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I recently participated in yet another Aikido seminar. In fact, it was the weekend immediately following one at our own dojo. Between the two weekends, as I was leaving after Tuesday night's class, a friend observed that I do a lot of seminars, and must really enjoy them. She asked me what I get out of them. It's a good question, and one that has a lot of answers.
I find seminars physically and mentally challenging, and that's fun for me. Training with different instructors, and seeing techniques done in different ways help me get a broader view of the Aikido world. It also helps me see the "normal" way I'm used to doing things with fresh eyes. Sort of like doing everything with your non-dominent hand for a while.
I get to hang out with good friends I only see a time or two a year, some of whom I consider to be my mentors, or maybe more like sisters and brothers. We exchange stories, share ukemi pointers on the backyard lawn, and demonstrate techniques on each other, right in the middle of restaurants. We inspire and encourage each other.
Training with new people lets me feel some really different energy. It gives me a chance to learn to deal with that, and see things I need to work on. At my home dojo we really focus on committed, on-target, intentful attacks. At this seminar, with George Ledyard Sensei*, we did that too, but some of the training was a lot faster and harder than I'm used to. It was a great opportunity to notice where I get reactive, and also where
A friend from work shared a link today to this article: The Trouble with Bright Kids. It describes some research on the kind of positive, praising feedback we get when we succeed, and how that can influence our chances of success on future attempts. It's also interesting to read how girls/women and boys/men are affected differently.
It really rings true for me. Or hits a nerve. Or maybe it's both. I was one of the "high ability" kids (possessing an innate quality, as opposed to making a "strong effort"). I went through school accompanied by a litany of desperate admonishments by my teachers: "You're one of the brightest students in the class. You should be getting better grades." Mind you, no one in the school system did a thing to help me learn how to do that, they were just constantly disappointed in me.
It wasn't until college, when I took Cognitive Psychology, and Psychology of Learning & Perception, and put the principles into practice, that I figured out how to succeed in school. Went from Cs and Ds, and academic probation, to all As, on the Dean's List.
What I realized after reading the article, and thinking it over on the way to the dojo, was that the whole issue is skill-area dependent. Or at least it seems that way to me.
No one ever told me I was athletically gifted (in spite of being a very physical, coordinated kid). I was never on any teams, or competed at anything. And here I am being patient with myself, and sticking to it, learning Aikido in my l
One of the things we focused on in Cyril Poissonnet's class tonight was speed. We worked on training only at a pace where we could still do the technique well. We noticed how we would often get impatient and rush, and our form would fall apart. It was a really useful exercise to train keeping an awareness of that. I should incorporate it into my day-to-day training.
Cyril demonstrated doing a few things slowly, and correctly, and then speeding up to the point where they fell apart. He instructed us to go "as fast as you can," but only as fast as you can. If your technique gets sloppy, slow down to a speed where you can do it well.
It reminded me of something similar Patrick Cassidy Sensei told us during his most recent seminar at Aikido of San Diego. Cassidy Sensei asked if we knew what speed people are supposed to drive on the winding mountain roads of Switzerland. No one knew. The answer, he said, was "as fast as you can." I'm sure you can imagine the confused looks!
"And no faster."
Of course Cassidy Sensei was making the same point. Don't go faster than you are able. Important advice in many areas. We all feel pressured, we all rush, we all want to get there sooner. And as the saying goes, "the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get." We often need to slow down to do it right.
In the arena of horse training (if you'll forgive the pun), you'll hear "the more you rush, the longer it takes." I have a t-shirt from Robin Shen of Enlightened Horsemanship that says
This excerpt from The Book of Five Rings reminded me of something Sensei said in class recently, in the context of techniques versus principles. My recollection of the point is that if you hunt for techniques in jiyuwaza ("When my partner attacks like x, I should do technique y."), you will be limited in the freedom, flow, and appropriateness you can achieve. Even if you get really good at it, you will still be only really good at a self-limiting system of operating. Your mind will always be getting in the way of free expression. Instead, by internalizing the principles, the appropriate techniques will appear easily.
