fitness · WOTY

Sam turns to Aikido for her #WOTY for 2021

Last year my word of the year was FOCUS. That didn’t play out as I had hoped. (HA!)

Today's word: Focus. You move in the direction of your focus. Where are you  headed? Is it where you want to go? | Words, Directions, Your head

Way back when, in the Before Times, I wrote, “This year I need to focus. I have one goal in mind which is getting ready for total knee replacement surgery next year. It’s not going to be easy. I have to keep up the physio, stay active, and do everything with knee health in mind. There’s no wandering off in pursuit of other goals. Everything has to be about my knee.

I need to practice saying things like, “that’s not the best thing for my knee and right now I need to give priority to my knee.” Focus. I need to not do things, like certain yoga poses, that I can do but that hurt my knee. Focus. I need to walk the right amount to help the joint but not enough to hurt it. Focus.”

Instead this turns out to be the year that we all have the attention spans of guppies because of pandemic stress and for me, some of the time, even reading novels and watching some TV shows turns out to be too challenging. Focus? Really?

Gif of tropical fish swimming

My knee surgery is delayed because our hospitals are in crisis. I don’t know when it will happen.

An awful lot of things feel up in the air.

There is so much celebration about seeing the back of 2020 but frankly I’m very worried about the future and not feeling that the right attitude is simply “boo hiss 2020” and “yay yay 2021.”

2020 wasn’t a bad year by chance. Impending climate disaster and political turmoil make me nervous and apprehensive about what’s to come next.

I keeping thinking about this quote.

In light of Big Change and the recognition that life as we knew it may be no more, I was considering some options–flexibility, resilience, adapt–for my 2021 word of the year. For me, the year to come is all about growing with and responding to change, and doing that in a way that’s grounded in the things I value, not just in a reactive way. I want to be flexible but not driven hither and which way by the winds of change. I want to use the feeling of change and the potential of the energy around me to move towards things I care about.

Could the pandemic help us live more lightly on the earth? Might we start to think differently about non-human animals? Will we still fly around the world? What about economic and political inequalities? How could we structure our society differently so we can better respond in times of crisis? My grad class on pandemic ethics spent a week reading and talking about Basic Minimum Income. There’s nothing like a glocal pandemic to make you realize that we all truly are citizens of the world and that we need to care for one another.

With all of these thoughts swirling around, I started to think about some concepts that are key to Aikido.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been on the mat. I can’t kneel with my injured knee. But I am not ready to say goodbye just yet.

I need a word that captures the feeling of going with the energy around you. It’s a year for Aikido words, I think. Going with the flow but taking it in the direction that you want to move, being centred and grounded but not like an unyielding block of cement. There’s an element of agency that’s involved. You don’t stand still and resist the attack. You don’t let it just blow you over either.

I posted the following question to Facebook, “Aikido friends, what’s the word or phrase in Aikido for going with the energy in an attack? Moving in that direction but using the energy to ultimately blend and get where you want to go. You know, that thing we all need in this awful, terrible, no good year! Not resisting all the time, that’s exhausting, but taking the energy and making it yours.”

An Aikido friend or two shared the obvious choice, the root word, “Aiki.”

“Aiki, a Japanese budō term, at its most basic is a principle that
allows a conditioned practitioner to negate or redirect an opponent’s

The friend continued, “As a budo principle, aiki is a decent way of living with things as they happen.”

The blog’s Mina Samuels suggested “flow” not as an Aikido word but as one that captures that meaning. She wrote, “I like that way of repurposing the word. In the short time I did Aikido, that principle has always stuck with me. The surprise of the “yes” when you go with the person’s energy direction, instead of resisting, that gives your strength the boost it needs.”

My Aikido friend K wrote, “Aiki and blend are good; whatever you call it, it begins with acceptance and is facilitated by gratitude. All power is in the present moment…”

Another Aikido friend M wrote, “”Awase” is blending, but another term to consider is “Musubi”: this is a more advanced concepts regarding the deep connection one makes with their partner or the reach within their body that allows an aikidoka to guide the flow of energy.”

You can read more about connection in Aikido here:

I like the Japanese Aikido words but it’s not my language and I don’t feel I understand the concepts well enough to make them my word of the year. I want to read more and learn more even if I can’t kneel on the mat right now. Maybe after knee replacement surgery. Maybe?

So, I’m left stiling thinking about “flow.” I do like the way “flow” follows after “focus.”

So I think I’ll declare FLOW to be the word that guides me through 2021, with a side of remembering the role of agency in going with the flow. All of this has made me realize how much I miss Aikido. Even if what I can do is limited, I’d like to get back to basic movements and some sword work.

Here’s me with my sword a few years ago:

Sam with wooden sword, while wearing Aikido gi, in the lobby of the student rec centre
Sam with her Aikido sword

We’ll do a #WOTY wrap post at some point here at the blog. Have you considered a Word of the Year for 2021? What’s your word and what’s it mean to you?

Given the year so far, I’ll totally understand if it’s ARGHHHHH!

4 thoughts on “Sam turns to Aikido for her #WOTY for 2021

  1. I’m always interested in people’s choices for “word of the year” – I find it too difficult to choose just one, it feels constraining. I tend to work better with quotes, phrases, mottos, “mantras” – and I have so many of those! I’m a magpie for them.

    I don’t like doing resolutions as they feel a bit harsh. I like intentions better but my follow-through isn’t great sometimes (often!). I’ve had the same set of intentions/desires/goals for a few years now (though I can likely be excused for not making progress in 2020 as many of them were related to in-person things, community and travel). I look at the list I put on my fridge and think “yep, all those are still valid, and I’m no further on any of them than when I wrote the list over a year ago”. Sigh.

    In reading the discussion about the aikido words, I was reminded of a mystery series I’ve liked that has an interesting main character and some glimpses into certain martial arts and associated words. (The author is also interesting. )

    Sending good thoughts to all.

    1. I like your zone of exploration a lot — and I love that pic of you with the sword. I have found that even the practice of writing about my word the way I did last week has already given some shape to my life — some “is that what I meant by steadfast” and slowed me down. Hugs for All the Things.

  2. I love the sword picture and the idea that you are flowing back to Aikido, despite limitations. Your whole thought process was lovely to see brought together in this one piece.

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