I have been living in the Netherlands for more than 10 years. Like most expats, I was working for a large international corporation. Last year, I decided to make the big dive by quitting and setting up a one-man company axed on two activities I really enjoy: producing music and teaching science. After a couple of months, although very excited by what I was building, I felt a little empty, out of balance.
My best friend suggested that I try Aikido… I was a little unsure about that. Besides, all the teaching would be in Dutch – which I speak quite poorly. But I registered at a club in Leiden anyway, just to check it out, more curious than anything else really…
That was a year ago… and now, I’m hooked!
Aikido is different from all other martial arts by its philosophy: it is sometimes translated as “the way of the harmonious spirit”. More than a fighting technique, it is an art that is used to defend oneself while also protecting the attacker from injury. It is also seen as the realization of love, an unconditional love and respect for all life. One can sense it when entering an Aikido dojo (dojo = training location for Eastern martial arts). When I started, I didn’t know what it was, but there was definitely something unusual in the air that struck me from the first training sessions.
The Aikido community is the most welcoming I ever encountered. It is a world out of the world, where people from all horizons, social standing and age groups train together in a beautiful harmony, guided by a Sensai (master). It is a sport impregnated with Japanese traditions and conventions giving a certain structure, which forces you to escape from your daily life and replenish yourself: On the Tatami, you only do Aikido!
There are a lot of physical contacts during the training, which can feel a little unusual at first – and sometime uncomfortable for some – but it reminds you of important things that our society has lost. You get used to it and after some time, you actually enjoy it. It creates a bond with your training partner. Every 5 minutes, your partner changes. So after a few months, you have built connections and complicities with all members of the club. A real nest for new friendships!
Last month, I went with my club to a famous Aikido convention in Markelo (East of Holland), where all Aikido clubs meet and train together under the guidance of a grand master. It was the first time I was going camping with only Dutch people. I was a bit apprehensive, because my Dutch is so poor. But I knew somehow that the Aikido spirit would obviate this fear a little. I was right: I had a lot of fun and was welcomed with warm arms into the community.
Going into the wild by leaving the standard salary system, as I did a year ago, is quite a challenge. In such situation, a little guidance in finding a new life balance can be useful. I found the support I needed in Aikido’s spirit and philosophy… and this time, the structure of my daily life has not been imposed on me. This time, I chose it and I chose well.
You are looking for practicing an enlightened sport? You are looking to connect with the locals? You are in search of something spiritual, but you cannot pinpoint exactly what? You want to find a way to reset your mind after a stressful day or week? You are seeking for a new balance in life? If you have said yes to any of these questions, give it a try for a few months. You will not regret it!
Here are the Dojos I recommend:
In Leiden: http://aikidoleiden.nl/
In Delft: The website (www. aikidocentrumdelft.nl ) appears to be redirected… contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Alphen: http://www.aikidoalphen.nl/
You can also find more information about Aikido, as well as a dojo in your city, by visiting the website of the Dutch Aikido Association: http://www.dutchaikikaifoundation.nl/