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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.

"You should always practice in the spirit of joy."

George Leonard, The Way of Aikido, Part 2

Let your gaze sweep the whole mat. Yes, almost everyone is smiling. And except for the slap of hands, the crash of bodies onto the mat, and an occasional ki-ai shout, the pre-dominant sound is an occasional laugh of delight. That's what's most disorienting. All these men and women, all these grown-ups wearing exotic Japanese garb and exuberantly attacking one another, are dead serious in their concentration and, at the same time, having as much fun as children at play.

You wander over to a bulletin board covered with flyers of special events at this and other dojos. There in the middle is another, smaller photograph of the aged Japanese man and beneath it the words, "You should always practice in the spirit of joy." That quote helps you understand what's going on, but still there are mysteries. You look more closely at the photograph on the bulletin board, then back at the large one overlooking the training mat. You see a man from another era. His face is relatively unlined. His eyes are clear and calm. They are eyes that strike you as having seen more than most, not only of the material world but also of that vast interior universe that transcends ordinary time and space. They are eyes, that hold you without asking anything of you. They are slightly distant, the eyes of a great warrior or a saint or, better--in a martial art built on paradox--a saintly warrior.

You return to your seat. The sensei who is teaching comes over to introduce himself and ask if you have any questions. You hardly know what to say but finally venture to inquire if the attacks are "real." The sensei smiles and assures you that they are real; punches aren't being pulled. But a hard strike doesn't look very hard, he explains, if instead of opposing it you move in and become one with it, even if only for a split second. When you do become one with the attack, blend with it, you create any number of options for yourself. And nobody gets hurt.

You ask about the venerable Japanese gentleman in the photograph. The sensei explains that he was the founder of aikido. His name is Morihei Ueshiba, but he is known to aikidoists and to many practitioners of other martial arts, as well, simply as O Sensei, great teacher. When the picture was taken, he was just under five feet tall, weighed around a hundred and twenty pounds, and was at his prime as a martial artist. O Sensei, in fact, told his students that it was only after he had lost his muscular strength at age seventy and had to depend almost entirely on ki that he really understood the essence of aikido.

You want to ask about ki, but the sensei has to go and demonstrate the next phase of training. Before leaving, he tells you that you're welcome to come back any time you wish.

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