Whenever I look in the mirror, I see a cockroach staring back at me. For many years, whenever I shaved, I saw only the beard I was shaving. The rest of the image were not useful to agonise over, so I always put it to the back of my mind, to protect my sanity. It has been like this for as long as I can remember. Sure, my eyes see a human being, much like when they are directed at my friends, who I love very much. Still, where my brain recognises that what I see is me (whom I hate), somehow the impression becomes twisted and distorted by some dishonesty in my system.

I became aware of this a few years ago, through aikido practise. Still, the knowledge is only the first step. There is no logic to this way of thinking. It is actually some kind of insanity, I think. Nobody can tell me how it is, because I will NEVER believe them. The inner voice is always louder, no matter what. I need to practise a lot more to be able to clean this dishonesty from my system. To make the hate for myself ease down and hopefully one day completely go away.

Practicing aikido is for me a little bit like ladling a sinking boat. I can skip one day, but I get really depressed and feel terrible. It feels a bit like I am starting to drown. The cold, and threatening water is flowing into my boat and I realise that I am sinking, and I have nothing to get rid of it with. Self destructive thoughts are looping in my mind and become more and more loud and dominating in the myriad of thoughts going through my system at all times.

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Practice at Aikido Karlín in Prague in July 2016. Photo by Aikido Karlín.

Aikido brings reality to me. It gives me truths, truths coming from others, who are by nature and by their experience  a little bit different from me. Even if they have some dishonesty themselves (most likely everybody has some) their system is slightly different from mine. It is like our fingerprints imprinted on the same paper. Where our lines cross that is where we meet. It will be different for every person I meet. In this way, even if they have some dishonesty in their system as well we can help each other get rid of our dishonesty together, because we are two different people.

What is honesty? How often are we really honest in real life? How can we even speak of honesty in relation to others if we are not even honest with ourselves? I remember my struggle when I finished my education and had to start applying for jobs. Up until then I was never forced to try to attempt to make somebody else to want me. I was doing my study, of physics, and that was it. Suddenly I was forced to try to sell myself to some employer. I didn’t feel that I deserved any of the jobs I applied for. I felt that every word I wrote was a total and utter lie. I felt that I was a crock trying to deceive some people into hiring me so that I would get my money to practice aikido. I saw myself as a cockroach, a parasite, a vulture and a rat. I don’t deserve any good things in life.

Still, I am a human being. I know that. But I don’t really KNOW that. This situation causes me to fail to be a human being and to live like one. This is why I need the aikido. When somebody is holding on to our arm we can feel our ego, we can feel our attempts to escape the problems we are facing. We can feel our doubts and our lack of confidence. Everything invisible and unreachable that clouds our mind becomes visible and reachable. First we can see it. Then we can start moving it around. Later we might be able to completely remove some garbage by turning it into something good and useful.

Andrea Lillsved

Post keiko with Andrea at Lillsved in July 2015. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

So how do we practice to let this kind of honesty grow? What is an honest kata? I heard the words “honest attack” very often back in my early years. I never quite bought the idea. It sounded as a contradiction as I considered attacking as a quite dishonest action in itself back then. I had not been in aikido long enough to change my association with the word “attack” from “rape”, “robbery”, “stealth bomber air strike” and so on. All of which has very little honesty in them. Still, the kata contains two roles. In both roles I believe we can clean ourselves from dishonesty.

How do we lift the arm when somebody is holding us? The flip side to that question is of course, how do we hold on to our buddy when he is lifting? From both sides we will feel the points where our “fingerprints” intersect. Well, the road to the answer for both questions lies in honesty, I think. By raising the arm in an honest way we are not giving any signals which will collide with our partner’s wishes. There is no evil intent in our actions, no deception and it becomes apparent for the partner. The same goes for uke. It is just as difficult to follow the partner’s arm without experiencing conflicts in the grab or stops in our body. These problems are the intersections of our “fingerprints” and they are the same for both of us. It will be slightly different with every person in the world, but this specific partner it is like this. This way any dishonesty becomes pretty obvious for us both. The painful and shameful, old regrets and trauma are coming out in the open so we can clean it up.

So by taking away more and more dishonesty from ourselves we are cleaning ourselves in some way. Our movements are becoming more and more pure and free from unaware dishonest intentions, attempts of deception and false shortcuts. In doing so they will appear more beautiful in their simplicity when seen from the outside (we can see this very clearly in demonstrations and examinations). The partner is allowed to hold strong, and we will not attempt to avoid the power of the partner. We will not threaten the partner with our own attacks. We will not try to force our way. Instead we will search for the honest way to lift the arm. At every step of the way our partner is free to hold on to us and give us his/her feeling.

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After keiko in Åkersberga with Patrick and Katarina in May 2016. Photo by Katarina Gullberg.

I am always returning to the idea of raising the arms while being held, and it is an eternal fascination for me. It contains everything I am interested in. If I can do that, I can use the same concept for any form. If my partner is attacking striking, the next part of the movement is already clear by the time we touch, if I was able to raise my arm honestly. This basic truth comes back no matter what we do.

Every time I touch another human being I feel some confirmation of a deep truth about myself. All ambiguities will be used by my internal demon to tell me lies which have part truth in them. This uncertainty is being replaced by confidence during my interaction with my partners on the tatami. So the demon has nothing new to tell me. I have more and more solid facts about myself from a huge group of people. It is not something they tell me. It is who they are and who I am which gives me this knowledge. A word said by one person or ten thousand makes no difference in my mind when the inner voice start rambling. However, this deep knowledge which comes from the gripping of my partners makes a world of difference for me. There is no room for the dishonesty inside myself, because I know, and when I know, I really do know.

I have found that even though I hate myself, I do not hate my aikido. Sure there are millions of things I am working on and improving every single day. Still, I love the aikido that I do. It is a road for me and I walk it for a while every day and I love every second of it. This is a part of myself that I love. No wonder I want to spend every waking moment on the tatami.

Rado februar Vanadis

Fun with Rado in the changing room at Vanadis Aikido Club during the Stockholm seminar with Seishiro Endo sensei in February 2016. Photo by Theodora Wolfe.

I think that when we have been able to rid ourselves of the dishonesty inside ourselves, we can actually start thinking about being honest with others. First we have to be aware of all the little tricky loops in our mind, below our radar, which is not really honest. Saying something honest to somebody just because they will never find out and it will turn out favourably for yourself is really not honesty, I think. Even doing something we consider a nice thing to do just to feel good about ourselves is not honest either, is it? Honesty is tricky. Honestly I am not really sure I know even what it is…

Enjoy every second of your keiko! Aikido makes people happy (because it makes our boats float high in the water of happiness)!