Ever since I was a child, I have always struggled with a lack of confidence and self-esteem. I have also been plagued with anxiety; fear of what might or might not happen. In school I was bullied daily for being ‘different’ i.e. being quiet and being bright. It took me a long time to get over the way I was treated because I never understood why I was treated that way.
However, things changed when I went to college, I met the best friends I’ve ever had, I feel truly privileged to still have those friends, what fantastic people! It was at this college that I first saw a leaflet for Komyokan dojo. What I had been taught about martial arts and what it could offer you, were all the things that I craved; self discipline, confidence and a sense of freedom from the anxiety that had been exacerbated at school.
So, I decided that I was going to join and enquired about lessons over the phone. I started aikido and weapons training and loved it. However, I was not there long before I stopped, I can’t tell you why exactly because I’m not entirely sure myself but what I do know for certain was that it was a mistake that I regretted, it ate away at me and gave ammunition to my own self deprecation.
It wasn’t long after I left that my father passed away and suddenly I was so aware of how everything could change so dramatically, usually when you think you are most safe and comfortable. My mental health suffered as a result. It took me years to reach a place where I felt I could move forward from the past and it wasn’t until October 2015 that I realised that if my life and my mental health was going to improve, that it was my responsibility; no one was going to fix my life for me.
So, I picked up the phone, called the doctor’s surgery and made an appointment to discuss my options regarding my state of mind. I was started on a drug called Mirtazapine and overnight the whole world changed. Before I started the drug, it felt as though there were a million thoughts rushing through my mind and I couldn’t concentrate on any one of them. Suddenly, all that noisy traffic became the equivalent of a single car going down a country lane and for the first time in years my head felt clear. Colours seemed brighter; jokes were 10 times funnier but best of all I could sleep. I actually dreamed, vividly, I could never remember dreaming before and I was enjoying the experience of dreaming so much I didn’t mind if the dream was a nightmare.
Mirtazapine has changed my outlook so much and spurred on by the outcome of taking a step to change my life, I took another step and on the 6th January 2016, I rejoined the dojo. I know now that I will never leave again, not by choice anyway. I regretted leaving deeply but I think that I had to leave to understand what I was missing and I had to go away and change who I was. I am a very different person to who I was then, I needed to be to come back and start again I think.
Every day that I’m training I’m getting better, healthier (both mentally and physically) and more confident. I’ m actually starting to like myself. I’m living more in the moment and feeling the grip of anxiety loosening bit by bit. I’m hoping to be free of it completely in the future. The people I train with are great people; it is truly a pleasure for me to train with them.
The thing I really love about the way that aikido is taught at Komyokan dojo, is the fact that in a lot of places it is treated as a kind of sport, but at our dojo learning aikido is learning about yourself and how to live your life, it should be so much more than a pastime and nothing less than a solid foundation for self-fulfilment and personal growth.
Being a member of Komyokan dojo is helping me to achieve all the things I need to function as a happy, confident individual. Aikido has been my saviour; imagine what it could do for you.
I have been training at the Komyokan dojo in Birkenhead for the past seven years and my understanding and relationship to aikido has changed and developed over this time.
Aikido is both a physical and a spiritual discipline and when I began training at Komyokan I saw these two aspects as somehow separated from one another. There was the physical training incorporating the learning of techniques, both as tore and uke, and separate to that: meditation, chanting and spiritual development. During the physical training, I initially learnt where to put my hands and feet and how to break fall properly. Which is an important part of my aikido training in which I am still involved. It has and continues to offer me access to a very effective martial art and a system of self-defense. It has improved my sense of timing and reflexes, and offered me an access to my body’s inner rhythms.
During the early stages of training I thought about the concept of blending with my uke as they attacked, but I now see that this was a concept in my head that I was unable to execute. Then as my training has developed, I have tried to start to incorporate the principles of leaning, to maintain the right level of connection to partner, moving from body first, instigating movement from the lower body, and the challenging paradox of relaxing without collapsing. These principles, along with others that I am probably not yet able to articulate clearly, underpin my sensei’s system of training at the Komyokan dojo. My attempt to apply these principles in conjunction with my sensei’s teaching has made me realize that aikido, for me, is an attempt to become more self-aware. Each time I attempt to apply the above principles I engage in an opportunity to observe myself, and the gap between what I think I am doing and what I am actually doing. At this stage of my training I do not always take this opportunity; my ego often reassures me that I am doing it well, or remonstrates with me that I am doing very badly but my sensei’s rigorous approach ensures there is nowhere to hide!
What aikido offers me in this situation is the opportunity to challenge both myself, and the image that I hold of myself. An image which has been sorely tested over the last few years. This might sound like a painful process but it is also a liberating one, because with it comes an understanding that when you are upset by someone else you realize that it is you generating those feelings not ‘the other’. Then, as a result, you can observe those feelings and watch them diminish. A realization, that, I have been able to apply to most of the significant relationships in my life.
As I begin to apply the above principles I am beginning to understand that when uke attacks I need to be relaxed and connected enough to them to ‘feel’ what they are doing in terms of the strength of their attack, where their weight is leaning, the amount of tension in the body etc. to understand how best to apply the technique and in a real practical sense blend with partner. This self-observation has fundamentally altered the way I see the relationship between tore and uke. When we are attacked, we tend just to see the attack and not the person behind the attack and in our heightened state of fight or flight we try to conquer and dominate this attacker as a threat, even if, as in the case of the dojo we know that these people are our fellow aikidoka. I have realized that I need to listen to the energetic body of uke. I have understood that each attack is different because each attacker is different and that each attacker often makes subtle changes to his or her attack. I understand this act of listening as an act of respect towards the other that will, hopefully, in time, overcome the fight or flight response I have to being attacked and allow a relaxed, open and fluid response to uke. For me this is the meaning of harmony between two bodies in space and is at the heart of what aikido means for me. One thing of course is understanding this is one’s head and another is being able to apply it to the encounter between uke and tore which for me is why aikido is the attempt to put these principles and beliefs into practice in a ‘real’ encounter.
I have tried to apply this principle when listening to people speak, for example. When involved in conversations in the past I became aware that I was waiting for an opportunity to speak rather than listening to what the other people were saying and the way in which they were saying it. I now really try to listen to both the words and how those words are said, and as a result have a much better connection to my listener and in turn am better understood by them.
Looking towards the future, I can speculate how this awareness in the moment of the encounter, could be taken beyond my relationship with uke to encompass a wider awareness and understanding of the space around me both within and beyond the dojo. Perhaps this is what O’Sensei meant when he talked about being one with the universe. Having a wider awareness of what is happening beyond oneself in any given moment, and that the self is in relationship with all of it. I would just like to clarify at this point that I do not see myself as anywhere close to this level of awareness but rather that it is a direction for further development.
In conclusion, aikido for me is about developing my self-observation and self-awareness and to then extend that awareness beyond myself and to connect in a real, deep and spiritual sense with uke and by extrapolation begin to try to connect with other humans and the wider universe. All of my above thoughts about the meaning of aikido would not have been possible, were it not for my sensei’s teaching for which I feel deeply indebted.