2023 will mark my 30th year training in the martial art of aikido, something I started when studying abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo. Honestly, I never thought something I tried on a whim would become a life-long pursuit.
During 2020-21, as the pandemic shut down in-person classes, I had a lot of time to think about what aikido means to me. When Zoom classes were started, I had a chance to take instruction from a wide variety of teachers from around the country I don't normally get to see. And it gave me a new appreciation for all the different ways people look at the art, even the ones I might not have gravitated towards before.
The resumption of in-person training didn't mean I could just jump back into things. Those two years had cut into my work quite a bit, so time and money needed balancing, not to mention work and family. When I do get to the dojo, I'm just happy to be there.
Years before all of this, I sketched out an aikido-themed picture based on the Eastern parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant. The "Aikido Elephant" or "Aikidō no zō" (合気道の象) is a playful image expressing the myriad dimensions of the Japanese martial art of aikidō (合気道), and the many approaches of its teachers and students. It is a reminder to all those studying aikidō that they are on a path of individual self-discovery; best taken with grace, humility and open-mindedness. The title is a play on words, as the Japanese word zō (象) meaning elephant is a homonym for zō (像) meaning meaning figure or image. Thus, spoken aloud, the name can also mean "The Image of Aikido".
This year, I asked my good friend and artist Ivan Lee to make a much better version of that idea and am offering it to share in the form of a T-shirt, available here.
I hope you find it amusing. I like to think of it as a reminder to myself to be serious in training, but not take oneself too seriously.