“What’s up?” Tessa sighed as she lay on the futon and watched me pacing the narrow space of our room, four steps from one tin wall to the other.
“You’re driving me insane!” she said but I ignored her warning and continued walking, stepping over her legs with every second step.
“Final warning!” she said and before I could react, she threw a shoe in my direction, sharply hitting my shinbone. The pain shot straight to my head.
“What’s wrong with you?” I cried, and leaned down to rub the aching limb.
“Oh, good morning. Nice of you to wake up. I’m sorry, but I was sure you were sleep-walking.”
“With my eyes wide open?”
“You could have fooled me. So, what’s going on, Gadi? And please don’t tell me it’s something to do with training.”
“It’s something to do with training.”
“I asked you not to say that.”
“I had no other choice.”
“So what is it my little fluffy aikido bunny? What’s eating at you? I thought everything was going well.”
“It was for a while.”
“My progress seems to have hit a brick wall.”
“Maybe you’re just tired. Some rest might do you a world of good.”
She pointed at the futon, but I shook my head.
“I’m not tired. I’m frustrated.”
“Frustrated because you moved too fast?”
“What does that mean?”
“That perhaps information is like food that needs time to be digested and processed. Eat a lot, too fast, and you might end up with indigestion.”
“No!” I cried and dropped to my knees in front of her.
“Some space please,” she said, and pulled away, leaning with her back against the wall.
“Do you remember how I told you that having a centered kamae is everything in Aikido?” I said. “That it is the place from which we sense our partners and perform the techniques?”
“How can I forget? You have basically chanted ‘Find Your Kamae’, ever since Payet sensei spelled it out for you in the kitchen at the dojo, words that sent you on your recent quest.”
“Exactly,” I nodded and stretched my arms out with open palms, not far from her face.
“You see the wide gap between the palms?” I continued, my voice loud, and my eyes burning with insane desperation.
“Oh I see, you mad dog. What about it?”
“This gap is how far I was from being centered before Payet sensei enlightened me. Closing that gap became my sole purpose in life, and for the past few months, all I did was work painstakingly on that goal, slowly but surely making progress until it finally closed up.”
To emphasize my words I moved my arms toward one another until the palms met in the middle.
“Bravo,” she said and began to clap. “Happy ending, everything is good.”
“I wish it was that simple, but to be honest with you, everything is far worse than it was before I started.”
“Why, baby? You were so happy just a few days ago.”
“I was. I really thought I’d sussed it out until I began to realize that finding the perfect center is actually impossible for me to achieve. You see, when you get into the finest of details, in order to have a perfect center, there should be a perfect balance between the right side of the body and the left. Every limb, muscle fiber, bone and joint should be lined up exactly on the center plane and operate as one, exerting equal strength, flexibility and coordination.”
My palms moved away from one another, the gap between the arms widening at a swift and decisive pace.
“Poor baby is back at the starting point,” she whispered and ran her fingers through my hair. I ground my teeth, and shook my head in annoyance.
“I wish I was,” I said as my arms passed the point where I had begun the demonstration and continued to move apart, my shoulders aching from the strain of overstretching. “I wish I was at the beginning when I still thought there was hope for achieving such physical perfection. I was happily deluded for a while, but not anymore. Now that the impossibility of the task has hit me I’m totally lost.”
“Poor, insane, baby,” she sighed and I miserably nodded at her words, deflated and feeble as I finally dropped and lay still on the futon.
Despite my complaints and sense of desperation I continued to try and achieve the ultimate center with a perfect balance between the left and right sides of my body. Trying. . . although knowing I would never succeed. As it happened, what solved the problem was another enlightening moment in the kitchen during a lunch break.
I was washing my dishes while David was finishing his meal. We were talking casually when the door opened and Chida sensei stepped in. He was limping and mumbling to himself in Japanese.
“Is everything alright, Sensei?” David asked as Chida Sensei sat heavily across from him, placed his right leg across his left thigh, and started nursing his foot.
