I joined Aiki for an early breakfast, and was sorry to see that he a couple of facial bruises and a plaster on one ear.
“Aiki, what happened to you?!”
“I had a bokken boo-boo last night”
More than one, I was thinking, but I kept mum.
“Ouch! Tell me a bout it.”
“Well, I went to weapons class last night, and Sensei had us do this exercise where he had everyone make a circle and then put one person in the middle. Then the person in the middle goes around the circle and receives yokomenuchi from each person, one after the other. We were supposed to practice blending out the strike and pivoting away…”
“Sounds like fun! And you’re good at pivoting…”
“I got confused and pivoted the wrong way. It was like dodgeball with bokken. It felt like high school all over again…”
I could see that he felt discouraged and made a sympathetic face. Our food arrived and he brightened up a bit. But when he scooped up some eggs and raised them to his mouth, I could see that his hand was trembling, sending scrambled eggs in all directions…
“I can barely raise my arms and my hands are so stiff…,” he complained.
“Is that because of the multiple blows to the head, A-D?” I couldn’t help myself.
“No, you idiot! It’s because Sensei had us do as many shomen cuts as we could in one minute. Over and over!”
I reached over and began to feed him. It seemed the least I could do.
“That’s rough, Aiki. It takes a lot of commitment to be a martial artist - I’m proud of you.”
His glare diminished slightly as he chewed his food.
“So other than that, it was a good class?”
“Well…I liked the salsa dancing.”
“Sensei is making us practice Thai souvlaki -”
“You mean tai sabaki?”
Yeah, that’s what I said! Body maneuver, fancy footwork, you know?”
“I think Sensei must be a good dancer. He makes Antonio Banderas look like an old man…”
A-D was clearly feeling a better as he waxed on about salsa dancing, zigging vs. zagging, and his theory that it was possible to stop a charging rhino with a good ki-ai. I just kept nodding and smiling, and shovelling food into his mouth…
We spend a lot of time on the technical aspects of kamae, and rightly so, but what is the intention of our ‘ready stance’?
If we train our bodies to align squarely on one line, our focus narrows to that which is right in front of us, revealing the present moment in all it purity. This allows us to realize more fully who we are and express that in a positive way.
It’s one thing to master kamae on the mat, but the real training ground is the world around us as our life unfolds, and I had an object lesson recently:
I’m a musician by trade, and I received a call from a friend who was in the process of recording a CD. The producer was unable to attend the session - would I be able to come in and lend an ear?
My initial excitement was quickly washed away by a wave of anxiety and insecurity; while I have a working knowledge of the recording process and some experience, I felt intimidated by the professional stature of the principals and the pressure of the situation.
But I wanted to help my friend and told myself I could do that by being honest and taking things just one moment at a time. They had called me, after all. In short, I need do nothing more than hold my kamae.
I had a few hours before the session was to begin, and I spent that time finishing up a few chores and doing a little research on the music that we’d be working on. Any time my attention drifted towards insecurity, I mentally ‘refreshed’ my kamae by letting go of the negative thoughts with a deep breath and bringing my attention back to the present moment.
Eventually the time came for me to go to the hall where the recording was taking place and I arrived in a reasonably calm state. They had already set up and laid down a few tracks, but time was taken for introductions and a short briefing which revealed that my duties would carry more responsibility that I had anticipated.
It turned out that I was to be the de facto producer for the session which meant that I was to have the final say on whether or not we had covered any given take. This was, to me, far different that just being a set of ears in the booth! I felt my kamae waver a bit.
I gave myself a mental commercial and reminded myself to just be honest and stay in the present moment. This, together with a few deep breathes helped me to reset my ‘ready stance’.
I quickly became immersed in the work at hand and found myself falling into a zen-like state of deep concentration. Having my kamae gave me the security to trust those around me to do their job and to trust myself in making the decisions that determined the flow of the session.
After three or four hours we were able to wrap it up, satisfied that we had accomplished what we needed to do that evening and at a standard that was more than satisfactory to all.
I came away from the experience energized by a higher vision of myself, one that I may not have achieved without the benefit of a strong kamae.
I will continue to practice my kamae, both on and off the mat.