Yesterday, I had a very illuminating class.
Wednesdays at the dojo are often hit-or-miss. While our new club has seen remarkable growth over the past couple of months, most students have already cleared their schedules for a Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday training program. Consequently, our Mondays and Wednesdays tend to range in class size; sometimes one students, sometimes a half-dozen or so. I’m finding that I enjoy some of these smaller class sizes–they make a nice change from a crowded mat and give me an opportunity to really learn about why a particular student is studying aikido in the first place. And, of course, when there are only a few students on the mat, I get to practice more, which is an added bonus.
This past Wednesday, I had one student step onto the mat. A white belt getting ready for his first test, we started to work on several techniques and concepts. It was a good workout for both of us, but what really made the evening worthwhile was after we had adjourned for the evening. You see, this student is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, and I had asked him about what his career was like. At first he told me a bit about the overall mechanics behind going under way and what life was like on the boat. Then, as he talked, he started bringing up images that had really struck him in his career:
- Being one of the few visitor’s of Scott’s Hut in Antarctica. Built in 1911, it is was designed to store supplies for expeditions into Antarctica. The air is so dry, and the temperatures so cold, that the hut has been nearly perfectly preserved for nearly 100 years.
- Standing on his ship as it moved at high speed, looking at the rooster tail in the water glow blue from the bioluminesence in the water.
- Looking up at the sky and seeing billions of stars, as opposed to the scant few we can see in the city.
As he talked, a calmness and joy seemed to settle on him. I could tell he felt honored to have experienced these things, that he relished going out to sea, that he couldn’t wait to return. It made me realize that, for him, these experiences brought about exactly what Sensei Maruyama speaks of so often: one’s best possible feeling. As our conversation came back to aikido (no room for aikido on a ship, it seems!) I mentioned this to him. “When you’re on the mat, train your body to understand how to move; but train your mind to bring back the same feeling you have when you think about your experiences at sea.”
I have not had many experiences where I could so clearly see someone else’s enjoyment of their life; I’m writing about it now on the chance that it prompts anyone else to think about when they have experienced the same level of satisfaction, of oneness, with the world around them. If we strive to capture this idea for ourselves, and learn to apply it to our physical movements, great things will happen.
I don’t normal ask non-rhetorical questions here, but this experience yesterday made me curious as to what state of mind others try to cultivate when they are on the mat. What memories or images do you envision when you attempt to achieve your own best feeling?