By Richard Strozzi-Heckler
When you step into the Dojo the first thing you notice is the tremendous amount of life that is present. Even if you are just somewhat attentive you can even feel the vibrancy as you approach the entrance. It’s as if there are heat waves undulating from the building and they draw and welcome you into the fullness of their force and mystery. Inside the Dojo itself, at any given moment, there are people in heavy white cotton jackets and pants called gis and some with the black traditional Samurai hakama, which looks like a skirt tied around the waist, moving in graceful circles and spirals, narrowly missing each other, accepting each other’s force and guiding one another into a elegant fall on the padded floor.
At other times you may see someone rushing fiercely with great intent toward another in order to grab them or strike at them and at the last minute the one being attacked steps aside, turns as if coiling around a central point, takes the attacker’s intent by their hand or lapel and with seemingly little effort flips them in mid-air, landing with a bright crispness on the mat. Perhaps, you may enter at another time when everyone is sitting in a single line, completely silent, still, and it is so quiet that you can hear the far off lament of a mourning dove and even in this quiet there is the imminence of energy, as if a deep lake of power resides beneath the mat, the deep pulse of the earth. At another time students are working together on joint locks and in studious, respectful tones helping the other with the technique, as if in a library studying an ancient text, then a cheerful laugh punctuates the air in appreciation as one partner executes the move well and the partner drops to her knee in a gesture of compliance.
In this charged space of energy and connection everyone is studying how to unite their ki with a Universal ki. This requires trust and it requires rigor. There is a seriousness and there is a lightness. Everyone is here to learn and while there is discipline there is plenty of space to be a beginner and to be curious and open. It’s fun, it’s fierce, it’s loving.
The power of restraint; the choice of taking the path of least resistance; the energy, or ki, as we call it in Aikido, of healing rather than harming; moving with the energy instead of against it or running from it; is what is practiced in the Aikido Dojo. This elegance of restraint is its own exquisite energy and power, a power less practiced in our time, but one that is deeply missing in our time of uncertainty and change. To relate to our ki, or life energy, in this way is an evolutionary shift. This is more than simply having an idea or ethic about how to move with conflict, but a practice that has the possibility of changing our relationship with violence and aggression. To take on an aiki practice opens the door to being with power and energy in a healing, wise, and compassionate way.