It was scorching outside, hot even for Southern California. The neighbourhood a pleasant middle class one called Hillcrest and well known for its gay community. An unlikely setting for a strict martial arts school. I was about to participate in another class of Aikido at the San Diego Aikikai.  Stretching, bending here and there, I was doing my best to limber up in preparation for it. It wasn’t easy. What with jet lag in the body, a nasty bug that I managed to grab in flight and the stiffness acquired from the previous days training sessions resisted my attempts to do so.

It was during these warm up periods when the whirring sound of bicycle wheels could be heard down the narrow hallway. Soon after they would come to a stop. The heavy shuffle of feet began with each step barely leaving the ground. The steps were deliberate, purposeful and with gravity. They carried  a person with a strong presence, maybe even menace. As they got closer everyone in the room would steadily turn inwards to their own thoughts. I was not an exception to this.  I was nervous, even scared but much more than that I was excited.  Going inwards was needed , an instinctual response in order to draw on ones resources. One thing was for sure. You had no control of the situation or of the intensity of the man who now entered into the dojo. A sort of deep quiet silence would come about but it was also full with anticipation. Pleasantries were exchanged. “Hello Sensei” “Good afternoon” and so on. In the end nothing could disguise the simple truth that a powerful , primal force had arrived in this small , airless room in San Diego to teach us Aikido.

Ismail Hasan