October 10, 2005

Best Black Dress

So now I can wear a dress in public.

Last Saturday I passed my shodan test in aikido. It feels remarkably unreal. It's admittedly rare for someone to fail a black belt test in our system -- our senseis don't approve you for testing unless they're confident you'll pass -- but I have seen it happen. I was partially convinced that I was going to blow it as well, particularly because the test was coming up in the middle of some nasty crunchtime at work.

But the test went well. Hardly perfectly -- in retrospect it's kind of amusing how I managed to fill the gym with gasps by almost getting myself run through with a wooden sword. But I felt strangely confident during the test. I felt like I belonged out there. Completely unexpected. Completely right.

I'm taking a night off from aikido tonight. I haven't had nearly enough time with my son while I've been pushing to be ready for the testing. But when I go to class Wednesday night, I'll be wearing a black belt and the long pleated hakama pants that look like a flowing skirt. And my fellow students who were calling me "Chip san" will now be calling me "sensei."

For a change, everything feels different. Everything feels better.

September 11, 2005


There's something in my future -- a month from now, if I can pull myself together. An opportunity to test myself, to try to achieve something that seemed physically unthinkable more than ten years ago.

I'm out of shape. I need to get in shape.

I'm distracted and stressed. I need to find focus and calm.

I'm afraid, a little bit. I need to get over it.

And I need to -- want to -- do it within the next four weeks, so that my sensei will perceive that I am ready to earn my black belt in aikido.

Yesterday morning I grabbed Shannon's iPod and ran for the first time in months. Today my ankles feel like they are immobilized with steel pins, and I'm walking like a toddler.

It's going to be a tough four weeks.

May 29, 2004

Prophetic Blogging

Remember that last mention of the emergency room?

We spent six hours there last night with our buddy Jim, who had a large uke roll onto, and break, his left fibula.

More later....

May 28, 2004

What am I doing???

I woke up this morning surrounded by green, in Charleston, WV, for an aikido Instructors' Seminar. Foggy, damp, somewhat unearthly when compared to the dry weather I've been accustomed to in Durham. While thunderstorms pounded on the roof of our humid but functional Knights' Inn, flood waters rose in other parts of Kanawha County, washing out roads and rendering people homeless. While I slept, oblivious.

Aikido has continued to be a moving target on my weekly schedule, thanks to continued late days at work and a child with whom I want to spend as much time as I can. As I'm trying to buckle down and finally get a disciplined workout routine in place, I'm discovering that my endurance and conditioning are shot. And now here I am, with six hours of workout today, six tomorrow, and three Sunday.

This has all the makings of a "Scared Straight" experience. Or a trip to the emergency room....

August 18, 2003

On the Mat

Finally, I made it to a regular class. My dojo has moved to the other side of Durham, and classes start 30 minutes earlier than they used, meaning that my attendance has been sporadic at best. When I did make it, it was for advanced class, which had me gasping like a graceless fish halfway through.

We talk a lot about shugyo in aikido: "hard training leading to enlightenment." (One of my favorite black belts once limped off the mat saying, "Shugyo's just another Japanese word for 'stupid.'" But he always came back for more.) Aikido's profoundly important to me -- but so's keeping up with work and, oh yeah, spending time with my kid before he goes off to kindergarten. So my priorities have been in the right place. All the same, this void of hard training has left me feeling distinctly unenlightened. Forget the long-delayed progress toward my black belt -- I need aikido in my life. It's the one place where I've been able to develop something resembling physical grace and, most importantly, peace of mind.

When I started aikido about ten years ago, I was That Guy. The one who was always too tense, too awkward, caught in alien territory. The aformentioned black belt once e-mailed me after a test to congratulate me and confess that he'd pegged me early on as one who wouldn't be able to hang in there. He predicted that I'd be wearing a hakama one day.

I'm so close I can feel it. It will happen. Soon. But strangely, I'm not in a hurry for it to happen, despite all the time I've lost. Right now, there's nothing more important than finding the extra time -- carving it out while maintaining all my other responsibilities -- to find the rhythm of the mat again.