Monday I am sitting on a stool leaning forward, thinking to myself, "There's no way I can learn to do this."
And then: "Wow, I could get hurt doing this."
Amending: "Seriously hurt!"
And finally: "I have got to learn this."
Which is how I end up back in the dojo two days later, prepared for... what, I know not. What exactly is a beginning aikido lesson? When the sensei hands me a broom and sends me onto the mat to sweep along with three other people, I think: "Yes, this is what I expect. Basic beginner courtesy stuff. I get to do the cleaning and the watching of more experienced people, and perhaps I'll try my hand at some simple things."
But then the brooms are put away, the bowing is done, and I am catapulted into a topsy-turvy world. I spend twenty minutes rolling, continually surprised at how difficult it is. Your body definitively wants to stay upright; forcing it to roll end over end requires breaking through a mental barrier I didn't even know existed until I found myself kneeling and thinking, "I'm supposed to roll over" while my body did... nothing. And again: nothing. Four tries it took me to convince my body to actually roll legs over head.
This was precisely the mental static I wanted to conquer when I watched the first lesson. I don't have time to be pleased because from rolling I am sent to the corner of the mat with a wooden stick, where I proceed to do over an hour of sword drills.
And again, that mental barrier: fencing has taught me a very rigid way to interact with swords. Eastern sword is nothing like it and yet very much the same, so that I keep having to correct for it. The first time I'm told to step off the line diagonally, my brain explodes. "Just like in movies," I think to myself. "You're not on a strip, you're in Samurai Champloo. Go."
So for over an hour I hack at another woman's head or her wooden sword, until I am dripping with sweat and my hands ache from holding what turns out to be a surprisingly heavy stick. I thought a two-handed grip would make it easier to go for longer, but I was wrong about that... it just makes both my arms ache.
And then we go from that to manhandling one another onto the ground, "to get a good shoulder stretch," the sensei says, and I can't tell if she's joking or not. I watch her demonstrate and think, "Wow, this is advanced stuff, I'll probably be watching," but nooooooooo, I get my own partner to manhandle, and he assists me courteously in figuring out how, helpfully placing my hands and pointing my feet in the right direction so I can grapple him to the mat and lock his shoulder.
I am appalled at how accidentally I can hurt someone in this process, something I don't even realize until he tells me hurriedly to slow down because he wants to keep his arm in that socket.
An hour and a half later, I am bowing to everyone sequentially and the lesson is done and I feel like someone's pummeled both my body and my head with hammers. The instruction method was perfect: if the response to seeing something is "there's no way I could possibly learn that" then throwing you in the deep end leaves you have no choice but to admit, "Hey, I could figure out this water thing."
This, then, is the feeling I wanted with such avarice that my mouth was almost salivating on Monday. This sense of danger and excitement and fear and desire. This feeling in my body of such exhaustion, all the frustration, anger, restlessness and tension driven from every muscle, leaving only a tired contentment.
The gym was good exercise, but it left my mind utterly unengaged. This year, my task is to involve myself completely in my exercise: mind and body and spirit. To continue to break that voice in my head that thinks it knows what I'm capable of and is rarely right.
So far so good.