I have made no secret these past years of being a student at the New York Aikikai. In studying there, I continue on in an admittedly erratic tendency to train in Japanese martial arts, one that began as a result of having gotten stomped on during a school field trip. I will not recount that story here, but I will instead comment on something I have observed recently, as I have tried to get more training time in and to do so more reliably.
To do so, a bit of context: Before moving to New York City and taking up the study of aikido, I was an active participant in the judo classes and club at my graduate institution. There, I would get quite a bit of practice in weekly, and it did wonders for my physical conditioning (although, because I like beer, I still had something of a belly about me). Judo is demanding, and it is a full-contact sport, so I would go to my dorm room from the dojo covered in bruises; from the knees down, on my upper arms, and in the middle of my chest, the skin was perpetually darkened from the burst blood vessels under it. Yet they did not much inhibit my range of motion, and, given a few days off of the mats, I would soon see the bruises fade away, leaving my skin as pasty-pale as seems to be its natural state.
Aikido is much gentler on the body, although it would be a lie to say that it imposes no strain. Rarely do I come home with bruises, and never to the extent that I did while I was a judoka. When I do, though (as was the case last Tuesday, when one of the people with whom I trained made damned sure to have a good grip on my forearm*), I find that the bruises take far longer to leave me, and they do much more to make it harder for me to do the other things that I do. Indeed, the bruises from last week are still visible on my arm (if only just), and one the size of an old dollar coin on my knee does not fail to remind me of its presence.
I am not about to leave off my study of the art for the sake of a few bruises. I know that, with time, my body will return to its former ability to act despite the discomfort (something well worth developing, I might add). And, frankly, if I were better at what I ought to be doing on the mats, I would not have the bruises, in any event; I earned them fairly, and I work to take from them the appropriate lesson. But what I do mark is that it is taking longer than it used to do. Am I really so much older now than four years ago, when I had just left the judo dojo for the aikido? Has passing from my twenties to thirty changed me so much? Or is it only that I have been as erratic in my training as I have been that causes my body to behave as it does, punishing me for not taking care of it better?
Whatever the answer, I will get back onto the mats today. I am having too good a time on them to not.
*I do not blame him. I know that aikido is a martial art, and that it necessarily runs the risk of inflicting discomfort or injury upon its practitioners. But that does not mean I was glad of the specific experience.