Posted on by Arran Fisher
(I wrote this some time ago, but thought it still has relevance to our practice today, and provides a little insight into a previous era of Calgary Aikikai. It was originally published January 2008 on the indie music site www.thickspecs.com. The photo above is from 2009, I believe)
About twice a week I make the trek to a warehouse in the industrial southeast of Calgary, walk around the back, weave my way past 18-wheelers and commercial debris and go up the blue metal staircase to one of my favourite places. This might sound like many a band’s rehearsal space, but in this case I’m talking about my dojo, the place where I’ve practiced the martial art of Aikido for the past 12 years.
Upon opening the door, I’m greeted with a hearty “Konichiwa” from the other students, like I’ve entered a sushi restaurant. I bow to the photograph of Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, and immediately I’m transported into another world. My mind is cleared of the stresses of normal city life, and I’m immersed in an atmosphere of camaraderie and scholarship, all couched in Japanese tradition and etiquette
Aikido is different from what most people think of martial arts. It’s not about fighting; it’s about cultivating a frame of mind. Sure, students learn all kinds of crazy ways to throw an attacker around, dislocate their elbow, or even cause some serious harm, but to focus on this element would be like saying that the only good thing about the ocean is that it floats boats. You’d miss the bigger picture. In Aikido, learning self-defense is seen as a way to become a better person.
The training is completely non-competitive and only with the attitude of defense from an attack. There’s never a winner or loser and nobody is so skilled that they can’t learn from even the greenest beginner. At our dojo, the most important thing is that everyone has a good time and feels happy after each practice, so a positive attitude and avoidance of any injury are two of the most important elements.
I learn Aikido from Yasuhisa Inaba, 6 Dan, a man who moved to Calgary from Yokohama in 1980 and has been teaching in the traditional Japanese style ever since. We call him “Sensei” and greet each other with bows. The classes are conducted in English, but we use Japanese words for all the formal greetings and thank yous, as well as for names for all the techniques. Before and after each practice, we clean the mat with a mop and bleach, not just for sanitation, but as an act of purification. Traditional beliefs run deep.
The dojo is not just a place where you go to learn, such as a college classroom, and definitely not like a gym, where all that’s expected of you is to pay your membership. At the dojo you actually practice to become more aware of your surroundings and the people with whom you interact. You learn how to listen and be quiet, and how to teach others things you may have picked up. At the end of every practice I feel both energized by the experience and humbled by how much there is to know about this endlessly complex and rewarding pursuit.