I learned about strength one night from a little old lady. I was in my late twenties and I was studying Aikido. On the night in question I was attending a seminar, which is a special class taught by a guest teacher. In this case, the guest teacher was Mary Heiny Sensei, whom I had never seen teach, but who was a bit of a legend within my circle of teachers.
Aikido attracts all types of people, young and old, tall and short, fit and not-so-fit. As I was stretching, I saw a little old lady step out of the bathroom. That is to say, she was short, she was pushing 60, and she had the pleasant energy of a friendly grandmother. “They’re coming out of the woodwork for this one,” I thought.
Then the little old lady put on her Hakama, the skirt-like pants black belts wear over the gi (the training pajamas). “Oh,” I thought, “Little Old Lady is a black belt. Figures.” Then the little old lady stepped onto the mat, and instead of kneeling in the line of students awaiting the start of the class, she walked to the head of the mat and faced the students. The little old lady was Mary Heiny.
That was only the first surprise. The next was the class itself. To demonstrate the first technique we would be practicing, Heiny called on two black belts, both men, both in their early thirties, both teachers of mine. She commenced to throw them around the dojo with a power I had never seen before. What’s more, there was no effort, no strain; she might as well have been dancing.
I don’t remember any of the techniques she taught me that night; that first demonstration was lesson enough for me. And no, not to teach me to quit judging people too quickly – it would take me years more to learn that. Rather, I saw that strength is the effortless, focused, deliberate delivery of energy. She harnessed the energy around her and directed it in such a way that the black belts had to fall. It was beautiful.
I remember reading that Jimmy Hendrix wanted to play the guitar the way Little Richard sang. Since that night I have wanted to write the way Mary Heiny practiced Aikido. You don’t have to be a little old lady to fear someone else’s physical might because there is always someone bigger than you somewhere. In this same way, there is always some reason your story could fail: it’s too fast; it’s too slow; it’s too romantic; it’s not romantic enough. But if I harness my creative energy deliberately and effortlessly, I allow through something stronger than fear, and all my imaginary foes fall like weary dance partners.