Last Monday, I returned to aikido after more than two months off with a shoulder injury.
It was with a strange mix of relief and fear that I first bowed and stepped onto the mat: relief because I so missed the workout I get from training, and fear for two reasons. First, as much as my shoulder has healed, I couldn't be sure how well it would hold up until I got myself out on the mat. Second, I was joining a new club, and the happy familiarity of aikido was diluted by the unfamiliarity of a new facility, new instructors, and new partners.
The switch to the new club had been a long time coming. I've aired my gripes about the old club (simply called "the dojo" in most posts) many, many, many, many times before, but what really forced my hand was a changing schedule. I've started playing with a band that meets on the same night as one of the dojo's two weeknight classes, and when my daughter (my daughter!) is born, the compromises I'll have to make with my wife's schedule will complicate things even further. I still have many friends at the dojo, but the combination of aforementioned issues and schedule conflict eventually became insurmountable.
Fortunately, there is another aikido club barely a mile from the dojo, with the same monthly rates and a schedule more compatible with my own. It's new: the facilities are still a work in progress, the instructors don't seem to be quite on the same page yet, and the students' varying aikido backgrounds seem to create a little confusion. But the head instructor is impeccably qualified and fun to work with, and there is a happy vibe in classes apparently unmarred by cliques and politics.
One of the more senior students is apparently also a yoga instructor, and she led the warm-ups. This was my first real experience with yoga, and I confess it was more strenuous than I expected. It was a great warm-up, especially helpful to my out-of-shape body. But I shudder to think what I must have looked like attempting it.
We spent most of technique time working on variations on kaiten nage. It's not one of my best techniques, requiring smooth footwork through broad, sweeping movements and more up-and-down than feels natural with my lanky frame. The roll out of kaiten nage covers a lot of ground, too. A bigger mat space is in the works at the new club, but for now throws like that require a lot of extra awareness on the part of uke. In that cramped space, I could have easily hit the wall or another student many times over if I hadn't been paying attention.
The last technique was a rather exciting henka waza shoulder lock. I had to be careful with my injured shoulder, but my partner and I came to an understanding. With a little compromise on both our parts, I managed not to re-injure my shoulder and he managed not to be completely bored.
We finished with some breathing exercises from the seiza position. It had been fully two months since I'd knelt on the floor like that, and my ankles were none too happy about starting again. It will suffice to say that the breathing exercises were not nearly as relaxing for me as they were intended to be this time. After a few words from the instructor--during which I happily sat cross-legged--we all bowed out and thanked each other.
I bowed to the kamiza as I stepped off the mat and took a long, frustrated breath. My ukemi had been clunky. My techniques had been stiff. My footwork had been sloppy. My body had been totally unprepared to be thrown (quite literally) back into aikido.
My shoulder throbbed. My hands and forearms were irritated from sliding on the rough makeshift mat. My heel was bleeding from where I'd accidentally gashed it with my own toenail. My whole body was sore from stretching in ways it hadn't stretched in months. And I was sweating from head to toe.
It was wonderful.