Aikido is a Japanese martial art founded by Morehei Ueshiba ("O Sensei"). Its roots stem from the brutal art of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. As with all aikido techniques, we blend with our partner's energy and redirect that combined energy in a circular motion around our center. There is great emphasis devoted to learning how to roll and fall properly and an even greater emphasis on feeling the effects of techniques through repetitive practice. In a typical class, you will practice aikido techniques with random partners over a hundred times. You will fall and roll at least that many times. Every roll or fall toughens your body to the point that you will eventually be able to roll or fall on almost any surface. Every bruise is a badge of honor. Every step towards progress is a victory. The beginning techniques are very simple and demonstrate basic movements. As you progress up the ranks, you will work on more sophisticated techniques, some combining more than one technique or giving you choices to deal with any situation. You will have many questions about aikido and you will discover that the more you learn, the more questions you will have.

My aikido journey: classes 1-100, 101-200, 201-300, 301-400, 401-500


December 10, 2019 - class 401 with Roderick Johnson - 2 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, Shomenuchi Iriminage, and Katatetori Shihonage Omote and Ura. Sadly, today was a one step back day as I kept moving wrong and got hit in my jaw - lower canine piercing into the inside flesh of my cheek and drawing blood - by a hard Iriminage from a new student. I felt she was performing each technique extra hard and extra fast to impress Sensei, similar to how I was when I was training for my 5th kyu.

December 16, 2019 - class 402 with Roderick Johnson - 2 students. We practiced Hanmi Handachi Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi/Kokyunage/Shihonage and tanto techniques with a backslash and Tsuki Soto (under the arm, rib hit) Kotegaeshi/Shihonage/Shihonage. Sensei said we did well today.

December 17, 2019 - class 403 with Roderick Johnson - 3 students. We practiced all 5th kyu techniques for Jasmine's upcoming test. I practiced with Ed and he showed me ways to deal with taller attackers, praising me when my movements were correct against him. My latest aikido injury is a big purple bruise on the back of my right hand. It was a little bruise yesterday, but was severely aggravated today from all the Shihonage and Kotegaeshi practice. Now I have a bruise that matches the color of my hair.

December 23, 2019 - class 404 with Roderick Johnson - 8 students. We practiced Katamenuchi Ikkyo, Nikyo, Sankyo, Iriminage, Shihonage, Kotegaeshi, Udekeminage, and more. Franco practiced his 3rd kyu exam with Asamina and I as ukes. We had a Jihon Waza at the end, but I wasn't so good in that. There still appears to be a disconnect between what I want to do and what I end up doing. I spoke with Sensei at the end about my performance and he suggested I practice my movements by myself as he had found success in doing so.

December 28, 2019 - class 405 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. I watched as the students practiced Shomenuchi Sankyo Ura, Ushiro Ryokatotori Sankyo, and Ushiro Ryokatotori Jihon Waza. Frustrated with my own recent performance, I wanted to sit back and watch the techniques from a different perspective. At the end of class, Franco practiced his 3rd kyu exam.

December 30, 2019 - class 406 with Roderick Johnson - 2 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo and Yokomenuchi Shihonage. Even though these are low level techniques, I kept getting corrected. At the end of class, I told Sensei, "I don't know why I keep messing up. It's like my feet never go in the right place." "It's not that you're messing up," he said. "Your techniques are fine for 5th or 4th kyu, but when you're approaching black belt level, all of these little mistakes need to be corrected." Ed said this to me at one time, that our 5th kyu techniques are going to look different at higher levels.

January 6, 2020 - class 407 with Roderick Johnson - 4 students. We practiced Tsuki Ikkyo Ura, Tsuki Kokyuho, Tsuki tenkan Kokyunage, and Tsuki Iriminage. I practiced a little ukemi in between classes.

January 13, 2020 - class 408 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. We practiced Ushiro Kubishme Kaitenage, Ikkyo, Nikkyo, Sankyo, Udekeminage, Kotegaeshi, Shihonage, and Iriminage. I did make some progress during practice, but my two Jihon Waza attempts weren't very good. Keith always likes to practice hard and I really feel it in his Iriminages and Sankyos. I left the dojo in a daze from a bad tweak in my neck. My friend Chris W told me it might be wise to minimize any aikido injuries before the asana championship. I agree.

