Aikido · fitness

What if this is as good as it gets? 

One of the joys of having a blog is you get to see the same themes pop up each year at the same time. Oh, autumn, it’s you again!

For me there are two main parts to this autumn story when it comes to my fitness activities. I love riding in the fall but each fall I start riding my bike less on weekdays (bye bye evening light)  and I find myself back in the Aikido dojo, back on the mats. Hello angry white pajamas, hello old Aikido friends. The second part, I wrote about recently. It’s my annual bout of autumn sadness.

These two story lines converge when it comes to Aikido. Each fall, along with questioning life’s meaning in general, I find myself asking why am I doing this particular thing, Aikido. I love it but maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I should just quit Aikido. It’s really hard and I’m not very good at it and I can’t roll and I go through all the angst and agony about whether or not this is something that fits in my life. (See way from way back when, Thinking about quitting: Life lessons from Kenny Rogers and Aristotle.)

I’m always going to be a Jill-of-all-sports. It’s never going to be just Aikido for me. I love canoeing, and bike riding, and weight lifting too. I absolutely have to be outdoors a lot.

And the thing is we all like narratives of success. Even when the total amount of good is the same, we like life stories where things begin bad and get better (think David Sedaris and Jeanette Walls) better than ones where things start out okay and go downhill. We like it when things get better and better . But not everything in life gets better and better. Sometimes we have to say this might be as good as it gets and that’s okay.

Back to Aikido.

What’s my issue with Aikido? Well, I’m not very good at rolling and you need to be able to do the advanced break falls in order to train for advanced belts. That makes sense.  I can’t do them. I’m currently a green belt and the next belt for me is brown with stripe and to get that I would need to be a lot better rolling. I also just don’t have the time to commit to training for another belt level. I’ve got a big job with lots of travel and I’ve got lots of other things I want to do to.

Also I’ve been doing Aikido now for eight years and I’m not getting much better at rolling. The thing is though I still love it, I don’t get much better.  So the other day I try to put a different perspective on things, to think about things differently. The world might not change but the way I look at it could change. Don’t lots of inspirational posters tell us this?

What I wondered was whether or not it would be okay to be a green belt forever. Would I keep coming to Aikido even if I never tested again?

Stopping progress and finding “as good as it gets” is true for lots of sports.  Would you keep running if you never got any faster? What if you could never run any further? What if this is it? We talk about athletic values rather than aesthetic values but what if getting better wasn’t an option?

When Tracy and I started this blog and our fittest by fifty challenge, we wanted to be the fittest we’ve ever been at 50. That was an exciting goal but of course there’s a downside to that which is coming down the other side.

As we get older we can be training just as hard or harder and not seeing progress, staying the same, or even getting slower.

So I’m using Aikido kind of as a test case for staying the same and see if I can be okay with it.

I’m going to work really hard at being an excellent green belt and enjoy where I am without worrying about progress.

I’m not sure I’ll succeed at this goal, that is my goal of being happy without getting better–it’s been my goal for awhile. See Aikido Love from last fall. I love Aikido and I don’t want my inability to roll to take me off the mad for the rest of my life.

This might be as good as it gets but that’s still pretty great. 

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Samantha Brennan (@samjanebrennan) on

8 thoughts on “What if this is as good as it gets? 

  1. If you enjoy it so much and are able to maintain even where you are, why not? I use to study a slightly obscure form of kung-fu. I didn’t go in with hopes of belts etc. I just really enjoyed it and I was fairly decent at it. When I moved out of the area I couldn’t continue formal practice. Unrelated side note, weighted hula hooping is a lot of fun, can be done indoors or out, and is generally portable.

  2. My grandmother has shared this attitude about downhill skiing. She started when she was 59 and got good enough to ski with us grandkids. Now she’s 90 and still gets out quite a bit. She says you have to make to about loving being outdoors in winter and loving the scenery. Not tackling the hardest trail ever, but really enjoying skiing the easy stuff and just being there and seeing friends. Just getting all your gear on and taking a few runs is an accomplishment.

  3. Hello from Australia!
    I’ve been following your blog with interest. I’m a yoshinkan practitioner, feminist and have an academic background in philosophy so it’s right up my street.
    Like everything in aikido, it’s hard to do, but immerse yourself in the process and forget the outcome. Ironically you will improve this way because you have the correct mind. Have compassion fro yourself along the way, too. For me, this has been the best lesson of aikido thus far. Difficult to do but so worth it.
    Best of luck with your training.

    1. Oh, how nice to meet you! You’re right. We’ve got a lot in common. If you ever want to guest post about Aikido, we’d love to have you.

