By Elodie Honegger
I spent almost thee months as an uchideshi in San Diego Aikikai, starting November 15th, 2017. My French teacher, Sadek Khettab Sensei, had sent me to train with Juba Nour Sensei for a while, and Juba Nour Sensei then sent me to train with Deena Drake Sensei. I’ve trusted each one of these great teachers with my life, and I’m happy I did.
Deena Sensei welcomed me and my partner on a training evening when she was just coming back from Japan. Even with jet lag, she wanted to meet the two new uchideshi at the very moment of our arrival. That night was representative of the way I felt welcome in her dojo, every single day and for every single class.
I’d like to share the way Deena Sensei trains on New Year’s Eve, because it feels incredibly more meaningful than what I had experienced in more “regular” ways of welcoming January 1st.
About fifteen people had chosen to be here on this particular night. We started Misogi training at eleven o’clock. This purification practice through screaming and chanting sutras has a way of letting things out, that makes a lot of sense at the end of the year. After that, we chanted the Heart Sutra and sat, for twenty minutes or so. The silence had a lot of substance, and the quiet felt like the best thing ever, especially since we had just shut our loud voices. Midnight came, and we silently lined up to start Aikido training, welcoming the first day of the year with ikkyo, 108 times as uke, and 108 times as nage. All one could hear was the bell ringing to give us a rhythm, and the claps of our hands on the mat.
“Some people drink and have fun out in bars for News Year’s, but this, it is what I do. Every single year.” That’s what Sensei told us after practice, and I felt very lucky to be part of this for the first time. A meal followed the practice, with very few alcoholic beverages (most of us drank sparkling water) and a lot of joy when the warm and comforting Japanese soup was served.
This night, and the daily practice in San Diego Aikikai, has led me to look for mindfulness in my training and my life, generally speaking. Once a week, Drake Sensei would give a private class to us uchideshi, which was a great opportunity to grab more advice on my practice, and then use every other class of the week to try and change my muscle memory and my attitude. Sensei made me see myself as I was, to help me be free of my conditioned, unconscious, unsafe habits. She helped me see and feel when I’m open, when my hanmi is not so much a hanmi, when my chest goes up out of fear, when I jump instead of taking a step, when I go back instead of going forward…
I hope I can be more and more mindful in my practice in the next few years, and let that mindfulness sink into all aspects of my life, as it really adds meaning to common things. As does Aikido to my life, I believe.