Coming back to Aikido

by Chris Robertson

It has been 18 years since I last sat in seiza on the tatami. Even though I have changed a good deal, lived in a number of different countries, got married and had kids, Aikido is still Aikido.

That is a good thing. Since I have been in Toronto (12 years) I have been saying I want to get back to it – or so says my wife. For many reasons, though, it did not happen. I did do some research about the Aikido landscape in Toronto.

What changed? When I realized my six-year old could do with some help with self-esteem, coordination and dealing with falls, the answer was immediately on my lips; Aikido. Furthermore, I also knew where to find a dojo nearby that had a kids’ class. It took just one visit to the dojo to make me realize how much I missed Aikido and two visits for my six-year old to get hooked. Every visit for a kids’ class just reinforced to me that I wanted to return. Return I did.

Several things eased any initial concerns that I might have had. At 45+ years old, I was neither the youngest person on the mat, nor the first to return after many years away. Wearing contact lenses this time around eliminated any concerns about breaking a pair of expensive glasses. More important, since the two senior instructors, Yumi-sensei (6th degree black belt) and Jim-sensei (5th degree), have 75 years of Aikido experience between them, I knew they would be able to ease me back into practice without too much pain on anybody’s part.

What was it like to return to the tatami after 18 years? When I first sat in seiza, it was as if all the years had fallen away. My ankles told me they were still as stiff as they were 18 years ago. It was a “How could I ever have forgotten this pain” moment. Also, having Sensei continually remind me to relax was as if I had never left the dojo.

Probably the largest hurdle to get over was to accept that I was not going to be able to pick up at my previous level of Aikido, which was 5th kyu going on 4th kyu. In hindsight, I was rather naïve about this, to say the least. Jim-sensei was willing to recognize my grading certificate for 5th kyu. However, once I started to practice, I found out that my ukemi was lacking and my balance and coordination were poor. It was a bit of a letdown and a reality check.

That was not the worst of it. To top it all off, I could remember yokomenuchi kotegaeshi (whether or not I could do it properly, that is another story) – yet if you asked me to stand in ai-hanmi, you’d get a blank look. I realized that I had to start from square one and indicated this realization to Sensei.

While rather sobering to say the least, I was happier for it, because it helped me get my personal expectations under control. There is one upside. I have more patience now, so I’m less frustrated with not getting a technique right the first, second or third time.

Any regrets? I do have one regret – that I did not get back to Aikido sooner. I am getting the same pleasure, if not more, out of it 18 years on.