A New Student’s First Impressions

by Susan Wagoner

I had always looked at “Martial Arts” as mostly martial and not much art. Somehow punching, kicking, or throwing someone (or having that done to me) was never my idea of recreational fun. As an avid equestrienne for most of my life, I already had the opportunity for all of that and then some. Only all my opponents happened to be four legged and weighed in at approximately 1200 pounds! When they stepped on you or threw you, you knew it.

Ten years ago I was involved in a car accident which left me unable to participate in anything physical. Just walking was extremely difficult and challenging. The lack of inactivity brought me full circle to mental pursuits (as well as more mundane nuisances, such as survival). Following a circuitous route, my search for this higher spiritual growth finally led me to Aikido.

My husband had some prior experience with aikido and suggested we go watch a class before making a decision. I was intimidated by the bodies crashing to the mat. An inch of foam covered by canvas did not impress me as a particularly sufficient landing pad. In addition, I had reservations about starting such a strenuous discipline at midlife and also the years of inactivity had diminished my strength and stamina. But, since we were convinced that Black Sword Aikido was indeed the “art” that we wanted, we signed up.

The first day class (Saturday) we were twisted, thrown, up-ended, and put in positions our bodies never knew we had. I don’t think “enjoyed” was the word which sprang to mind the next day, but perhaps an inkling of satisfaction that we endured and survived.

The Dojo is located in a very rural setting in an old farmhouse. The “energy feel” of the whole locale is one of peace and serenity. Every one of the students we have met so far are committed to developing themselves in this discipline. The more experienced student is always willing and happy to help the less experienced. And we, the latter, do need a lot of help!

Black Sword Aikido is indeed what I had in mind for the training of mind, spirit, and body. Due to the extended inactivity over the past ten years, I had noticed a marked weakening of my entire body, but especially my hands and wrists. Even perhaps some arthritis creeping into my fingers. My horses easily ran through my grip on the leadlines. However, after only a few months of training, my hands are noticeably stronger (the horses can’t run through them anymore).

Watching Sensei demonstrate a technique (especially a complex one) makes it very obvious that Black Sword Aikido is definitely an art. If slowed and put to music, it could pass for a ballet. He works very similarly to a horse trainer I worked with for many years. This person made every training technique look easy, but when someone else attempted to do what he had just demonstrated, he or she was all thumbs. The same is in the Dojo. Caulfield Sensei demonstrates a technique which on the surface looks quite easy. All the students watch. It looks simple enough, and I think to myself “I can do that.” Then we are all asked to try. Immediately it is apparent that the technique is not as simplistic as it looked to the naked eye. There are many subtle strands comprising the entire technique. We beginners are lucky to grasp the first few of those strands.

For this reason Black Sword Aikido can be very frustrating. There are no flashy moves, such as one might see in other martial arts or on TV. The techniques are not learned in one fell swoop. There are no “Six Week Black Belt Specials.” It requires a number of years to even come close to perfecting them, so it becomes a way of life. The challenge and satisfaction come from the striving toward that goal. So we persevere.