  4. Struggling with similar challenges right now, so it was good to read your post. I am taking time off from the mats right now due to aikido injuries – one which I think of as typical collateral damage, and a more serious one, which I chalk up to a careless partner. I’ve worked a lot on my ukemi and technique to get to 2nd kyu – I dare say that, as a petite woman, I have to work harder to get the technique right if it’s going to work on the big folks. But I am small enough that some of the stronger/bigger practitioners can really do damage if they’re not paying attention. I am willing to deal with minor bumps and bruises, but avoidable injuries that affect my well-being off the mats make me very angry. Those are not good for my long-term health, and not fair to my family.

    The flip side is that I really do love aikido – it is my stress relief, my workout, and a social outlet as well. I’m sure I could stand to branch out, exercise-wise, but I’ve never loved any sport like this one. I truly want to keep doing aikido into my eighties and nineties.

    So I am currently debating whether to circumscribe my practice (e.g. train only with select partners; steer clear of known high-risk situations; stop testing); switch to another dojo, with no guarantee it wouldn’t be the same setup all over again; or to quit aikido altogether, which prospect makes me very sad. I haven’t yet figured out how what returning to aikido on my own terms looks like.

  5. Hey Ladies, I love hearing what other, female aikido practitioners are thinking. I’ve been training for 10 years, and ranked first (ikkyu) kyu. It’s been a really hard road, but ultimately rewarding. I have struggled with all kinds of training-related challenges in the past – from injuries to crummy training partners. While aikido brings me great joy, I still have aspects of training and certain people I’m not over-fond of.

    Here are a few of my thoughts about training:
    1. I’ve suffered from over-use injuries, weakness and muscle imbalances. After three years serious, weekly work with a massage therapist and a trainer, I’m a titan. I’m fit, muscled, and have been major-injury free for nearly 3 years. Supplementary training was vital for me.

    2. I find those people I really trust and ask them zillions of questions about my struggles. I ask trusted senior students and instructors to pick apart my ukemi (the way you take technique & fall self-protectively) and I’ve gotten fabulous advice. “Never let someone pull on your arm so it disconnects from your core. Turn your body, keep your pec engaged, keep the shoulder in front of you.” “Never give someone a flaccid arm. Always keep a little tension – practice unbendable arm.” Stuff like that. It’s helped me avoid commonplace injuries.

    3. Tell people if they’re hurting you. No one has to hurt in training. Don’t let even a senior partner get away with nonsense. Talk to people you trust about alternatives that don’t strain people’s joints or other sensitive body parts unduly. My instructor has great ideas about ways to avoid wrist strain. And, think about your own technique. How can you be careful with everyone you partner?

    4. Own your training. Always. My training is mine. My test is mine. My mindset is mine. My commitment is mine. However much I think others are in control, in reality I have 100% control.

    When I get frustrated or concerned, I remind myself how important martial arts is to me. I remember that aikido is compassionate. I remind myself to minimize my complaints, and look for the ways I can make my dojo a better, happier training community. I’m in this for the long haul. I’m gonna be that 90 year old, indestructible little old lady some day!

  6. >>”I love hearing what other, female aikido practitioners are thinking

    Agree, I always love to hear from other women practitioners – there are never enough around, to my taste! (Side note: The IAF posted a video of its panel focusing on gender in sport/budo – lots of great senior female aikidoka sharing their experiences:

    >>”Supplementary training was vital for me.”

    Glad to hear that worked out for you. I have realized for some time now that I will have to really up my training as I take aim at 1st kyu and beyond – I did not come out of an athletic background, so I feel like I’m having to learn things that other folks picked up in their childhood. So yes, find trainer/gym, etc. etc.

    >>”I find those people I really trust”
    “Tell people if they’re hurting you.”

    I am pretty vocal. And picky – I have learned to avoid careless partners and risky situations, for the most part. I am also pretty active in the dojo community – help coordinate events, reach out to newbies, organize celebrations and so on – so I figure I can speak up if things aren’t right. I love my regular training partners but I also have (without getting into details) issues with some more structural factors, such as safety protocol.

    So at this point something I am struggling with is: to what extent does my safety require me to step back from this place that I love? Sometimes “100% control” involves leaving (for another location, not leaving aikido altogether). But also I feel like not speaking up can mean that I am leaving the unsafe conditions in place for other unsuspecting practitioners. And I really do love my core group of fellow students. So. Not something I am trying to solve on this blog post. (thank you Sam for starting the discussion!) But it really helped me a few days ago to chat with a senior aikidoka at another dojo, who told me that she had gone through the same sort of soul-searching when she first moved to the area and was looking for the right dojo. Maybe it will help someone else to know that these questions arise, as we continue on the aikido path.

Comments are closed.