Imagination in Aikido

Kevin Russell

Empty the mind. It’s been a central tenet of my martial arts practices since I was 11. Focus, steady breathing, ignoring any and all complications while you practice. Focus on the technique, how your breath flows through your body as you move, attempting to achieve one perfect instance. I’m reminded of the movie “The Last Samurai:” “Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind the enemy, too many mind… [pause] No mind.” But as I’ve been practicing aikido virtually and on my own, I am here to argue for the full mind, a mind doing its best to recreate what I miss so much about the dojo.

I’ve always had an active imagination. As a kid, I could sit in my basement for hours building bases, forts, and vehicles for my Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and Power Rangers. The adventures were epic, shared universes before Marvel made them cool. This extended to recess when my friends and I would LARP long before learning that word existed. We’d invent characters and run around saving imaginary people, having imaginary battles. And now, I often stand on a patch of grass outside one of UW’s engineering buildings, practicing Sansho routines against an imaginary uke. I have to match my movements with a person I only see in my mind because we can’t practice together like we used to. I sometimes extend my imagination to create six or seven other pairs of aikidoka practicing the same routines, filling in the sounds of heavy breathing, the swish of the gis, the occasional dropped jo. I go through my movements, I smile, and I cross my fingers for next summer.

When we were in the dojo, my imagination would occasionally affect my practice, and I’m sorry if it ever affected yours. But when I’m outside on the grass, or inside what is generously called my living room, filling my mind with these images and memories makes solo practice considerably less lonely. It’s like I get to practice with my friends again as we wait this out. They always say to clear your mind, but I say, for now, let it run wild.