MY dad has two black belts in aikido. Although, this sounds like some fanciful story thrown around the schoolyard, it's actually the truth. He's reached third degree, or third dan, for his most recent black belt. 'Third Dan Bren-dan,' is the joke.
He'd come home from a training session in a sweaty state of excitement. "Hey Dave, grab my wrist," he'd urge me. "Go on, don't be a wuss." I always knew this would end with me with my arm in an uncomfortable position as Third Dan Brendan panted proudly as he showed me his latest manoeuvre. Oh, how I yearned for the 'pull my finger' days.
You won't ever see aikido as an Olympic sport. The reason, as I had it explained to me, is that the art channels the aggressor's energy and mirrors it back at them. It's not a competitive advantage to be on the offensive. A friend, and former-hot-headed-young man, said this is what appeals to him about aikido. "It's all about harmony and getting along with others," he told me. "If there is conflict you are prepared for it, but you don't instigate it. There's more focus on what works rather than what scores points."
I'm a bit scared to get on the mat. I've heard stories. Bad stories. When I was living in Japan I worked with an aikido enthusiast. He told me that his master would make him roll on the reed mats until there was blood slowly seeping through his thick cotton outfit.
But I must try. I must impress the instructor with my tenacity. The legwork is more involved than in a ballroom dancing lesson. The rolls are fun, but I'm told not to put so much weight on my shoulder. Then the instructor asks me to grab his wrist. I do so with less hesitation than when asked by Third Dan Brendan. Before I know it, I'm on my back with my wrist painfully locked behind me. The instructor knows he's within millimetres of serious damage. I see a cheeky smile appear through the tears in my eyes. Aikido. I love it.