Aikido On The Brain by David Higley

It’s hard to believe it has been six years since I started my Aikido journey at Emerald City Aikido. It’s been my home for the entire time. I’ve trained almost exclusively at the Emerald City Dojo because I find it so fulfilling. Last summer I decided to take myself and my second kyu ranking to the Santa Cruz summer retreat and explore the greater Aikido community. I spent 5 days from July 8th -July 12th training as many as five times a day. I attended every possible session. It was tiring, exhilarating and very worthwhile.
After returning to home I settled back into my normal summer routine and continued training at Emerald City Aikido. Just towards the end of July I started to get a headache that wouldn’t go away. I visited my primary care doctor about the time an additional symptom of nausea caused by rolling appeared. We decided to get an MRI of my head on August 15th. Immediately after the MRI, I was rushed to the ER and had an emergency craniotomy the next day. They found a pea sized tumor with a golf ball sized cyst pushing against my cerebellum that needed to be removed. The surgery and a subsequent one in October successfully removed both the tumor (benign thankfully) and the cyst. My prognosis is great and I have begun to train again, although I am told to refrain from rolls until April and high falls until next October.
There are many interesting aspects of my neurosurgical experience, but one thing stood out to both my neurosurgeons and my physical therapist. The cyst on the tumor was large enough to create a mass effect on my cerebellum which handles equilibrium and balance; yet I was able to continue my Aikido, including a very intensive trip to Santa Cruz during that time. I should have had seen some problems with my balance but I didn’t. We surmised that my aikido practice with its focus on mind/body centeredness helped me to compensate for changes in equilibrium as the cyst slowly grew.
After the first surgery the mass effect changed instantly when the cystic mass was removed. My body experienced a very sudden recalibration of my equilibrium. I needed to see a physical therapist to help me regain my balance. When I first saw her, I could only stand with my right foot in front of my left for 4 seconds before I fell over. I would see her twice a week for roughly 6 weeks working on exercises to help me regain my balance. One thing that helped was using my aikido teachings to focus my mind around the Ki energy between me and the earth. Mentally feeling the connection of my body to the ground, centering it and anchoring myself to the earth energy really helped me progress through my balance exercises. In that course of six weeks I was able to regain my balance. My therapist and I both believe that my Aikido training helped me before the surgery as well as after.
It’s been a crazy fall and winter for me, but I have been incredibly grateful to Aikido for helping me recover and for the Emerald City Aikido community who supported me in many ways. I am a very lucky person, such as having my kids start training at Emerald City Aikido and having the practice pique my interest. My kids started me on my Aikido journey six years ago and that beginning has helped me recover from a pretty significant surgery. I am very thankful.