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Doing Things Differently: The Pandemic Challenge to Aikido Practice

Jan 1, 2021

by Charlie Emlet

Most of us, if we have practiced a martial art long enough, have faced times when we could not train as normal. Maybe a training related injury or work/family obligations thwarted our training routine. These situations usually last days or perhawps weeks. Few (if any)
of us have faced the challenge of maintaining training in the middle of a worldwide, contagious and deadly pandemic. For me, a knee injury that occurred just prior to the initial onset of the pandemic added some further restrictions. I would like to share with you a few of my humble attempts at maintaining some semblance of Aikido practice in the COVID world we live in.

Adjust your attitude. We all get stuck in our familiar patterns as they provide comfort in some respect. This current situation offers us the opportunity to practice Shoshin or having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions. For me, it means redefining
what training is and how it looks. What daily, normal activities can take on the essence of practice? For example, doing the dishes at night (I don’t own a dishwasher) becomes a practice in mindfulness. Awareness of the water, temperature, texture of the dish you are washing. Your attitude toward food that is really stuck to the plate. Now for me, dishes = practice. Throwing the “chuckit” for my Goldendoodle becomes an opportunity to practice shomen strikes as you might with a bokken or iaito. Practicing Shoshin creates a chance to be open to new ways of thinking or relating to other people and experiences.

Redefine training. In what ways can we “train” or practice our art in this COVID context? Can we create openness for new or past practices we can re-engage in? As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, we can practice being present in every moment of our lives. During the pandemic,
I renewed my intent to engage in sitting meditation practice on a daily basis. Zazen has a historic place in martial art practice and Chiba Sensei said that through Zazen we “can come to see the true-self and the quintessence of existing things.” So for now, daily sitting has again become part of my training routine. The mat became my zafu.

Engage in what is possible. Each of us, within the context of COVID, work and family life responsibilities, have to figure out where and how Aikido practice can fit. For me with the added limitations of a knee injury, I have focused primarily on Iaido practice, sitting meditation
and mindfulness. Classes in the park, (the dojo when allowed) and Zoom classes have all served to keep me engaged physically, mentally and spiritually in “the practice”. There are opportunities to practice aiki weapons, distanced training. Opportunities exist to keep training.

Aikido practice teaches us to reject rigidity and learn to lean into what occurs, to flow – to blend. This time in history is one of those ultimate tests of how Aikido lives within us. As my dear friend, a Shihan in Shorin Okinawan Karate, says, “accumulate practice daily”.

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