by Tip Harris Sensei
As I celebrate my 69th birthday, I presume that I have reached the point where I am considered a “senior martial artist”. Reflecting on my nearly 30 years of Aikido training, I have noticed that all people age, some slowly in good health and others quickly and in ill health.
I’ve never been fanatical about my age or aging, as I consider it a natural part of life. Although some people try, there is just no escaping it. To age we must! I do my best to try to keep myself physically and mentally active as my health and circumstances will allow, which is really the best anyone can do. I strongly believe that this is the key to a long and healthy life. Those people, who do not strive to keep their mind and body active in some way, usually deteriorate fairly rapidly and develop more physical and mental problems as they age.
That is not to say that Aikido students (Aikdoka) do not get their fair share of injuries. Becoming a senior martial artist has been very enjoyable and very personally rewarding to me, but not easy, because as we age training doesn’t get any easier. There have been many injuries along my way. An inventory would include numerable cuts and bruises, dislocated toes and sprained fingers, a dislocated shoulder, torn ligaments in both arms, and even worn cartilage in my knees, and aches and pains from old injuries or sore muscles. However, I think that with continuous training we eventually reach a point at which we are able to ignore these pains. I believe that over time, one’s threshold or tolerance of pain is greatly elevated. I know I can have aches and pains here and there; but when I get on the mat and into my “Aikido mind set”, they seem to disappear or become very minor.
Some injuries are unavoidable along our Aikido journey. However, I firmly believe that most training injuries are the result of roughness or carelessness. Aikido is a blending of the hard attack on the part of the Uke (the Yang) with an equal but opposite soft reaction on the part of the Nage (the Yin). A balance of the hard and soft energies must be achieved for there to be harmony. Countering hard with hard is not the proper spirit of Aiki. Negative energy must be countered with positive energy.
I have found that if we take the time to practice slowly with proper timing and blending, we can develop our Aikido skills while minimizing the possibility of injury. Speed develops naturally as we improve our techniques and confidence. It is my experience that injuries occur when harmony and blending are missing. While tension and using your strength and lack of coordination are natural at some levels of experience (and we have all been there at some point), there is no excuse for roughness or carelessness in Aikido. To train either with abandon or in fear of being hurt is to ensure an injury. We can, however, train with confidence.
Despite our desire to believe otherwise, we become more vulnerable to injury as we age, and each injury takes longer to heal. As we age, we have to accept this or quit training.
Occasionally, I have been asked, “Why do you continue to train at your age?” My answer is that it is partially from habit because it is an important part of my life, and partially because of the physical and mental challenge it provides. And I’ve also been asked, “How long do you expect to continue to train?” My response is, “As long as I live and am able to!” Some commitments in our lives are never really finished; they just continue one day at a time. As O-Sensei said when he was much older than I am, “I’m still learning!”