On the 24th of June, Aikido of London was invited to teach at The British Museum to over 300 children and their guardians participating in the event “The British Museum Young Friends Sleep Over”, celebrating Japanese culture as a part of the “Hokusai’s Great Wave” exhibition.
As the doors closed to the departing general public we entered the museum. It was a different experience to be able to see all of its architectural beauty and grandiosity without thousands of visitors walking, talking and taking pictures.
Our group of 9 Aikidokas was taken downstairs where a big carpeted area was waiting for us and as I started reading the space, I started to pre-occupy my mind: where will we line up? Will the children enjoy? There were no mats, so is the floor too hard for them to take ukemi (which means, in a simplistic way, the technique of falling after receiving an Aikido technique)? What’s the intensity my sensei (teacher) is going to throw me and my peers on this carpeted hard floor? As the noise in my head continued I noticed three of our younger Aikidokas, all less than 10 years old: Joseph was calm and the younger brothers Buckley and Cutler were already rolling on the floor, hitting each other and laughing… They were in the present and open, without any expectations. I guess we would be ok!
Soon after we changed into our gis, the first group of children entered the space. We lined up and sat for a brief breathing exercise, seated meditation if you wish, followed by a warm up and into basic ukemi (falling) and into techniques. With an age span of 7 to 15 years old, four groups of girls, boys and a few of their parents came and went, training and having a good time and my worries about the space, the hard floor and everything disappeared quickly and we were all present in the moment.
They were attentive, interested and quite happy to be grabbing, falling and learning all these new moves and like children, they were living in the moment and being truthful to themselves in training. Aikido training can only be done between two people, called nage (person performing the technique) and uke (person receiving the technique) and we are often reminded during training of the importance of keeping contact with our partners, being present and sincere. Practising with the children in the museum made me realize children can be some of the best ukes! They have fresh minds and are just keeping the contact, moving, not worrying about what came before or what is coming next… Their openness and sincerity also means that when it is passed their bed time and they are tired and grumpy they will let you know! That is true beginners mind!
In the challenging and potentially divisive world we live in, in that room at the British Museum, a space which celebrates and guards art and history of the whole world, children from all nationalities and corners of the world came together to practise Aikido. If you read the words of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, his biggest wish for his art to bring people together, respect and work through their differences.
Lastly but not least, training with them reinforced and inspired me to keep looking for that fresh and welcoming mind set in my training and in my life outside the mat. And my wish is to invite whoever is reading this article to do the same.
Written by Ivan Melo
Ivan is a musician, music teacher and a senior assistant instructor at Aikido of London