Chida Sensei, a master of the art, had notorious feet due to two special qualities. The first quality was Chida sensei’s ability to keep his feet attached to the tatami as he glided around the dojo and performed aikido techniques, the most perfect demonstration of suri-ashi that was ever seen. The second was the fact that both feet were coated in an unbreakably hard shield of fungus, white as flour and quite shocking to see. It made David drop his spoon and rush to the sink, trying to cover up his wretching.
“It’s not suri-ashi but sorry-ashi,” I overheard a Canadian beginner whispering after observing Chida sensei in action. “I bet that dry fungal coating is what makes him slide so perfectly— as if he is roller skating.”
“Are you OK, sensei?” David asked, this time with his eyes embedded in the sink, as if waiting for me to finish my dish-washing. “Can we do anything to help?”
“I stepped on a piece of glass at home,” Chida sensei said, David translating. David was a keen student of the Japanese language – so very unlike myself. On hearing David’s words I quickly dried my hands and rushed to Chida sensei’s side.
“Are you sure it was glass, sensei?” I asked after carefully inspecting his foot. “The skin is intact, and there’s no blood.”
David translated and Chida sensei smiled and explained:
“It happened more than a week ago. I thought there was nothing inside but today, suddenly, it started to hurt.”
I nodded as I watched him touching and examining the foot. He looked deep in thought.
“Maybe you should see a doctor?” David suggested and Chida sensei frowned and lifted up his head.
“I said maybe you should see a doctor,” David repeated. Chida sensei looked horrified.
“No,” he vigorously shook his head. “I don’t like doctors.”
Both David and I wore puzzled expressions as we watched him return to analyze his foot.
“O hashi,)chopsticks),” Chida sensei at long last exclaimed, without lifting his eyes, like a surgeon ordering his team of nurses. David rubbed his chin and his eyes widened, probably as baffled as I was as to where this line of thought was going.
What surgical procedure was he about to perform?
Was he going to dissect his foot with the tip of a chopstick? Or even worse, was he going to eat it – skin, fungus and all? Dreading what was about to follow, David handed Chida sensei a pair of black chopsticks. Chida sensei shook his head without looking at David.
“The disposable ones,” he said. “These ones are too rounded.”
We searched for a few seconds until we found a bag full of pinewood chopsticks, each pair neatly encased in a paper envelope. I handed one to Chida sensei, and he slid the chopsticks out, took a jagged knife and began to saw at it. We watched him cutting both square ends, placing each slice to the sides of his invisible wound, then wrapping the wooden structure with a long sticky strip of plaster.
“Very good,” he complimented himself as he stood up and walked a few steps.
“Good, Sensei?” David muttered and Chida sensei uttered a few words, smiled and left the kitchen.
“What the hell did he say?” I asked. David exhaled loudly before answering.
“He said he had achieved his objective. And his objective was not an operation, but rather walking free of pain.”
I must admit that the procedure Chida sensei performed on his foot did achieve his objective. He continued to walk on his chopsticks for a few days until the pain was gone and he could detach the weird structure. I guess there wasn’t a piece of glass embedded in his foot after all, but a minor infection.
However, this incident made me reassess my desire to acquire perfect balance between the right and left sides of my body. After all, if my objective was to grasp the concept of the center, just like Chida sensei’s objective was to walk free of pain, then assuming I should have a perfect physical center in order to do so, was as wrong as assuming Chida sensei had a piece of glass embedded in his foot rather than an infection.
Such an assumption could divert one from one’s goal, sending one on the wrong course of action or even worse, ending up with an unnecessary operation.
“But what about Chida sensei’s heater lesson?” Tessa asked when I told her about my new enlightenment.
“This is different,” I explained. “A heater is a physical device that needs all of its components to be properly aligned and adjusted in order to work. But the center is a sensual concept above all, and as such, the physical components are far less meaningful.”
“So what’s next?” she sighed. “And please don’t tell me you’re going to start sawing chopsticks and sticking them to your feet.”
“Chopsticks are for foot infections. I need to find the right tools for my problem.”