It is time to shelve aikido once again in order to focus on my yoga asana training. Ever since I returned to aikido, I've had fleeting moments of progress, but on the whole, I don't feel I am making enough progress to make aikido worthwhile for me. Perhaps I need a new environment or a brand new martial art. I love the old Aikikai of Philadelphia dojo in downtown Philadelphia, but the new one, situated in the outskirts of the city, makes continuous and consistent training a lot less accessible. It also limits post-training activities to a minimum as one of the highlights of a work-hard philosophy in class is a play-hard philosophy of dining at one of the many nearby eateries a big city has to offer. My primary reason for studying aikido all these years was to help motivate my children to practice the art, since I've always felt that a foundation in martial arts philosophy is good for children. I wrote my Sensei about my thoughts and my need to reflect on what I truly want from my training. I walked around town after work this past week and said to myself, "You know, I miss all of this. I miss my city."

From the very beginning, I should have mentioned to my Sensei that I had a learning disability. I purchased an ungodly amount of aikido books, videos, and other stuff so I could try to immerse myself in and conquer a new activity that I really wasn't very good at. I threw myself into aikido head first and ended up with countless injuries. My thought process works in modules, like steps of a recipe, so when I stop and think about my next step in my aikido movements, I'm told I'm doing things wrong. As someone who felt she had basically conquered her disability - Aspberger's - by shrouding it and making everyone believe I was "normal," it was difficult for most anyone to understand what was going on in my head. Training brought out the worst fears in me. I always felt inadequate after every class and that made me feel anxious. Nothing has made me feel more anxious than the long journey from 3rd kyu to 2nd kyu. It's been two years since I earned a rank and every week that passed made me feel more and more terrible, to the point of feeling depressed that I was basically a prisoner of my extracurricular activities. Ever since the dojo moved, training was basically go to the dojo and then go home afterwards. The fun aspect of the city was removed from the training equation. I ended up with the feeling of, "Will this never end?" when the answer really was, "You can make it stop any time you want." When I realized that, I reclaimed my life again.

It is extremely difficult for someone with a learning disability to admit that she has a disability and it might not make any sense when I tell people I earned two masters degrees even with such a disability and without anyone knowing about my disability. The way I was raised, my brothers and I were taught not to admit or show signs of weakness, so trying to be "normal" to fit into society was the goal. Over time, I learned to look people in the eye when talking, although sometimes I slip up and look off in another direction, I learned to engage in conversations using my hands to cover up the fact that I flap a lot, and I learned to speak more eloquently by connecting phrases to sentences and sentences to paragraphs without stuttering, stammering, or using filler words like "umm" and "you know." The frustrations of learning aikido have managed to unearth hidden fears and insecurities deep inside me to the point where the idiosyncracies I worked so hard to fix over time started creeping back into my speech and mannerisms again.

Learning aikido has also resulted in permanent physical injuries that have negatively affected my other activities. In class 72, I cracked a tooth that required a root canal to relieve the pain. Here is an excerpt from that time: "My jaw started throbbing towards the end of class. Two days later, I went to the emegency room because of sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of my jaw that started on Wednesday and continued on until Saturday. The dental visit didn't help. The pain was so severe that I fell to my knees crying each time. The pain was much worse than the recovery period after any dental or surgical procedure I've ever had. The emergency room staff said it was likely nerve damage and the only thing they could do for me was give me painkillers. One of my back molars was knocked loose." Instead of sympathy for my situation, there were people at my dojo who tried to tell me that my pain was nothing and that they had suffered worse! I couldn't believe these people were trying to compare injuries like it was some big dick contest! The root canal led to two more root canals that cost me almost $1,000 that my insurance did not cover.

I also suffered from numerous head and neck injuries from falling incorrectly. I have walked out of my dojo with headaches and ringing in my ears, but I never complained about it, not even in my blog. Thank goodness I'm in decent shape and can recover from some of these injuries. Now I see why some people just give up after earning their 5th kyu! Perhaps the one thing that I will never forgive aikido for is damage to my left foot. I now have a bunion that will make my feet forever asymmetrical, thereby fucking up my stance in many yoga postures. If I were to have my bunion surgically removed, it will require four to six months to fully recover from it. That means no extraneous movement - no yoga - for the duration of that time.

Aikido is a perfectly fine martial art for those who've devoted their life to nonviolence, but I will have to add that it is a terribly difficult art to learn for those of you who suffer from learning disabilities or mental illnesses and who happen to be Type A personalities. For me, I probably would've been better served by a more step-wise variation of aikido, such as Yoshinkan, a clearer path of my progress, and a more personalized curriculum that takes into account my idiosyncracies.

My aikido journey: classes 1-100, 101-200, 201-300, 301-400, 401-500

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