I've had a word processing window open for probably the entire day, struggling not only with the words that won't come, but also with a whiny teething child, when it finally dawned on me that my situation was identical to that created by attending a misogi: it's easy to decide to do something, and usually harder to do it. So once I was able to decide I was indeed going to write something I stopped stalling and engaged my ki-board.

I was fortunate to attend the misogi at the Winter Seminar, and also fortunate to view the pictures of last year's New Year's Day Misogi. Knowing what I was going to try to do was enough to set my mind against me. Success at getting up at an early hour does not equate success at not griping internally about what lies ahead: in this case, a partially frozen lake and wearing a swimsuit in front of my “peers.” Laugh all you may at the juxtaposition of these two, but my mind was plagued.

During the car ride up to the lake we shared a few jokes about what else may constitute a “good” misogi (please consider hot tub misogis and sleeping misogis for the future – Ed.) and the jokes helped to calm my mind. There was also reference to either the idea or the actuality that a misogi could consist of repeating something until one was sweating profusely and only then being allowed to stop. At this I internally despaired, because I couldn't break much of a sweat if my life depended on it; and it was looking like it might!

In seriousness, I had attempted to confront the idea that the purpose of a misogi was to purify my mind and to focus on a new year of aikido practice, but I kept encountering the idea of “I don't need to be committed if it involves X” where X is whatever idea I'm dreading at the time. I was further stymied by the fact that I found the previous misogi of bell-ringing enjoyable (foot pain notwithstanding) and had a fuzzy idea in my genes that if I didn't find pouring frozen water on my head enjoyable then I shouldn't do it. Obviously one cannot pour a solid on their head, but any water in that lake that wasn't frozen with that air was simply not committed enough. In any case, my mind decided to go and my body followed.

Inspired, King-Sensei and Jones-Sensei evidently decided that a water misogi may not be appropriate for us. So King-Sensei told us that we were still going to do a water misogi, but of sweat (and yes, I again despaired that I would be there until the ice thawed trying to break a visible sweat). So we pulled out the iron jos, which I had never hefted before, and stood facing the lake.

The lake presented a beautiful view with a line of trees opposite us and the sun not quite ready to rise in the east. There was the ice, of course, almost encrusted to the shore; and all the more beautiful now that I could admire it from afar.

As we started cutting I was surprised by the weight and momentum of the jo once I wasn't holding it at its center of gravity. King-sensei encouraged us not to grip the jo tightly or to fight against it. I tried to follow his advice, smiling at myself that it felt that I was dropping the jo, then struggling to catch it as it neared the bottom of the swing. I spent most of the cuts trying different approaches to see what felt best. Having spent some of the Christmas holiday playing with a dancing/rhythm pad for the Xbox, I also tried to swing in time with King-sensei, but usually failed, either because he was alternating on purpose or I was too distracted (or a bad dancer, but that's not germane to this topic).

By the time I couldn't swing the iron jo any more and King-sensei told me to switch to wooden, I was sufficiently relaxed that I wasn't embarrassed to be the first student to “need” to change. Apparently one side-effect of working too hard to care anymore is shedding mental hang-ups. I also noticed that I eventually started concentrating on two trees across the lake from me and tried to keep my strikes between them. So when the sun rose and geese later flew overhead honking noisily (or “laughing at us,” as was the joke), to my chagrin I had focused too much on the trees to want to look over. I regret that I missed much of the beauty because I was so nervous, though I finally managed to spit out a few smiles to find that smiling did make the cuts seem easier.

The few intense encounters I've had with weapons have all produced enlightening wounds. To date every time I hold a jo or bokken for longer than 15 minutes the palms of my hands get blistered, which confirmed for me that I grip the weapons too tightly. The misogi left me with a few days of elbows that wouldn't bend, yet my shoulders and wrists were fine, but I can't decide if I was letting my elbows bend too much with the momentum of the jo, or alternately forcing them to stay rigid. Matt previously mentioned in a class that using an iron jo would very quickly get you swinging it more correctly. I hoped my “injuries” and experience would get me closer to not flinging a jo into a car accidentally or stabbing holes in the dojo mat with bokken, but on a more sustaining level, that I'm a little bit closer to letting my insecurities burn away in my nonexistent sweat caused by my nonexistent muscles. A friend quoted to me today “Let us not die with our music still in us.” I believe that aikido has already helped me on a small level to let a little more music escape, if not yet a breakaway pop hit , at least an obscure indy release.

-Heidi Hoopes

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