Report #5 From Abyssinia: Test Day

Report #5 From Abyssinia: Test Day

By Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Ph.D

*This is the fifth installment in a series of writings from the first East African Aikido Seminar and Cultural Exchange, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can find Report #4 Here.

I wake with the morning call to prayer from the muezzin in the mosque across the street. The thin rind of the moon, detached and milky, floats in the inky sky. The air is still and unmoving and below in the streets figures emerge quietly out of the darkness; the outline of the Intoto hills, as though cast in iron, appears like some ancient anvil silhouetted in the eastern sky. Verreaux’s Eagle, or Amora in Amharic, circles silently in the breaking dawn; this calm is a coin to be spent with care. So I heed the muezzin’s call and in the mosque of my body I do my sitting practice and after reflect on the day to come.

Since my visit two years ago the aikido students throughout the eight Dojos in Ethiopia have been training conscientiously with Tes who visits two to four times a year, with Lou who teaches when he can find time from his commitments at the hospital twice a year, and most consistently with the Ethiopian black belts, Demelesch, Rudy, and Tariku, who I tested for Shodan on my last visit. This test will include four 1st degree brown belts (the test before Shodan), two Shodans and three Nidans (second degree black belt). There is high anticipation and students are arriving from throughout Ethiopia to attend the tests and take part in the East African Aikido Seminar.

The Juventus Sports Club, where the tests are held, is behind Meskel Square, which is in the center of the city. Surprisingly it’s an oasis of trees, gardens, and a large stone outcrop with seeping water from above darkening it. I breathe in the cool clean air buzzing with life; there’s a radiant energy commensurate to the small dojo at the back of the building. Overhead are the usual African Buzzards, Vultures, an occasional Verreaux’s Eagle, and darting just above the trees a Black Kite called Kurain Amharic. At last count there are seventy-two raptors in Ethiopia, thirty-one migrants and forty-one residents.  Myself, along with the other westerners attending the seminar, are also the migrant species. Our whiteness makes us easily recognizable; we are as much ignored as we are seen as a possible easy mark for a donation of one kind or another. To be a migrant is by definition to rove, to wander, to move with the seasons. What is the kinship between the migrants above who are cutting pathways in the sky and us humans scoring countless pathways on the earth with boots and fire? The way the raptors effortlessly carve the air remind me of the sweeping spirals in aikido that bear your partner into a joined reality; and the steep, reeling dives of the Kura are like the fiercely loving entering moves that we learn as a remedy for an aggressive attack. Perhaps it is this similarity of shapes we share that’s the link between us human migrants to the migratory family in the blue skies of Addis Ababa. These spirals, both broad and sweeping, and tight like curled fists, are the reflection of the music of the spinning galaxies that move us. In chemistry migratory is distinguished as the movement of ions toward one electrode or another, under the influence of electromotive force. Is this roving of ions, deep within us, authored by a force we call intent? If so, then it is our moral imperative that we summon the question of what is our intent? What is it we choose? Or how do we let it summon us, to choose to move through us. The spiritual aspect of aikido asks us to be moved by an energy, a Divine electromotive force if you will, what we call Takemusu Aiki. This force influences us at a cellular level, as well as at a Universal level, as an emergent, embodied, evolutionary process of interconnectedness and interdependence…OK, let’s call it Love. Then there’s the art of aikido migrating to Ethiopia in the here and now, merging with its complex and rich Abyssinian culture.  There is a future we are constructing in these shared spirals, but we have only glimpses as to what new life they will bring.

The Aikido Dojo at Juventus Sports Club is shared with the Addis Ababa Judo club. It is approximately 225 square feet, the size of an average living room, with tatami mats and half the wall painted a festive orange and the other half a linen white. Forty dedicated, energetic, sincere, joyful, rollicking twenty-year olds roll and fall, stretch, swing jos and bokkens, apply wrist and arm locks, and laugh joyously in the packed space. There are no serious collisions and when bodies do tumble into each other there’s an easy giving as if this is a common way to move collectively in the world. Bodies fly effortlessly about with an abounding mix of commitment, joy, sincerity, and fellowship. It’s enrapturing and there’s a wide smile on my face that feels permanent like a tattoo.

Linda Holiday, Grayson James and Tes sit with me as part of the examining board. Tes calls out the techniques for the four brown belt exams and I call out the techniques for the Dan candidates. In addition to testing themselves all the candidates uke for each other as well and I also send Katina in to uke. Five hours later Ethiopia has four new 1st degree brown belts that are on the road to Shodan, two new Shodans, and three new Nidans. They’re all exemplary tests and it’s significant to note that Ethiopians fundamentally taught all the candidates. As we bow out I note that we are looking at the future of Aikido in Ethiopia in all of these students. The migration continues. Stay tuned.

Take it Easy But Take It

Richard