by Michelle Kaunzner
It was that time again; time for me to see what requirements yet to fulfill for my Liberal Arts degree, and register for classes. Let’s see… two areas I am missing are Global Perspective and Ethical/Civic Responsibility. There is an Interdisciplinary class available that covers both: The History, Philosophy, and Practice of Traditional Aikido. I’ve heard of the art, I have practiced a martial art before, I loved the Steven Segal movies (well, some of them), and it sounded like a good fit for me to jumpstart my activity level as well. What the hell, I’ll sign up. I had NO CLUE of exactly what I was in for and just how profound of an effect it would have on my life.
What began as a semester of discipline, Japanese cultural immersion, philosophy, and of course physical practice, transformed the person I was from a forty-something stressed and depressed individual with a lot of drive but going nowhere, to someone of value. Each humbling lesson felt as though it was designed for me. Each training session had a lesson attached to it/a story to be told; one that would provide food for thought to each of us as we left the dojo. Some days I walked away feeling as though I learned so very much, while others, I realized how much more I had to learn. The bumps and bruises both to my body and ego continued throughout the semester, but I endured because something within me felt drawn to find out more; to continue what I started by doing more than just taking a three credit class and walking away.
During one of our classes, we learned about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and the significance of everything within it; from the way a tea room is set up, prepared, and served, to the type of tea traditionally used and clothing worn. One thing that resonated with me about the ceremony was that everyone who came to a tea house had to kneel down to enter, regardless of rank or position in life; all were equal. Given my traditional Western upbringing and the cultural norms that come from that, it was a refreshing experience to hear. Sensei introduced us to a Japanese term from the tea ceremony: “iti go i ti e” (one chance, one opportunity). Which basically means that every encounter with someone should be treated as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (as if today were the last time you might meet). It really set the tone for the ceremony in that it created what felt to me as a sacred space, if only for that short time.
With the semester over, I followed my heart and began to train at the Minnesota Aiki Shuren Dojo. Since that time I have had some incredible experiences, met amazing people, and traveled to Japan to tour and train as well. In my travels I met some of the most skilled and wonderfully humble people, Senseis and scholars in my life. My experiences with my Aikido family have so enriched and changed my life that I am a stronger, healthier, happier, and more grounded person than I have been in a very long time. The experiences continue to change my life. During my visit to Japan, I stayed with Senami Sensei and family. They are wonderful people! Upon my return to the United States, I sent a letter to my new family in Japan – one was received in return. Within this letter was a separate sheet of paper written by Senami Sensei which read: “P.S. I add a paper in this letter. It’s my most favorite words in Japanese: iti go I ti e. I appreciate that I was able to meet you in my lifetime. Take care, my family!”
Had I not begun my new life’s journey through the practice of traditional Aikido, I would have missed out on my one chance, one opportunity…. that continues to save my life.