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Excerpted from The Way of Aikido by George Leonard. Copyright 1999 by George Leonard. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Putnam, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"He leaps to his feet and comes at his training partner again, wearing the broadest of grins on his face."

George Leonard
The Way of Aikido
, Part 1

Welcome to Our Dojo

Come visit our aikido school, our dojo. Climb two flights of exterior stairs to a small outdoor landing. Open the door and walk in; visitors are always welcome. Don't be surprised if at first your senses are stunned by what you behold; a large, rectangular open space; exposed rafters on which 'lights are mounted; walls of soft white on which are hung framed examples of Japanese calligraphy; a sort of altar with flowers, chimes, and a large black-and-white photograph of a venerable Japanese martial artist with a white beard. But it's not the serene setting that overwhelms your senses, but rather the grand melee that is taking, place within it. This is especially true if you should enter during a period of jiyu-waza (freestyle), where almost anything goes.

Just relax and have a seat on one of the benches for visitors. Let your eyes adjust to the swirling motion, the spectacle of some twenty or thirty men and women of various ages dressed in white jackets and black or dark blue floor-length skirts attacking their partners and being thrown to the mat. Let your ears adjust to the swish of bare feet on the lustrous: blue-gray vinyl mat cover, the percussive sound of hands slapping the mat to help break falls. Let your mind accept the fact that there is some order in this seemingly random motion and that somehow, despite your immediate fears, there will be no collisions among the rushing, swarming men and women before you.

Now that your senses are adjusting, pick but a twosome, perhaps the one practicing closest to you, a muscular, balding man and a slim woman with dark hair. The man rushes at her with the real intent to bring a strong blow directly down on her head. The woman moves toward her attacker, then, at the last moment, shifts to one side so that the strike misses her by perhaps two inches. As his hand passes, she deftly brings it down even faster with one of her hands, at the same time turning her hips so as to lift his other elbow with her other hand. The man flips in midair, his momentum carrying him another six or seven feet before he crashes to the mat with an explosive slap of his hand. You find yourself starting violently. Surely, after such a fall, the man must be seriously injured. But no, he leaps to his feet and comes at his training partner again, wearing the broadest of grins on his face.

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