What I Learned From Sending My Aikido Partner Through A Plate Glass Window



My Friends All Thought I Was Crazy
My friends thought I was crazy for signing up for an aikido class. I mean, I was never that good at somersaults as a kid, and the idea of me doing a graceful one after flying through the air? Get real.

On the other hand, I had a good time, learned a lot, and left before I got hurt. It happened several years ago, and I still smile when I think of it. The class was three hour-long sessions a week. I started the first week in March, and the third week in April I came home from my last class, washed the blood and glass out of my gi (the outfit we wore) and put it away with my other treasured mementos.

Why I Tried It
Why did I do it? I had been using aikido as a metaphor in my teaching, and I liked its basic attitude towards conflict…your opponent is more of a dance partner than an enemy. Your goal is to be adept enough to keep centered, with a calm and alert mind, and use as little force as possible to neutralize the attack. You want to be so skilled that neither you nor your opponent gets hurt. I figured taking a class would give me good practice in tuning in to other people and keeping my presence of mind in new situations.

😉 Sounds good, right? Truth to tell, part of me also fantasized about giving my classes more pizzazz by being an accredited akidoist and wearing that cute little outfit. And it would have been fun to be skilled enough to be able to toss some big guys around. Hey, fantasies are fun as long as we use them for entertainment and don’t let them get in the way of what’s really important.

How It Worked Out
As it turned out, the guys in my local class hadn’t read the same books I had, and they had zero interest in the philosophy behind aikido. They were mostly young jocks who, understandably, wanted to develop their athletic skills. They loved the spectacular recovers from throws that the attacker gets to make. (In aikido the partners take turns being the the uke, the attacker and the nage, the thrower. It’s the attacker who does the spectacular gymnastic moves.)

I didn’t have any trouble being the thrower…the moves were easy enough to learn and execute. But I did have trouble doing the rolls and falls correctly. I wasn’t concerned. As an adult I had learned to be a fairly good dancer even though I had two left feet when I was younger. I figured the same mindfulness and patience would pay off again. I practiced on my own outside of class and assumed it would eventually pay off.

But the teacher and senior student weren’t impressed by my slow and patient approach. They decided I needed to learn a lot faster, and that would happen only if they motivated me with pain and the fear of bodily harm. Say what? The word aikido literally means “the way of harmony”. Intimidation wasn’t my idea of harmony. The warning came at the end of one class, and I decided to come one more time to say goodbye.

My Last Class–The Grand Finale
In that last class they paired me off with the newest and biggest fellow there. When he walked in the room the faces of the teacher and most of the students lit up. He was a chance for them to test their skills, so they were eager to have him as a partner. On the other hand, I (just think little old lady here) worried that he would accidentally squash me like a bug. He was athletic, but being tuned in to someone that much smaller and weaker than him was not his strong suit.
I was the attacker for the first three interactions, which again meant I was the one getting thrown. I managed to get to the mat safely and unharmed all three times, then I was more relaxed. Now I was the one defending myself, and to me that was like bowling…just make the right moves and the ball does the rest. So I did relax and played my part well, and he did a form-perfect roll. I would have been envious, except that he headed straight for a plate glass window. It was not made of safety glass.

As soon as his foot went through it, the glass made a loud cracking sound and sprayed out in all directions. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to remove his leg before one huge triangular piece came crashing down…that would have done serious damage. As it was, he was bleeding and clearly needed a few stitches.

He shook off the shards of glass from his gi, and we bandaged his foot to stop the bleeding and offered to drive him to the emergency room. “Nah,” he said, “this is nothing.” He was a policeman; he had experienced a lot worse than that. He showed us the place on his scalp where hair no longer grows because it had been creased by a bullet. And he showed us the scars from knife wounds, telling the story behind each one. Clearly little things like that didn’t faze him. They just added to his macho image.

Once we knew he was all right, we looked around at the mess and at one another, and we burst out laughing. The senior student said it was too bad we couldn’t get a newspaper photographer over to take a picture of the two of us. It would be great publicity for aikido, with the tough guy looking bloody and beaten and the little old lady looking triumphant. So, part of my fantasy actually came true, although not quite in the way I had envisioned it. 😉

What Did I Learn?

What did I learn from the experience?

  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. Use some common sense and don’t get maimed for life, but don’t worry about what other people think. So what if you’re initially not good at something? No matter what happens you’ll learn something from it.
  • If what you’re doing isn’t working, try something else. On the other hand, if you’ve given it a good go and the fun has gone out of it, move on to something else.
  • Live life with a sense of adventure. Experiment. It doesn’t have to be anything big, but don’t be trapped by old patterns. Sometimes simple changes can revitalize your life.

What about you? What have you tried that charged you up, gave you a good story? How did it turn out? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

First photo by Malach via Flickr. Creative Commons license.
Second photo from Wikipedia.

This post is being submitted to the Middle Zone Musings´ Group Writing Project What I Learned… From the World of Sports .

Thanks to April Groves for commenting on the last post.


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5 Responses to What I Learned From Sending My Aikido Partner Through A Plate Glass Window

  1. Wow, Jean! You’re a lot braver than I ever was! Alas, my experience with the Martial Arts is limited to watching those silly Karate movies TV. (I remember once while in Taiwan watching one in Chinese – it was even MORE fun when I had no idea what they were saying!)

    But these are great lessons you’ve outlined here. Thanks for sharing it with us.


  2. Joanna Young says:

    Great story Jean! It would be fun to see what your opponent – and the onlookers – learned from this particular adventure too…


  3. Interesting story. I love the that you had the confidence to do something that intimidated you. I’m a bit of a slow learner myself and I often remind myself that not everyone blossoms early in life.

    It’s very hard at times to see the lesson in failure. Interestingly, I just watch the animated movie “Meet the Robinsons” today. They had a great message of how you learn more from failure than you do from success. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but one I think will be of great benefit once I fully incorporate it into my mind.

    Thanks for a great story. :0)

  4. Jean says:

    Thanks for writing, and for the idea. When I first read What I Learned… From the World of Sports I thought I didn’t have anything to say on the subject. It was fun to see I actually did have a story.

    Thanks for coming by. I think the main thing they got out of the experience was a good laugh. It was funny seeing the expression on everyone’s face when the glass shattered. It definitely ended that session in a hurry. We were also grateful that no serious damage was done.

    Oh, yes, they did learn to keep the mats far away from the windows. 🙂
    The great thing about thinking in terms of experiments and adventure is there can be no failure. The purpose of trying things is simply to learn what works and what doesn’t.

    Again, thanks for coming by, everyone.

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