(This post was written by a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)
“Eliminate the desire to throw and replace it with gratitude.”
I recently attended a seminar at Aikido of Santa Cruz taught by Motomichi Anno Sensei. Anno Sensei was a direct student of O-Sensei and has been training for sixty years.
Over the course of the seminar, he repeatedly told us that Aikido was not about throwing your partner, but about expressing gratitude. He asked us to express gratitude as we trained. I did not fully understand what he meant, but endeavored to do what he asked, and trusted that the experience would perhaps provide me with a glimmer.
When Anno Sensei demonstrated practicing with gratitude, I saw an open being, full of love and devoted to harmony, and connected, not just to his uke, but to all of us. I could see in his movement the expression of a loving universe. I realized that this was not just how I wanted to practice, but how I wanted to live.
The first thing I noticed was that when I bowed to a fellow Aikidoka on the mat, respectfully asking them if they would train with me, I saw my partner as a human being. I noticed their smile, the light in their eyes, their openness, and their beauty. I noticed their intention of good will; I realized that this was someone I wanted to train with, that a connection with them would enrich my life and provide spiritual sustenance. Then began the physical practice, when one of us approached or attacked. The attack was a hand grab, called “katatadori,” moving into a breath throw, or “kokyunage.” I grabbed first, and noticed that my intention did not match up with the word “attack.” Rather than attempt to overcome my partner, I grabbed with the desire to connect with him. I grabbed to show my gratitude that he would practice with me, that he would share his spirit generously and unreservedly in the few moments we had together.
Then it was my turn to throw, to be “nage.” I felt no desire to overcome my partner or even to throw him; only a desire to be open, to help him, and to take care of him as he connected to me with his grab.
There is much that I have to be grateful for, including the privilege and honor of living in this world, among human beings who are striving to be the best they can be in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds. I am grateful to O-Sensei for giving us the Art of Peace, and the tools to create a more harmonious world. I am grateful to Anno Sensei for so generously passing on the teachings of O-Sensei and being a beacon of light for us. I am grateful for my own Sensei, Aaron Ward, for his dedication to our dojo, and for choosing to take personal responsibility for the development of each individual who steps on the mat. Perhaps most of all, I am grateful to the members of my dojo for practicing with such joy and generosity, and for inspiring me to be the best person that I can be, every day. May this gratitude find expression in my practice.