2021 Summer News

Starting here, what do we want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along the shining floor?
What softened sounds from outside fills the air?...
What can anyone give us greater than now, this moment, starting here, right now, when we turn around?

- William Stafford

The End of Masks - For Now?

Greetings to you all,

The pandemic has quieted for most of us in this moment in our part of the world; in the same breath, we also recognize that many others continue to live with its continuing threat or its aftermath. After seventeen months of working through a chaotic pandemic that none of us could have imagined, we find ourselves renewing our lives in a myriad of ways. Some of you have shared that your routines have been forever transformed by the changes created by Covid, for better and for different. So much change. At this moment, I feel the solitude I grew to embrace, the sorrow I managed, the losses I witnessed and now the joy of being together with family and friends offering a handshake and or a hug. But isn’t this the essence of our practice? Embrace the changes we face moment to moment!

When Two Cranes closed its doors on March 14, 2020, it was uncertain when we would return to lots of things we love, including our Aikido training. This May 1, we tiptoed back to the dojo in person. We were cautiously optimistic and happy.

Cautious because our attempt to reopen in November lasted thirty seconds due to spiking numbers. Happy because, although our faces were covered by cloth, we were free to be together again in the same room, at the same time, breathing the same air. We willingly spun and rolled with masks—huffing, puffing, and sweating with delight

 

Then came June 30 and the Governor’s announcement that businesses in Seattle could operate at full capacity. Masking up was now optional. I knew that dojos around the country were requiring full vaccinations and I also knew that they were training in person mask free. Could that be possible? I was so used to masking up that it felt almost illegal to remove it. Then again, it could just be an option. One by one, students entered the space with the appropriate mask protection. I met each person at the door, delivering news that coverage was optional. I watched them stop in their tracks, take in the room and see smiling faces. For some, there was a respectable pause, “Really?” Others heard my words and ripped the fabric off their faces. One person knelt and kissed the mat.

Throughout the pandemic I dreamed of the moment we could return to training. Many sleepless nights I spent designing classes that would have us move together and conform to six feet apart. Swords and staffs were helpful tools, as were our imaginations that allowed us to pretend we were elasta-people. I was determined to make it work. For 65 weeks I taught on zoom—four, sometimes five classes a week. I am both appreciative of technology for what it offered and ready to move on!!

Zoom was nerve-racking early on. The mic was cumbersome and getting the proper distance to the screen was a guessing game. The first month of devising how in the world I could teach Aikido through a screen felt like a dream, exploring Irimi and Shihonage as solo forms and taking ukemi through the screen. As time passed, I accepted that how I used to teach didn’t work; I adapted by writing down every exercise, along with my verbal teachings, because I could not access a sense of spontaneity at all. I realized how fundamentally interactive my teaching is and how one move evolves from the next because I naturally see an intuitive thread that connected one movement idea to the next based on physical interaction with people. Who knew?

I began the first in-person classes with advice to: “Take care of yourselves, go slow, pay attention to the quality of your bow. Relearn your spiral body.” Students returning to the mat have been sharing the gratitude they feel for the physical and emotional connection both off and on the mat. It’s not that we took it for granted pre-Covid, but now as we remove our masks to see our beaming smiles, we are reminded how inconceivable it was that we would be prohibited from physical contact.

As you know from our endless emails, we took countless precautions to do the right thing for our student body. Our Health and Safety Committee created appropriate policies and procedures. Fans, hand sanitizers everywhere, signage (thank you, Lynda Matsumoto), outdoor classes for children and adults, minor roof repairs to see us through the winter (thank you, John Bryant and Peter Fawthrop) and sophisticated tech (thank you, Dave Hurley, Sara G. Snell and Alex Gholz). And thank you to the teachers. I could go on. We even taped out blocks of six feet to prepare for the moment we would train indoors. We worked hard to be of service, and, at times, it all felt invisible. What a meditation!

Throughout the year, like all of us, I juggled with my faith - will Covid never end? Will we ever return to the mat? I trained myself to get up each morning and extend my gratitude to you who helped support us through the pandemic. I kept a “What I am proud of” journal, noting each day what I had done well. I wanted to see through to the other side, picturing when we would be together again and how we would use our art to heal whatever challenges we faced internally and collectively this last year and a half.

Our practice is based on embodied awareness. Aikido embodies the very practices that will help ease our restlessness and our physical and psychic fatigue. We focus on our breath to slow our pulse down, reduce our anxiety. Many of us have not touched those outside our immediate family. As we grab each other’s wrists and guide each other’s shoulders we remember the body feeling of connection and intimacy. We have an innate desire to increase our dopamine and serotonin levels and our practice allows us to generate those good feeling hormones. Our neurological systems are built to connect. We can heal our limbic systems with the social contact we once practiced naturally.

My takeaway through the pandemic is compassion. I reach my arms out to the world, and through the screen, envelop all with my heart energy acknowledging the immense amount of suffering endured by so many. Then I circle my arms around my body and offer kindness to myself. This exercise is my anchor. Embrace the present moment. I hold firm to Motomichi Anno Sensei’s teaching of extending ourselves out into great nature and bringing all the rich fecund energy of clouds and redwood trees back to our precious bodies.

We appreciate seeing those of you who’ve resumed your mat practice, and we look forward to engaging with those who are able to return to training. For those of you who cannot yet return but wish to continue training, we will do everything we can to offer classes and workshops outdoors and via zoom.

Be well and love big.

Kimberly

Kimberly Richardson Sensei