Back in 1997, I published an editorial that proved one of the most controversial pieces I have ever written. Perhaps shamefully, I adopted a sarcastic tone in that article, which is something I seldom do. It is titled, “The Body is the Temple of the Spirit,” in case you want to refer back to it.
Basically, I expressed deep disappointment with the aikido displays of several “senior” shihan at the All-Japan Aikido Demonstration held yearly in Tokyo. I called them to task for allowing their bodies to deteriorate to the point that they were moving like “teetering old men.” I implied that their sad physical declines and substandard performances were not attributable to the onset of old age, but to bad lifestyle choices and general neglect of their health.
I presented every possible excuse I could think of that might be trotted forth to justify this lamentable state of affairs. Then I proceeded to dispatch these one by one–at least in my own mind!–until the hypocrisy of these old men who call themselves “Shihan” was laid fully bare.
In retrospect, I took a big risk in writing this article. I was 52 years old at the time and still capable of training at a high level. However, with the passage of time, I too would enter the dreaded realm of “seniordom” and join the “old foggies” club. What if I was no longer capable of vigorious training? I would have to eat my words, and be equally guilty of hypocrisy! I would have to steathily remove that old damning editorial from our archives, and drop the subject altogether lest I be taken to task.
I knew that if I became unable to train hard in later years, it would be due to some injury or chronic health condition. It would not be due to my having adopted an unhealthy lifestyle and becoming a “stiff old man.”
What I feared most was that I would no longer be able to manage the chronic back pain that I had already been experiencing for several years. I could still do the hard workouts, but I would pay the price afterwards in terms of back pain. There were several occasions when I was unable to walk, it got so bad! Surely this condition would only worsen with the passage of time. What would I be like at 65?
Well, I’m now 65, in fact, almost 66. Officially a senior! What has happened in the intervening years since I wrote that unkind editorial? A miracle, that’s what! My miracle was the discovery of yoga three years ago. I have been practicing regularly about three times per week since then. In fact, I have altered our aikido warmups to include about 12 minutes of yoga in addition to the normal aikido preparatory exercises. My students love it, and the bodily flexibility of those who practice regularly has noticeably improved.
There is a lot more to this story. I will in the future devote more space to this very important topic and how I overcame this worrisome health condition that had afflicted me for years.
I’m sure many of you have equally interesting and inspiring stories about how you have been able to successfully deal with health conditions that have threatened your aikido career. Please add your comments here, and regale us with your personal stories!