Written as part of my Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) aikido test.

I was born a person with a very particular sense of self. I have what you might call an all-or-nothing disposition; I’m intense and don’t tend to dabble in activities or relationships. For the most part, I have pursued only what I have been intrinsically passionate about, and as I have gotten older, this tendency has only solidified. Thus, while my practice of aikido has shaped me, I would have never begun it if I hadn’t sensed that it had a place in my life. The caveat is that my conception of aikido and how it fits into my life has, as might be expected, changed and evolved since I took my first ukemi, as I suspect, it will continue to do so. This reflection probably cuts to the essence of the question, “what does my practice of Kokikai Aikido mean to me?”

One of the main qualities I receive from my practice of Kokikai is a dynamic constancy. In the seven years since I begun my practice, I have been through serious tribulations in my life, and experienced great loss, as well as love, new beginnings, and a continual reevaluation of self. Yet, through all this, my practice has always been there, growing with me. In a job several years back, I once mentioned to my boss at the time that I was not available past a certain hour, as I had an aikido class to attend.

“Oh, that’s nice,” she mentioned, prosaically.

I suspect that to her, an evening class (of any kind) was probably a casual hobby that was of middling importance compared to work; but I knew instantly, ironically, that this job would probably pass but my practice would remain, and I was right.

A new friend recently commented with surprise when I first mentioned to her that I had been practicing aikido for several years.

“Isn’t that kind of a big deal?” she asked.

“Well, yes,” I said, “but I don’t think about it like that, after all this time.”

Put another way, the Zen monk, Shunryu Suzuki, whose words have inspired me since I was 19 years old, once said,

Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment…if you continue this simple practice every day you will obtain a wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you obtain it, it is nothing special. It is just you yourself, nothing special.

That’s somewhat what aikido is to me. It feels very special, yet is also mundane, as it is such an essential and regular part of my life, like eating, or music. What I have achieved now would seem impressive to myself several years ago; still, I look out to the horizon and feel small. Whenever I think I have reached a peak, higher mountains appear in the distance. Never-ending growth is a central tenet I have seen all true artists—martial and otherwise–embody, and is one that defines much of my purpose in life. To me, Kokikai Aikido is very much in line with this philosophy. Although I cannot say when or if I will ever fully internalize the four basic principles of Kokikai–Positive Mind, Keep One Point, Correct Posture, Relax Progressively—I do think they have become increasingly ingrained in me, and expressed through me in their own particular way.

As to what Kokikai means to me, it’s rather a difficult question to answer, especially in an essay as short as two pages, but it might concisely be expressed as: Me, but with a more positive mind, more centered, better posture, and more relaxed than I’d probably be if I had not been practicing these past seven years. There are many positive effects throughout my life that spring from these foundations, expressed in a myriad of ways. It would take many more pages to give an accurate account of them, but at their root, I believe they help my actions to be expressed with greater efficacy and efficiency, and perhaps, more beautifully, and this is also part of the answer. The whole of life is an art, and aikido is a path that lets me experience it with more joy, strength, and clarity. I plan to always walk it, deeper and deeper.