Light at the End of the Tunnel

Light at the End of the Tunnel

My introduction to Aikido was watching Conrad’s black belt grading. Charlotte and I were captivated and intrigued. We enrolled at our earliest opportunity.
Since that day, taking the first tentative steps on the mat, a black belt has never been a goal for me. There have always been more immediate and imposing hurdles – yellow belt, and orange belt to name just two.
While not a goal; black belt was like a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Although occasionally we were told that becoming a black belt was the beginning of training proper, in my mind it was written in stone that black belts knew everything.
As you journey up the grades it seems like you still know very little, and it is only when you really think back, or train with someone who is just beginning that progress is evident. At some point along the way it becomes apparent that the black belt light you can see at the end of the tunnel is really an approaching train, with more tunnel stretching out far beyound.
Closer,closer,closer it comes.
It is a freight train full of wagons.
Wagons containing the six pillars of Aikido.
The train draws level as you count the days leading up to your grading… Shiho nage, irimi, kaiten, kokyu, osae waza – pinning techniques, and ushiro waza all zoom by.
This is the point I have reached today, a reasonable grasp of the basic techniques.
Yet now in the distance I can see a second train… With my eyes adjusted I can see it contains the six elements of Aikido – crucial to the application of any of the techniques learned so far. With each grading the student fills out a sheet listing all the techniques he or she will be asked to demonstrate. Already printed on all the grading forms are the six elements of Aikido. The grading panel look for relaxation, rhythm, timing, speed, balance and breathing.
This is where the tunnel starts to stretch out again.
Even the simplest of Aikido moves is of limited value without the elements coming into play… in my first class I got to practice Ikkyo – number one technique, and have done so many, many times since. In a recent lesson we were asked to forget the mechanics of Ikkyo and instead concentrate on just the relaxation, rhythm, and timing. We began by walking around the mat, waving our arms to and fro in time with our walk to get the feeling of the movement. When we then practised the Ikkyo the result was like a revelation – “less is more” we were promised, and less is more proved to be true.
There is a long way to go and many more revelatory moments before the train of elements passes by. And who knows what lies beyond in the tunnel ahead. It doesn’t matter, I have a light to head toward in the meantime, a goal, a direction, and some valuable lessons to learn which will help me off the mat as much as on it.
Ross Shipman December 2007