I’ve been toying with the idea of taking up Aikido for some time so after a recent conversation with a friend who’s an Aikido black belt, I bit the bullet and signed up for a semester.
Initially what impresses me most is the philosophy; ‘Ai Ki Do’ translates roughly to ‘The way of harmonizing vital energy, life force, or spirit’. It has numerous interpretations but they’re all seemingly peaceful as Aikido is designed to neutralize and dissipate any aggressive act aimed at one’s person; all the while remaining focused and centered while emitting loving ‘vibes’.
Anyway, that’s what I learned in my very first lesson last night; along with how to repeatedly fall backwards and roll right up again while escaping a fierce arm grab, rendering the attacker both harmless and unharmed. Not bad for a first go and it would have come in very handy during marriage # 1. My right leg was a bit sore this morning from all the kneeling and the bouncing back from being knocked down but otherwise I’m unscathed.
I came to this because I like to try new things every now and then – it helps to keep my mind open and prevents my existence from becoming too much of a routine. For instance, I took up skiing late in life followed by yoga for which I was very grateful last night after the umpteenth fall, roll and rebound. I know I keep mentioning this but I was convinced I’d end up in a neck brace so I’m thankful to be suffering from little more than a sore leg muscle.
On the other hand, getting my open water SCUBA certification was something else. Having a lifelong fear of deep water and confined spaces but determined to overcome this (the water part), I was horrified to learn that my certification was to take place in an underground hot spring in Utah. That sounds quite relaxing doesn’t it? Well it wasn’t. Imagine climbing into a largish hole in the side of a small hill then along a damp, cramped, rocky passageway that opens up into a massive, gloomy underground cavern containing nothing but a lake full of hot cloudy water with just a rudimentary wooden platform to sit on. From the murky depths there filtered what seemed to be a 20 watt light which barely illuminated a flimsy plastic contraption, 15 feet below. This was kept in place by a couple of buoys bobbing on the surface. I was told that this ‘lake’ is 60 feet deep; however we were just going to dive to the plastic thing and perform maneuvers. The sides were vertical, clay-like and slimy so the only way in or out was via the wooden platform that had seen better days.
Apparently the murkiness of the water was due to panicky people like me desperately trying to grab hold of something, anything – and bouncing into the side walls which released mineral deposits into the hot water. My only comfort was the knowledge that no predator could possibly live down there due to the extreme temperature because frankly, SCUBA certified or not, I’ll never dive in murky water where I can’t see the bottom – and this hot hole was fodder for a recurring nightmare.
There were eight of us in the class and we were required to sit on a slick ledge at a depth of 25 feet and take it in turns to rip off our masks, partially drown while our eyeballs were scoured (so it seemed), then put our masks back on and clear them of water. It was about 98F degrees down there and dark, so after 15 minutes of waiting for my turn and even with my heart hammering in my throat, I unexpectedly nodded off.
Despite this and a few obligatory exercises that I was forced to repeat as I’d rushed them, my breathing was apparently so slow and controlled that I emerged not only fully certified but with almost a tank full of air (thank you yoga, once more). This was considered praiseworthy but on the basis that we’re supposed to dive in pairs and must surface together when one of us runs out of air, I can’t see what good it does me except that I won’t be the party pooper. The minerals in the water left me with bloodshot eyes for days.
I did a reef dive shortly after this horror and it was absolutely worth it, so I guess the point is that sometimes we have to push ourselves through something unpleasant in order to reap the reward.
Back to Aikido – by comparison and even after just one lesson, it’s enjoyable and I particularly like the structure, tradition and routine. Despite the fact that the three black belts in the class were attired like Samurai and looked like they could disembowel me with a chopstick, they were extremely gracious and patient and I’m really looking forward to my next lesson tomorrow.
I’ll let you know if I make it.