I’ve been told that before I was born, I practiced Aikido while in utero. This was something my parents did before and throughout my childhood, a legacy they passed down to me. I remember watching their classes from the side, napping amid the thump! slap! of bodies hitting the mat. So when I started taking Aikido lessons myself (in my early 20s), there seemed to be a rightness about seeking for myself what they found. And while everyone’s experience is different, I’d like to believe that I found one of the things that kept them coming back for more:
The first lesson of Aikido is how to fall without hurting yourself. In the real world, countless injuries happen when you hit the ground; it’s not the hardness of the ground that hurts as much as the flailing panic while “falling.” Most people just don’t know how to fall correctly: safe falling means relaxing, rolling with it and displacing the energy. After you learn how to fall with no injury to yourself (or others) you begin working on getting up quickly: the final stage in “the art of falling.” Being small and springy, this wasn’t a huge problem for me… the first two times. But the challenge of Aikido arrives when you are thrown across the mat again, and again, and again, each time rolling and rising to your feet in the same motion. You repeat this pattern (throw, roll, return) for what feels like an eternity to the lungs, and no time at all to the spirit. I remember sucking in breaths like a fish on hook, being cast across the room, and running right back for more: irrationally exhilarated to do it again.
I once commented to a friend that the heartening feeling I got from doing Aikido was less in the feeling of martial skill, and more in the philosophical reminder to keep getting up. We all know this intellectually: When you fall off the horse…[blah, blah, blah]. But to actually practice it is a different matter. I like to think that my years of training permanently programmed a few skills in my body and psyche. When you do something three times a week (or more) for years on end, the body/sprit just knows what to do, and we are right in trusting it to remember. But the most important skill I’ve retained is knowing –without question – that when someone (or something) twice my size throws me down (as quickly as I hit the ground) I will get up.
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.” – Confucius