Un-Centered, or Why I Failed at Aikido

— Barbara Saxton

Just a part of the enormity of wrong
in that relationship, the issue proved
a deal-breaker when he seemed to love
wearing that white pajama-like suit
and ribbed belt more than lying naked
in bed next to me.

Then, as if to celebrate my new aikido widow
status, I was birthday-gifted an overlong treatise
called Centering, unrivaled on our bookshelf for pretension
and sheer rectangular smugness. Before shoving it under
the mental mat normally reserved for unsolicited
issues of Watchtower, I actually started to read it,
immediately lamenting my unfortunate lack of a center:
I’m all edges and angles that furiously compete
for my body’s unfocused attention.

For months, I attempted to reach higher levels
of centeredness, aware that my efforts were at
ironic odds with the book’s admonition not to try.
Thereafter, each somersault I faked, every failure
to tuck my jutting chin into a soon-to-be broken neck,
every flip that resulted in crumpling sideways
like a heap of soiled laundry, were part of my hurtling toward,
not away from, the land of the cock-eyed and skewed. I mean,
if the evolutionary gods expected us humans
to catapult around like that, we couldn’t we keep
more of our ancestors’ fur padding?

Meanwhile, down at the dojo, match after
mismatch, I strove to ignore now-familiar desires
to strike the first punch or (worse yet) annihilate any
would-be attackers. More yin and less yang, the Sensei intoned.
Turn their own force against them! Truth be told,
in these pseudo-martial encounters, Aikido itself learned
to run past my shoulder (and preferably straight into
the far wall), remaining perfectly centered
in my life’s rear view mirror.

Sir Centered and Dame Scattered, as we’d come
to call ourselves, finally headed in equal and opposite
directions. But my black belt in honesty would only be earned
some thirty years later, when I finally donated
that damned book to Goodwill.

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