Below is a letter Kesia wrote me, on what Aikido means to her --- a lifelong practitioner and Black Belt in the art.
Really, it is a short, precise, poetic, genius treatise on how live and how to be.
(p.s. bonus video at the end of this piece --- a youtube interview I conducted with Kesia, in which we chat much about Aikido)
A Handwritten Notebook Letter
received on WhatsApp
January 11, 2021, 9:31 am
Dear Virginia —
I want to tell you about Aikido, how it lives in my body and shapes everything that I do.
Our head teacher, Sensei Williams, a small, old, broken Welshman, says it is not a martial art, and yet it is a superior form of self-defense.
I want to tell you about how, having grown up with the principles my dad brought home from the fluorescent-lit mat room at the community centre, I never once was attacked or accosted by a man (or woman) who knowingly or unknowingly sniffed out a victim.
I was quiet, eccentric, heavy-set and unhappy, but I grew up sensing the intentions of others, and either moving to safety or redirecting their advances.
The only time I’ve used an Aikido defense in public was at the town square in Viñales, Cuba, in Pinar del Rio, where the house boy Pedro tried to kiss me one too many times, even after I had climbed a tree to escape his affections, and eventually on our walk home I put his arm in a basic ikkyo hold, cranking his elbow to lock out his shoulder to gently but firmly immobilize him.
I loved Pedro, who never wanted to leave Cuba, and who told me I could ride his brother’s prize Appaloosa. I didn’t mind his boyish determination but fending him off was tiring. By the next day the whole town knew about the Canadian girl who climbed the tree.
And since then, the only time I was overpowered or even in any danger was when, drunk on every kind of liquor and my own budding magical powers, I made myself vulnerable to a hungry man.
I have walked the knife-edge for most of my life, falling off each side again and again while I strive to keep my balance.
Extend your Mind.
Look beyond your hand, the immediate goal.
Let your imagination stretch out before you in a shimmering shape of what will be.
Let Light or Water shoot from your eyes and fingers.
See it happen before you do it.
Think of your One Point: There is a place in the middle of you, four fingers below your navel and deep within. If you clench your abdominal muscles, it is the place you cannot tense. It is a soft dark quiet place from whence everything emerges.
If your put your mind there every chance you get, you will train yourself to know your centre.
Have a light posture.
Pull back your shoulders.
Centre your spine over your hips.
Unlock your knees.
Float your weight toward the balls of your feet.
Breathe. Smile. Do not stare.
Imagine you are very tall, very light.
The lighter you are, the harder it is to lift you.
The more insubstantial you feel, the more solid and immovable you become.
Let every muscle you don’t need stop firing.
Notice where you hold tension. Breathe there.
Relaxing isn’t collapsing. It’s expanding.
Do not plan or anticipate — this is attachment to outcome.
You have more time than you think.
You are at the Center of the Universe: The Eye of the Storm.
Let all movement come from the One Point.
Aikido teaches leading and following at the same time.
Know your Partner’s Mind — feel his intention, the direction of his ki. Know what he means to do, what moves him, what he is committed to.
Put yourself in your Partner’s Place.
Literally move in close beside him, facing the same way — hold him gently; take his shape.
See the world from where he stands.
Know him intimately. Get cozy. Get in too close for comfort.
Respect your Partner’s ki. Feel where he wants to go.
Graciously accept his direction. See why it is a good idea.
Suggest an additional way.
Know he could kill you.
Know he will not, this time.
Forget what you want.
Surrender so that you can transform.
Perform with confidence.
Fake it til it feels good.
Trust your training.
Know you are enough. Believe this works.
Add a little flair. Enjoy the performance.
“First, do it in your mind quickly.
Then relax, knowing it is done.”
— Tohei Sensei