Aikido and Music by Jaime Exley


As I sat backstage singing the Sonata in my mind the butterflies in my stomach felt more like vultures. I knew that my teacher would be in the audience, along with all the other tuba players at school. Each one was equipped with a pair of ears that were trained to pick up every mistake that I made. These guys had all played the pieces that I was going to perform, and they were there to find out how well the freshman knew his stuff. I had been preparing for months. There had been times when it felt like I was living in the 8 x 5 cubicle in the basement of the school that I practiced in. I hoped I had practiced enough.

The time had come to put my preparation to the test. I walked out on stage to impressive applause. There were more people there than I expected. As I sat down, my tuba felt strangely cold against my sweaty palms. In the front row sat the girl that I had had a crush on since September. There was nowhere to run. This was my first solo recital. Sure, I had played hundreds of concerts in front of thousands of people, but I was always in the back of the orchestra with a sea of violins in front of me.

When I took my initial breath I noticed how tight my chest felt, and that my mouth felt like it had cotton balls in it. I began to play. The first few bars went smoothly, but before long I made a small mistake. Under normal circumstances, such a small problem would not interrupt the flow of the music, but my mind immediately focused on the note that I had cracked. A musician always has to be thinking three bars ahead of where he is playing. What I had done was to place my mind behind myself.

This quickly led to more serious problems. I felt as though my lips, fingers, mind, and ears were all separate entities fighting with each other. My only goal became reaching the end of the piece without completely falling apart. Sitting in my dorm room later that night I thought to myself, "Well, chalk that one up to experience."

Three years later I sat in the same room backstage waiting to go out and play my senior recital. Strangely, there were no butterflies in my stomach. There was still a little sweat on my face from the Aikido class I had left fifteen minutes before. This time I didn't try to sing through any difficult passages. I was simply trying to maintain the feeling that had come to me during that class. It was a feeling of relaxed vitality. It was centered inside my abdomen, but it extended outside of myself. Most importantly, it was a feeling of connection between my mind and body.

When I walked out to play, the scene was very similar to that of the disastrous recital my freshman year. However, this time there was a group of friends from Aikido that had come to support me. I don't think they realized how much they already had. Taking my first breath, I reminded myself of the feeling of connection that I wanted. Before too long, I made a small mistake. This time, I didn't let my mind become disconnected from the other aspects of my performance. The recital continued very smoothly, and when it was over, that same feeling remained.

Music is an art that exists within time. Once a note is played, it cannot be recaptured. In this respect, it is a lot like Aikido. When practicing Aikido, if we don't like the position of our feet or the way we grabbed our partner's hand, we do not stop the technique and ask them to attack again. This kind of practice can help us in any situation in which we are under stress. I feel that Aikido has enhanced my performance as a musician, but that is just a small portion of how it has enhanced my life.

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