I was the daughter of an Aikido student, and he was the son of
my fathers teacher. In those days the two of us hung around
the practice studio, seeing the power of Aikido and wanting it,
neither of us really ready to commit to its study. That day we
were pushing at each other, turning the energy of puberty into
jesting insults, neither relenting. Then he called me just
a girl. But I was a warrior daughter, and I knew no warrior
could ever be thought of as just a girl.
In my thirteen-year-old mind what I did next was an act of Aikido.
(I was of course defending myself.) I understood that the world
gave you two choices: to let others take advantage, backing down
in the face of their threats, or to stand up proud and unafraid,
defending yourself. I wouldnt be pushed around by a puberty-stricken
boy. So I slapped him. Hard. And I felt proud of myself, and smiled
when I saw the redness on his face.
That was many years ago. I dont tiptoe around Aikido anymore.
I simply practice it. On Aikido mornings I rise before the sun
and dress in the familiar white gee of karate movies, and the
less familiar hakama (long blue culotte pants), and join my Aikido
partners on the mat. I come to the mat combat-ready, attacking
my partners and finding each attack turned against me, my energy
to harm taken to the floor. In turn, I face the fists and blades
of my partners attack and take them safely to the ground.
I do this to learn the way of peace.
So what is Aikido? In the most simple terms it is a purely defensive
martial art born from the teachings of Morihei Uisheba. Uisheba
understood that it is in war that we understand and seek peace.
It is no coincidence that Aikido came from Japan, a warrior nation
that brought the world both Zen meditation and Kamikaze suicide
pilots. Aikido is the daughter of kendo, the Japanese art of sword
practice, and she has never rejected her warring mother. However,
unlike her more aggressive sisters (karate, judo, and jujitsu),
Aikido is completely defensive. We direct an attackers energy
away from the attack and to the floor. There is no against,
no push or pull; we simply join with the
attack and redirect its energy.
For those who practice it, Aikido is way toward peace in our
daily lives. Through practice I know now that I dont have
to lie down when faced with an attack, but I also know now that
I dont have to be aggressive. I can defend myself without
hurting others. This is the way of peace for a warrior. This is
the third option I never considered that day years ago. It is
the way of Aikido
My Aikido practice is a constant internal battle for me, a war
against my desire to use my strength, height, and weight against
my partner, to force my way forward. I am neither a small nor
a large woman. I know that I can push my way to success at least
half the time. But odds like that only work on the mat. In the
world, conflict most often comes from those who believe me an
Two years ago, just as I was beginning to return to Aikido, I
had a job working at a summer camp. It was a good job: I was the
director for the entire staff and the 60 kids who attended each
session. Toward the end of the summer I supervised a camping overnight
for the whole camp. It was a huge task, not just because of its
logistical challenges, but also because I was taking the campers
and staff out of the safety we created at the camp into the big
Shortly after I arrived at the campground with the first group
of campers, I got word that a middle-aged woman had been swearing
at some of our kids. Apparently she was angry about where the
kids were playing. I found this woman and introduced myself; she
immediately began her verbal attack. We were breaking rules, were
not being environmental campers as the campground requested. We
were too loud and out of control. I assured her that I was in
charge and would address her concerns to the best of my ability.
It wasnt good enough for her. She began to yell at me, swearing
and waving her arms, threatening to get the ranger and let
him know exactly what was going on.
I could feel her trying to make me mad. She wanted me to snap,
to confirm that I couldnt handle this situation. How
old are you anyway? I dont mean to be rude, but you seem
just too young to be in charge of so many people.
It was a good attack. I was young and it was my first time being
responsible for such a large group. But standing there in front
of her I could see the eyes of my staff and the campers on me.
I knew they trusted me, and I knew they were behind me. Once again
I was faced with a choice. I could counter her attack, yell at
her for swearing around children, making up rules that she alleged
we were breaking, and being ageist. I could point out that her
version of environmental camping involved a battery-operated TV
and two large coolers of beer. There would have been some winning,
of that I was sure, but not much peace. Instead I offered to buy
her permit and suggested another nearby campsite. I left feeling
compassion for her anger and loneliness
I think about both those days together, and know that I have
come a long way since the one day so many years ago, when I confused
my bravado with real bravery. That piece of me isnt gone;
I am still filled with fight. But now I understand it differently.
I know that I am here to be a warrior for peace: to take bold
steps into the battlefield and make my peace there.