Aikido has been such a big part of my life and has shaped me to become who I am today. Aikido has helped me through tough times and has created a second family for me. In many ways I could say aikido has saved me.
I remember my first day at aikido as if it was yesterday. I was ten years old, very small, and so nervous. When I walked through the door to the dojo I was welcomed by so many people and I knew from that moment this was what I wanted to do. I remember seeing an older lady who introduced herself as the Sensei, Apple Sensei. I was honestly a little confused when she said she was the sensei, she didn’t look how I had expected. Little did I know that this lady would become one of my biggest inspirations and a second mother to me. There’s a moment both my sensei and I will never forget. The moment before we stepped on the mat I grabbed her hand and we stepped on the mat together. To this day I’m not sure why I grabbed her hand, but I knew I felt comfortable with her and that she was special.
Once I got home from my first day of aikido class I went straight to my family’s home computer and made myself a visualization of my goals for aikido. At the top of the goal sheet I had a picture of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido. I then wrote down my goal which was, “By the time I’m 13, I would like to be a brown or black belt in aikido!” Below that I had my age in August 2014 which was 10 years old. And then finally I had written at the bottom, “I look up to Apple Sensei. Do it for her!” It’s amazing to think that just after my first class I had such big dreams in mind for myself.
Fast forward a few months, I met two girls who would end up being like sisters to me. The first girl I met was Katherine. We always laugh when we talk about how we met. It had only been a few months since I had joined aikido and Katherine comes up behind me and puts her arm around my neck and says, “We’re going to be best friends.” At this point in my training I was still very shy and so you can imagine how much this took me off guard. The second girl I met was Arikka. We met because Apple Sensei paired us together since we were the same belt and about the same height. I remember she was quiet, but not shy. By the end of that month Katherine, Arikka, and I had all become friends and from that moment on we were inseparable.
About two years later I’m 12 years old and I have earned a green belt. Things have changed in aikido, and in me. I begin doubting my skill in aikido. Most of the time they were skills I had done before. I was afraid of messing up and looking like a fool. During this time, Apple Sensei said something to me that has stuck with me and will always stick with me. She said, “Don’t let fear hold you back.” Even though it was just a six-word sentence, it was what I needed to hear and be told at the time. To this day, when I find that I’m doubting myself, I remember that simple and powerful six-word sentence.
It was also around this time that I met Apple Sensei’s father, Harold, who soon became known as “Grandpa” to me. I had never met any of my grandfathers, so when I met Grandpa I felt like I had an automatic connection with him. Grandpa has been one of my number one supporters during my journey through aikido. He has seen me grow, not only in aikido, but as a person. He knows my potential even when I don’t know it myself. When I first met grandpa, he was my aikido grandpa but now he’s my Grandpa. I am not the only one Grandpa has touched at aikido. He has supported us all through everything and is always there to watch us and cheer us on. I can’t imagine aikido without Grandpa. He has truly touched and changed my life, and I love him.
Finally, I want to talk about my journey to my black belt. After I had earned my brown belt I was finally feeling like I was getting where I wanted in aikido. I had met so many different amazing people, I had reached the goal I had set after my first day of aikido, and I felt confident in my aikido skill. Once I began training for my black belt, Apple Sensei told Katherine, Arikka, and I that, “Blood, sweat, and tears go into getting a black belt”. I had thought she had meant that figuratively, but as I would soon find out later, it really did take blood, sweat, and tears. The first part of my black belt training was like learning anything else for the first time… a lot of trial and error. It was just a lot of practicing and going over things again and again. It was at this time I began to understand what Apple Sensei had told us. The techniques we were learning and doing were dangerous, and if you didn’t move in time, or did something slightly off, there was a chance you would get punched. I experienced this a lot because I tended to not move fast enough. There were also a lot of tears and at some points I just felt like giving up. We had so many different Senseis trying to help us that, at times, it would get overwhelming. There were a bunch of different Senseis telling us to do the same technique differently. It felt like we weren’t doing anything right. However, they saw how much potential we had and wanted to help us as much as they could. In the end, I learned that I will have my own way of doing aikido.
Words cannot explain how much I appreciate and care about aikido and all the people I have met because of aikido. My life is so much happier thanks to my Aikido family. I would like to thank everyone who has supported me and helped me through this journey. I would also like to especially thank Apple Sensei and Grandpa for always believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. Without all the love and support, I wouldn’t be where I am today or who I am today.