The greatest stresses a human being is exposed to during life are thought to be: the loss of a loved one, marriage and divorce, a new job or being fired, a relocation, and the birth of a child. We all have to confront ourselves with most of them sooner or later, there is no way to avoid it, that’s life. I know someone who has never changed address since he was born (when he got married he moved to another floor in the same building); he divorced eventually but he kept living in the same flat. He had lost his father too early and had to get himself a job when he was very young. Maybe he never changed home and ended up with no children to spare himself some stress.
On my own side, I have never experienced great losses yet, not in my core family. I am lucky. But as of today, I have relocated 7 times in 15 years only with my own family (plus 11 additional relocations while living with my parents). I just can’t imagine living in the same house forever. I have lost my job at a critical age, when I was just above 50 and my son was just more than a toddler. In my country it is a nightmare. Italy’s job structure, if any, is rigid. It is not easy to fire people (unless, as it happened to me, the company goes bankrupt), and it is a burden to hire workers, especially if they are not young. So I was too young for retiring and too old for being hired again.
On the other side, Italy has got social protection for those who have been regularly employed, and I got a financial support for more than one year, although it was not comparable to my former salary (yes, the comparison was 1 half and it decreased with time!). It is maybe designed to give you the time to find another job, which is almost science fiction in my country especially after a certain age. I had to work for a while in a factory (so much for my great scientific cv!), then I briefly taught some science at school. Finally I found a part-time job in a company dealing with business services – no relationship with my former job and with my background, except that I’m good with computers and in familiarizing with new software (which is probably my best card, the one that makes me “shine” among the others at my age). But it must be said that I found both jobs because the two company owners are two friends of mine. This is very important: there wouldn’t have been other ways, no one would have ever cared about hiring a guy my age if they hadn’t known me so well. I actually was able to find new jobs because I am capable of keeping good relationships with people – good networking/social skills.
So, I have recovered from possible tragedy (people have been taking their own lives during this crisis), but I can’t deny this has left some signs on me. When I look at myself in the mirror I can clearly see them. Apart from receding, grayer hair and wrinkles, I see a rather scared glance. I am scared indeed, because nothing guaranties I’ll be keeping this job. Nothing guaranties this company will survive in the future. Anything can happen and I’d be older, with really scarce pension funds whatsoever. Yes, I am still rather scared…
One other thing I perceive in my glance is some bitterness and a sense of unfitness. A man likes to feel dependable, someone his family can rely on. I have never failed to bring money home, but after I lost my job it was much less then before and my family have been struggling ever since. By no means I am making the money I used to, so we have to pay great attention on whatever we buy. Vacations are a dream. God, it’s been so long since our last one… But I have so many debts that before even dreaming about a a vacation I would feel guilty towards my creditors.
Yes, I once was a geologist for a Canadian oil company and I was teaching Aikido classes in my spare time. The geologist/aikidoka duality defined me. Often our vacations coincided with Aikido seminars, even abroad. My wife still complains about it. I do miss going away for some days, besides Aikido. I felt I was a modern samurai of the western world, I wrote a lot about Aikido and Japanese culture, I spent a lot of money for traveling and training. I had to stop for obvious reasons but this caused something else to happen. Today, I have to admit that my affection for Aikido has been dwindling a lot.
As soon as I lost my job some guy invited me to play guitar in a local cover band. I had been playing guitar since I was 11. And I had been practicing Aikido for 15 years at that time. For those 15 years I “have been Aikido”. My guitar laid almost forgotten in her flight case. I exhumed her very seldom. There was a time when I played every day – guitar playing defined me. Then I went to college and time for playing was scarcer. I didn’t stop. I used to play with my sister and we had a band, but we just rehearsed in rented rooms in order to get a tape cassette with our covers recorded on it. We never dared playing in public. For some reason I kept thinking I would have liked to play a gig, but I did no real efforts to resume playing, I was too busy with my Aikido training and my own course.
