by Laura Livingston
It was the summer months that lured me into waking up at 5:00 am. The traffic outside the window of my old apartment was limited. The silence combined with the intense commitment of the daylight coming forward, creating and altering shadows, seemed to be a time that existed outside of a clock. The Covid-19 pandemic and the year 2020 spurred many memes about time, as we existed alongside an illness that could at the best temporarily separate us from our friends and family, and at its unforgivable worst sever us from them.
Building my quarantine bubble, I found my early morning hours that had always existed outside of a clock became a way to recognize time. I started to place moments of Aikido into that space of the day where it is truly silent. Now, I rise in the morning, eat breakfast, and pick up a bokken or jo. I must be quiet in practice as the other people in my household are still asleep. I started virtual training at the beginning of the pandemic, grateful for Ea and Eric Senseis for believing in adapting Tacoma Aikikai to the world of the internet and spaces of cleared floors wherever they could be found at home.
For the first few months, virtual training was a commitment to weekend mornings, and I rearranged furniture and storage boxes to create my rectangle of a home dojo. At the beginning of 2020, I had actually written down “learn Aikido weapons” as a New Year’s resolution. It merely took a statewide lock-down for me to follow through on that commitment. Mimicking the movements of others does not come naturally to me, and my approach to Aikido is the same approach that I used to bring to swing and contra dancing: patient persuasion of my four limbs and one brain that they are part of one body. While learning the eight-count suburi, I may have started out spinning in circles and rusty, mechanical arcs as I tried to figure out the pattern that would keep the movement going through all eight counts.
Watching the virtual dojo videos, I could break down movements into the tiniest of steps. Slowing and pausing the videos, I watched the movements one hand and one foot at a time. Virtual training and a pandemic are no substitute for in-person practice, but I began to approach training from home as a work in finding opportunities to practice in sustained little moments. I started with practicing footwork while the morning tea water was boiling. This movement back and forth across the kitchen floor soon seemed like too few breaths in a day, and I was eager to sneak in a few more breaths of daily Aikido.
I have been working from home during the enduring presence of Covid-19, and I realized that the time that I once spent in a short commute could be spent with a bokken or jo in my hands. I started out with practicing the 8-count suburi, focused on how the seemingly idle motion of cutting down could be altered by alignments of the creaky hinges of elbows and wrists. Recently, I have tried to sift out movements and moments remembered from in-person training in the park.
While the people in my quarantine pod are dedicated to walking, running, and kayaking, Aikido is the practice that I do independently of them. Solo practice means that my mind must be split to effectively sift out moments from class: in my own feet and in the feet of my imaginary practice partner. If mimicking the movements of others does not come naturally to me, imagining the locations of another person’s hands, feet, and weapon while moving my own hands, feet, and weapon may be an exercise in futility. However, I’m convinced that this imagination of another person and my own response is fundamental to my practice of Aikido, whether in-person or virtual. So I continue to rise, make the morning tea, and in the lightening dark hours of the day, despite all protestations of my limbs that they are separate entities, weave my mind, hands, and feet into one body through the motions of Aikido.