I’m sitting on the patio of our Air BnB here in Sonoma, CA. Today is the final day of Imaizumi Sensei’s 2017 Aikido Seminar in Napa. I’m feeling joyful, exhausted, energized, and a little overwhelmed by the abundance of wisdom available.
We only have 2 1/2 more hours of precious seminar practice time this afternoon, and I’ve been trying to remember all I can. But I can already tell that the depth, intensity, and richness of this, my first aikido seminar experience, is far beyond what my intellect is capable of understanding, remembering, or processing.
Still, I can feel that this is a game-changer. Here’s why:
1. Learning from a wide variety of practitioners
Yesterday at the beginning of the first session, Imaizumi Sensei took a moment to welcome the visitors from Ki Society and Aikikai backgrounds who were in attendance. He encouraged them, and all of us, to ask questions freely. Over the past two days I’ve heard several different English dialects with accents that sounded like Russian, Spanish, and other languages. I have the privilege of working with people who have been practicing for more than 40 years, and with fellow white belts like myself. I even worked with one person who has not yet tested for 5th kyu, and for a moment I privately reveled in the knowledge that I actually outranked SOMEONE at this event. My ego was promptly checked as he patiently guided me through some of the fundamentals of sankyo, a technique that still eludes me.
2. Recognizing how my own interpretations and judgments can (and often do) lead me astray
I am meeting people and, as is my common and unhelpful habit, making snap judgments about who they were based upon one or two minutes of speaking with them. My impatient and judgmental ego whispers in my ear, pointing out various ways that I am cooler, smarter, and more humble than this person or that person. All this only to discover how generous, unassuming, and knowledgeable this very same person is as they share their mastery with me. Again, ego check. (Perhaps I should have checked my ego at the door…)
3. Punching through the crust of my own resistance and fear of connection
“Connection” is a word that is used all the time at our dojo. It is rare for me to go entire class without hearing that word at least once. And I’m quick to say that I strive for connection and want more of it in my life on all levels. Yet somehow I find myself trying to skirt away from it. Here at this Seminar, Imaizumi Sensei provides us with instruction for what feels like 1-2 minutes, demonstrating a technique 2 times, generally. Then he invites us to partner up with someone and practice. Every time we sit to watch him, I notice that I relax into my own little world of watching, listening, and trying to figure out what he is demonstrating. All too quickly, as we are invited to go practice, I notice a moment of resistance and fear… “What if I can’t find someone to practice with?” “What if I mess up?” “What if someone treats me with scorn and disrespect?” “What if someone sees that I am clumsy?” And my temptation is to go hide somewhere.
But when I finish bowing to Imaizumi Sensei and turn and look up, I see welcoming smiles. Kind eyes. Again and again, I am called to punch through the crust of my resistance and “put myself out there” by being vulnerable, a doorway to connection. I approach someone with decades more aikido experience than me, ask if they will practice with me, and they say yes. In my estimation, they are making a sacrifice to work with someone as new as me, when they could be working on something much more subtle and rewarding. Then I am reminded that by teaching me the fundamentals, they are polishing their own mirror, helping to pass on the tradition that they love so much. Once upon a time, this master standing before me was a beginner like myself. Perhaps I do have something to offer, by humbly listening and genuinely trying my best to learn.