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Taking Up Space

The attacker lunged for Lisa. She deftly shifted back a few inches out of reach. She gripped his hand. She made a graceful pivot. Suddenly the attacker was falling belly-first to the ground. Lisa held his arm, guiding him like a broken plane coming in for a landing. Lisa was ready to drop to her knees and secure her assailant with a joint-lock when an onlooker said, “Uh oh!”

Lisa paused. For the first time in twenty minutes, this was the only lapse in her concentration. She’d been sustaining attacks from different people all that time. She had dispatched each one with a well-executed Aikido technique.

Weeks of preparing for this 5th kyu test had paid off. She was poised and confident. In fact, the moment she bowed to the shomen (ceremonial front of the dojo) to open the test, a no nonsense attitude settled into her aura. Her gaze was firm and direct. Her posture was solid and powerful. You had to wonder if this lawyer projected a similar presence in the courtroom while prosecuting or defending a legal case.

Lisa’s normal presence is warm. She is quick to smile and laughs loud and hard, bending her back into the joy of a funny moment. She is also very petite. Although no one in the dojo has officially taken a measurement, odds are good she just clips the five-foot mark…if she stands on her shadow.


Many learned, cultural stereotypes inhibit a woman’s existence in much of the world today. In work places, social settings, and personal relationships, women have to work extra hard to be heard, to be seen as something other than objects, and to be taken seriously as human beings. One imagines those struggles only compound for a smaller than average woman.

Antiquated cultural norms teach young girls to be nice and to get out of the way. The result is grown women who apologize…a lot…for everything, especially the mere act of taking up space on this planet. Many women live very crowded lives. Some people crowd them physically, sprawling out while they sit cross legged as dainty as a dandelion seed on a lily pad. Others crowd them temporally, jamming their schedules with unreasonable, overloaded work-and-family commitments and expectations to “do it all.”

From the time Lisa began training in Aikido to the day of her 5th kyu test, she steadily reversed and erased her own tendencies to shrink back or concede space to others. Rather than move around the attacker, she learned how to skillfully move them around her. She entered into techniques head on.

“Straight down the center line,” as Sensei Mark often coaches. The “center line” being the shortest, most direct link between yours and your attacker’s backbones. Finding the secure and stable center of those stacked bones opens the door to the universe of Aikido techniques which turn, rotate, and pivot around this point.


The onlooker who paused Lisa’s test also happened to be Sensei Mark. He was seated at the front of the dojo to observe the test. He quickly reassured Lisa, “You’re fine. The technique is fine. He’s not.” Sensei nodded to the attacker, or uke, stretched prone on the ground.

The aikidoka at the back of the room assembled as both audience and participants collectively gasped. A few giggled.

The uke had landed with his free arm (the one Lisa didn’t have a grip on, preparing to pin it in a zinging joint lock), trapped under his chest. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t injured. But the most experienced practitioners knew that he also had no way of tapping out when that joint lock actually zapped into place.

Tapping either the mats or your body is the only way to trigger a release from a joint lock in a practice setting. Aikidoka are trained to listen for that characteristic thap-thap sound. They are so focused and so conditioned that they literally do not hear, “Ow! Ow! Ow!”

Sensei coached the uke to wriggle his arm free and Lisa resumed the technique. She applied the lock and the uke’s spine coiled briefly before he tapped. He was released and the test pressed on. More attackers. More techniques.


After all the required techniques had been called out and demonstrated, Lisa then picked up a bokken (wooden sword). She held the weapon by her side as she bowed again to the shomen. She drew the sword. She took a moment to breathe deeply and quietly. Then she launched into a demonstration of the Ken 13 kata’s winning side.

“One. Two. Three. Four,” Lisa counted each movement and stroke out loud. It’s required and it adds a challenge to a test demo when one is very likely tired and nervous. Try counting aloud when you’re breathless from a workout and in front of a crowd scrutinizing your every move.

Paired against an opponent with a sword, the kata illustrates the moving postures, stances, and strikes that lead to a successful, victorious outcome in “battle.” Performed alone, swishing the sword through the movements against an invisible opponent highlights the performer’s (or shitachi’s) poise, balance, strength, posture, and coordination.

Just as with her aikido, Lisa moved through the weapons demo without hesitations or blips in her focus. The kata ends with an impressive flourish. After delivering the final winning cut, the shitachi extends both arms, forming a T-shape–a T with a sword poking from one branch. The shitachi then spins away several paces. It’s sort a thrilling Kill Bill moment. Were you in a room full of sword-wielding enemies, this spin with a blade on the edge slicing at eye-level would keep those enemies pinned the walls while you relocated to a more advantageous position.

When Lisa spun, her energy and strength extended to the edges of the universe. She took up every square inch of space the cosmos could provide. She may have nudged the universe to expand just a bit faster. She may have coaxed the Earth to spin even faster since its last recorded acceleration in June 2022. Because scientists fail to factor Aikido into their calculations, we may never know on paper Lisa influenced the cosmic tides. However, those present for her 5th kyu test felt the shift in Lisa’s personal spheres of existence.

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