My story (and what to expect here at AikiLiving)
Hey there. Jonas Ellison here. Welcome to Aiki Living.
I can rightfully say that I’ve been a lifelong student of the irreverent Japanese martial art of Aikido. Although I’ve physically trained in the art for a relatively short time (I currently hold the rank of Shodan – 1st degree black belt), I’ve been reading about the art since I was a kid. My dad had a brief stint training in Aikido back in the 70’s and had a few books from that time.
When I was about 10, he gave me those books, most of which were written by 10th Dan, Koichi Tohei. Tohei was one of the top students of Morihei Ueshiba- otherwise known as O’ Sensei, or “Great Teacher” – the founder of Aikido. He was one of the first people O’Sensei entrusted with introducing Aikido to the US.
I was enthralled with these books. In them were pictures of O’Sensei, this little old man who stood right around five feet tall, throwing guys across the mat who were half his age and twice his size.
Koichi Tohei wasn’t very big himself, but he trained the Honolulu Police in Aikido. And if you’ve ever been to Honolulu, you know how bad-ass that is.
In the book were pictures of him with these HUGE Hawaiian guys in crazy wrist locks – while he smiled at the camera, totally relaxed.
In his books, Tohei Sensei instructed how to use this mysterious force of ki in your daily life. There were breathing meditation illustrations, instructions on how to sit in seiza and find your physical center – which is all-important in the actual practice of Aikido – and how to apply these basic principles in your daily life.
The books illustrated ki principles as being applicable in endless ways to daily life – whether it be while driving in traffic, talking with people, playing golf, eating, sleeping, etc.
I found all of this amazing and applied it as much as I could to mine (okay, I was a weird 10 year old). I would have loved to train in Aikido, but my family couldn’t afford it.
Seeing the Opening
Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a place where I was making decent money and had found, what looked to be, a great Aikido dojo. I thought I’d check it out…
As soon as I walked in, I knew that I’d leave that day a full-fledged member. I walked in, took off my shoes, walked across the mat, and Sensei Salvatore, who was teaching class at the time, walked right up to me, shook my hand, and said “Hey, welcome to the dojo, I’m Vince.”
I was shocked at the non-existence of pretension and ego in the head instructor. I’d been in a couple dojos before and had been immediately turned off to the testosterone-driven, insecure, macho vibe of them.
This place was immaculately clean with wood rafters that were exposed. The light coming through the windows shed a refreshing glow over the whole dojo.
As I sat down, the guy I’d talked to when I called earlier that day came over right away and introduced himself as Joe. Joe was an Uchi Deschi, which means he was a live-in student who committed much of his life to immersing himself in the art. This was all so interesting to me!
For two years before this, I was a gym-goer. I worked out and lifted weights four or five days a week, sometimes twice a day. That all was swept away by this new world I had just stepped into.
Joe sat there and watched class with me. We watched Vince Sensei call numerous students up to perform techniques with them. Students with black hakama (Japanese pleated baggy pants which, in this dojo, were worn by higher ranked students), were thrown faster than those without the hakama, and it was cool to see the head instructor customize the technique with the student he’d called up.
I could tell the students enjoyed their training. I didn’t see anyone pulling rank. Hakama-wearing students trained with non-Hakama wearing students and assisted in helping them grow.
I was in. For my first four years, I trained 4-5 days a week for 2-3 hours per night.
The art changed my life almost immediately. I began seeing things and thinking of things differently.
My physical movements became more balanced and relaxed.
A centered presence began to develop in my attitude and changed my interactions with others.
What’s great is as I trained for a while longer, I’d see people come in the dojo and sign up. As I watched them over the months, I noticed the same changes in them as well. In the summer of 2009, I was awarded rank of Black Belt and knew that my training had just begun.
I created this blog to chronicle my meditations about the art and how it applies to life off the mat. After all, the mat is just a laboratory where we experiment with ki in a controlled environment of staged conflict. It’s what we do with it off the mat that counts.
I hope you enjoy it here. Just so you stay tuned, please consider subscribing. It’s free, and it sure beats a lot of the other stuff coming into your email inbox.