to reconcile conflict with an opponent, but perhaps more importantly, how to reconcile conflicts that arise in your own mind. It’s important to be patient and compassionate with yourself while maintaining your tenacity. And that’s a good step toward becoming more patient and compassionate with others!