Shodan Paper by Jo Anna Shaw

Epilogue to My Aikido Story in My Book, “Design and Live the Life YOU Love: A Guide for Living in Your Power and Fulfilling Your Purpose” — 12/13/18

In a moment of feeling empty and alone during the fall of 2016, I walked into the Aikido of Ashland dojo one October Saturday morning to see if I could take the weapons class. I had been off the mat for 6 years and wondered if I was fit enough to still do Aikido. At age 65, I figured that if I couldn’t do the more active classes I could always do weapons. More importantly, I wondered if I would even be welcomed back.

I felt like the prodigal child come home, when I bowed into the dojo that day and was greeted by smiling faces and my name being called. Sensei welcomed me with open arms, invited me to get on the mat and encouraged me to go at my own pace.

Muscle memory is a miraculous body trait. I was amazed at how quickly I remembered the katas, although my style was slow and rusty. I didn’t remember the Japanese names of the techniques, but I could do the activities after a few tries. Within six months, I remembered all the names and could do a technique when called out in Japanese.

When I left the dojo back in 2008, I had logged about 250 hours on the mat and was training for my 1st Kyu exam. During my first year back, I chose to do the smaller more basic classes, training four days a week. By October 9, 2017 I was promoted to 1st Kyu. The next year, I spent more time in the larger classes facilitated by Sensei. On December 10, 2018, I was promoted to Shodan – a right of passage that has me contemplating all I have achieved.  

Folks say how committed I am to show up four days a week, how inspirational my achievement is and how devoted I must be to be able to regain the strength, endurance and flexibility to achieve these promotions – at my age. It is as if I am trying really hard to achieve these Aikido benchmarks.

The truth is I didn’t invest this much time on the mat because I wanted a brown or black belt. I just love my time on the Aikido mat, being part of the Aikido of Ashland community and the friendships I have here and at other dojos I have visited.

Also, I don’t feel my age. It’s amazing what practicing the principles of Aikido, addressing my childhood conditioning issues, meditating daily, gardening and being in nature with animals can do for physical, mental and emotional health.

Most of all, I am devoted to my spiritual path. Beyond the fellowship and the physical, mental and emotional benefits of studying Aikido, I embrace Aikido as an integral part of my spiritual path. Practicing Aikido grounds me. I helps me embody and extend That Which I Am as a spiritual being in a human experience.

To live the way of harmony with the Universe, for me, is to express my Higher Self in all that I do – to be playful, curious, open, loving, compassionate and peaceful; as a tree that stands tall and bends with the wind, a river flows around stones or a child  is playful and forgiving. Aikido provides me with a whole, mind-body way of exploring this consciousness, on the mat and beyond.

My book, “Design and Live the Life YOU Love” chronicles my devotion to my evolution through poetry, self-help healing and life skills. This devotion is what inspires me to get back up and enter again whenever I fall down, whether on the mat or in the world.

In Gratitude,

Jo Anna Shaw