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Conversation with Tacoma Aikikai Community Member, Claire

Mar 1, 2021

How long have you been a member of the dojo, and how long have you been training in Aikido?

Claire: This dojo is my beginning with Aikido, and I came to it in September of 2019 for the fall Beginner Series. That was my first ever exposure to Aikido. I’ve been mostly consistently at the dojo since then, except for a hiatus that happened during COVID.

How has your training been impacted by the pandemic? What changed for you?

Claire: I was so new to the training and had never really had a similar practice in my life that required this type of commitment. That was one of the reasons why I started training – because I wanted to have something that was routine and benefitted me, and something like an
obligation that was good for me to stick to. I’ve been in choirs before, but that was never more than once a week, so to have the goal of having practice three times a week was already a hurdle for me to adjust to. Then I found that the space of the dojo was really motivating
for me, having somewhere where I could go that was dedicated space. The dojo incited certain feelings about training.

When that option was removed, I was hesitant to continue training, and, because I was so new to Aikido in general, I was self-conscious, too. I was nervous to train over Zoom and be filmed in my tiny apartment trying to make space. Everything felt like a source of anxiety of being exposed. I’m not good at being new and vulnerable to learning things. It stresses me out. So having been new and then having the realization that going to a park or being on Zoom would make me feel even more vulnerable than if I was training in the dojo, where, in my mind, training is supposed to happen was hard to wrap my head around, so I stopped training for about three months.

I started doing the private sessions as soon as the dojo opened. I pretty much trained any time the dojo has been accessible. I did a few park classes, but for some reason I found it difficult. I think especially because I’m interested in working on my ukemi, and I think that aspect
of training was taken away or just less of a focus in the park because you can’t roll around too much in the grass in the same way. Also, going to the park and thinking, “Alright, we’re going to do weapons” was a shock and a difficult adjustment. I realize now that all that footwork is really helpful, and I look differently on weapons training now. But I’m someone who struggles with anxiety and feeling unprepared for things, so it was hard for me for a while. I’ve only been consistently training when I’ve been able to go physically to the dojo.

What made you interested in Aikido?

Claire: I was watching a show called A Man in the High Castle. It’s on Amazon Prime, and it’s actually a fantastic show. It’s written by Philip K. Dick, and it’s an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II, and the country is split into the Pacific Japanese states and Nazi-ville. It’s incredibly dark and well-written. One of the main characters lives in the Pacific Japanese states, and she studied Aikido. It shows her in the dojo, and she talks about philosophies that she learned from studying Aikido. It was applicable to many situations, whether they were confrontational or not.

There is this scene where she is sitting on this bridge and some guy comes at her and she barely moves but just redirects his energy, and he flies off the bridge. It was her gut reaction. She’s mortified because she just killed this guy, but she just got off his line, and he threw
himself over the bridge. It was crazy to watch, and it really compelled me. I didn’t know much about Aikido before actually watching that show, and it seemed unique how it was more than just a fighting style – that it’s very much a philosophy and kind of a mindfulness and a way of viewing things. I felt like the show illustrated that really well. It was something that the character held onto throughout all of her experiences, and she used it to make decisions and to defend herself on several occasions. So that got me thinking, “wow, that’s cool – female empowerment and female martial arts representation in the media.”

Then, I started thinking about how I don’t have any self-defense skills. My husband is a big, strong guy and can easily defend himself. He worries about me being able to defend myself if someone attacks me, so he started putting a worm in my ear that “you should learn
self-defense. You should know how you’re going to respond if things happen.” So, the idea of self-defense came at the same time of seeing this cool representation of Aikido. Then I was in Valhalla Coffee and there was a poster for our dojo for the Beginner’s Series. I went, and I was totally hooked.

What keeps you engaged in training even when it’s hard, like it’s been during the pandemic?

Claire: One of the things that’s cool is I can tell that I’m learning things. I can feel the progress physically in my body. Our teachers are really great, too. I feel like the dojo is such a welcoming and open community. As I mentioned, I’m a vulnerable student. I’m very uncomfortable
not knowing things and struggling to learn things and going through that awkward part where you’re trying to figure something out, and you don’t quite have it yet. I’m not a courageous student. I’m kind of timid in that way, but they’re super patient. And then, when I get something right, there’s really good positive feedback. I’ve had conversations occasionally with Ea where I say, “I’m sorry, I’m a difficult student.” And
she’s like, “you’re fine.” They’re just so sweet. So I feel like that’s been a big part of it. And also, I don’t want this to be one of those things that I don’t finish. I don’t want to give up on it. I need something physical in my life, and I feel like I need to challenge myself kinesthetically
because it’s an area for me that I haven’t delved into much. I feel like I’m not super coordinated. I’m not super connected with my body in that way, and I would love to strengthen that area of my life. I would love to be able to have something that I can be proud to say I’m diligent about and that I continue to do. I get that sense of accomplishment striving for those personal goals. That keeps me engaged.

It’s also pretty fun when I go home and try out one of the techniques, and I actually take my husband down for a second. He’s like, “oh, man, you totally got to me.” He’s always so surprised because he’s 6’2’’ and he’s 200 lbs., with a built frame. He’s a tall, fit guy. And for me, I’m 5’2’’ and kind of stocky, not actually very fit or muscular at all. For me to be able to say “hey, can I try this out on you?” and have him be totally taken out by a technique, I’m like, “wow, this actually works. I’ve learned something and I can take my husband to the floor.” So, that’s
pretty cool.

What advice would you give a new Aikido student?

Claire: Just keep at it. Don’t be a vulnerable, timid student like me. Just keep trying. You’re in a great community. You’ll have support. The people that are in the dojo with you that are more experienced than you, they want to help you learn, too. That was another thing that
stressed me out when I first started. I thought more experienced students wouldn’t want to do techniques with me because they’re going to think, “I want to practice my own stuff and not have to deal with a new person.” But everyone’s super committed to the whole group learning together. And so I would remind a new student of that and say “don’t be afraid to work with a person who is more experienced. It’s kind of interesting for them, because when you don’t know what’s going on, you’re an unsuspecting subject to their technique.

It’s helpful for them, and they’ll help you. They’ll walk you through it. People are really kind to each other.. So, you know, everyone has to be new at some point.” I wouldn’t want any new student to view themselves as being cumbersome in the dojo because that’s kind of how I viewed myself. I would want any other new student to go in there and just keep at it and trust that they will make progress if they give it their best.

I haven’t experienced a culture like this before, because when I was a kid, I did ballet, and ballet has one of the most toxic cultures in terms of anything that you would learn in a group setting. That was the only other kind of kinesthetic learning setting that I’d been in. Everybody
just wants to be better and skinnier than each other.

It’s really, really unhealthy and unfortunate. It’s not that I expected Aikido to be like that, but I just had nothing else to compare it to. So, I was nervous because I always felt horrible about myself when I did ballet, and I didn’t get something right. That’s just not something you want to be a part of.

If you had to describe your experience of Aikido in three words, what would they be?

Mindful, fluid, growing

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