But in 2016 everything changed. I was desperate and scared. I started to accumulate debts, creditors began calling me, some time threatening to follow up with lawsuits. I started taking blood pressure medical drugs and my heartbeat had become irregular; I ended up seeing cardiologists on a regular basis – but I am sure the biggest part of it has been caused by this situation. And there was this band, looking for a lead guitar… Something inside me was awakening. My wife pushed me to accept. When I did, I felt thrilled like I haven’t for so long. I started to exercise, I was rusty and I didn’t know some basics that I didn’t have the chance to tackle since I stopped playing. I knew nothing then, but today we have the Internet. YouTube is unbelievable if you want to learn some new techniques, to perfect yours, or learn new licks and solos. I was excited like a kid on the day of the first rehearsals. It was a success although we were 6 people playing in a dining room! Today we are four and have played various gigs in the area.
I feel I am myself again while I play guitar; I used to feel like that when I practiced Aikido. As I am writing, more than 18 years have passed since I started Aikido, almost 10 since I have opened my own course. I have an official instructor certificate and degrees from Japan. As an aikidoka I have more certifications than as a guitar player: I have never taken lessons, never studied music at all. But I have been playing guitar for almost 45 years (not all with the same intensity) and I feel naturally driven to it. Some criticize the lack of martial arts training at young age. I started at 36, actually. I have grown up with the guitar, I can’t say the same with martial arts (well, just Aikido).
I met Aikido right after I started working as research fellow at a University in Rome. At the time I was looking for something, I felt I was losing control somehow, someone prescribed me drugs I soon abandoned. Practice helped me a lot. I still played guitar, I actually never stopped, but I did it by myself, in my room, playing along the original tracks. In almost 20 years of Aikido practice I’ve seen a lot. Aikido is supposed to make people better, it is not about combat, nor about bragging about yourself or your technique. It is a form of Budo, a Japanese way of life that is supposed to promote humbleness, not showing off. But in today’s world this is not very popular. I keep seeing people posting their achievements on social websites, videos showing how good their technique is, all good looking people, at least on video, compete with each other in order to show how good they are on the mat. Aikido is not at all about looking good, posting self videos, bragging about your technique, let alone your looks! With time, this and other things like the rush to the next rank as soon as possible, have worked to make me feel estranged in the Aikido world. People that are supposed to promote a non-fighting art, fight with each other, work to gain other people’s turf, to win students from other teachers…. a complete nonsense. Or maybe it makes perfect sense in today’s world.
Another change, another big stress: my wife’s new job is a few km away from home. Her schedule is tighter than mine and she is full-time, often working later than me. We needed to relocate. We are now in a very nice small town some 80 km north of Rome. It has a beautiful medieval city center and we live in the middle of it. It is really a good life, we can walk for anything we need, the city is full of life and looks great. You can feel and breathe history as you walk through the alleys – as it is true for every city in Italy. But it is far from my band and even farther from my Aikido dojo. I must admit to myself that I go to great lengths to join the band for the rehearsals, while I am letting my older students teach the Aikido classes. We had already lived in this area some 10 years ago, my wife is from around here; and I did everything I could to still be on the mat in Rome to practice Aikido. Something has obviously changed. I changed job, home, life. We all did. Maybe I just decided to hold on to my guitar, it felt natural.
Probably, I have changed because life forced me to – as it happens. Maybe I resorted to my true self so I found myself moving focus from Aikido back to guitar. Maybe I need an activity that assures me I am still good at something, and Aikido was not doing this, for its own nature (at least as I see it). Males have hobbies for a reason: when something goes wrong in our caveman’s day, at work or school, wherever, we need to go back to our cave and distance ourselves from the problem; we do this by doing something we know we are good at – the chances to fail are almost non existent. It is a way to regain confidence in our own means and capabilities. A very healthy practice. Aikido had done this for me a lot in the past. Maybe today I need the cheers of the public after a performance, something that is not expected in Aikido. Or perhaps guitar playing is just more true to myself. People my age are 5th or even 6th dan in Aikido, having started much younger than me. I feel like someone who tells me he plays guitar since 15 years ago – well, I started 45 years ago, man! It is something, especially now that I need certainties, I need to know I am still worth something, maybe at playing guitar, and maybe even as a geologist. Just maybe….