"The Great Learning speaks of consummating knowledge and perfecting things. Consummating knowledge means knowing the principles of everything that people in the world know. Perfecting things means that when you know the principle of everything thoroughly, then you know everything, and can do everything. When there is nothing more you know, there is nothing you can do either. When you do not know the principle, nothing at all comes to fruition.
In all things, uncertainty exists because of not knowing. Things stick in your mind because of being in doubt. When the principle is clarified, nothing sticks in your mind. This is called consummating knowledge and perfecting things. Since there is no longer anything sticking in your mind, your tasks become easy to do."
From The Book of Five Rings - A Classic Text on the Japanese Way of the Sword
By Miyamoto Musas
So about that seminar, finally... I had a great time at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar a couple of weeks ago. Doran, Ikeda, and Tissier Sensei taught again, and this time each also did a tanto (knife) class. I got to train and hang out with some really nice folks I met there last year, several of my Aikido rock star heroes, and some new friends I hope to see again soon. I even got to have a house guest for the duration. On the basic "having a good time" scale, it was way up there. Lots of fun.
I love training at the level of intensity available at seminars - really focusing on nothing else for several days, without distraction. I definitely plan to be back next year, and am looking forward to 4 days with Patrick Cassidy Sensei in February, the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo Park in June, Robert Nadeau Shihan some time this summer, and our dojo retreat in the mountains in the fall. And some day, on my wish list, George Ledyard Sensei's Weapons & Randori Intensive. There's something about that removal from everyday life to just train that allows for breakthroughs. More on that another time.
It was interesting to notice that this year I got more frustrated and impatient with myself. Last year I was only a 6th kyu with about 6 months of training behind me. My most fervent wish at that point was to not make a complete fool of myself - to clap at the right time when bowing in, address the instructors appropriately, and to not be an embarrassment to my dojo or teacher. Th
I was benched by a cold tonight. Darnit. And Tuesdays are my favorite nights, too. Waah! Not too a big deal, I know. It will pass, and I'll be back on the mat soon enough. Just the same, there was the gnawing undercurrent to the evening, knowing I was missing something important and irreplaceable.
In so much of my learning life there are second chances. I can read a book again, watch a movie as many times as I like, review meeting or class notes, catch a webinar or conference presentation later online, search email for a keyword and bring up everything I've ever communicated about that subject. It's easy to scan an article or report, knowing I can look it up later if we really need it.
Not so with Aikido. When I miss something, it's gone. As ephemeral as a sunrise. Wild, undomesticatable knowledge, transmitted person-to-person, body-to-body. I've only been training for a year and a half, but in that time I have heard virtually none of the same things repeated. Yes, a lot of the same techniques, but never shown or explained in quite the same way. There has not been a single moment when I've thought "Oh, this again. We already went over this." There is always something precious conveyed. Every class is inspired - and inspriing. Hence the frustration at missing an evening.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."
Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate described the situation perfectly
I usually don't dream weird dreams. I usually dream about work, or about something I have to do the next day. Boring. But last night I had a really strange dream. I'll tell you about it first, and then what I think it represented.
The dream started with me arriving, as if by transporter, or warp in the space-time continuum, in a room. It was obvious there was no way of going back where I'd come from. There was a doorway or hall, and women were coming in or walking through in small, quiet groups. I was pleading with them to tell me where I was, who they were, where I should go, what I should do. They could see I was lost, and seemed sympathetic, but couldn't understand what I was asking, and I couldn't understand them. They took me to another room where I met with an older woman who seemed to be their spiritual leader or counselor. She could see I was very upset by this time, but she too could not give me any answers. Through body language and touch she let me know that I was safe there, and that she understood, if not my story, at least what I was feeling, and that I was OK.
At first glance I figured I must be watching too much Star Trek, and didn't give it a lot of thought. But as I started going over the details in my mind I came to a different interpretation. The rooms were simple and plain, white and wood, with no decoration. The women were soft-spoken, and clearly part of a tight community where they knew and understood each other without a lot of talking. They were
I like to imagine that I am a rational person. I would like to believe that I don't care so much what other people think. It's nice to pretend that I have enough sense to know that a beginner is not expected to do things perfectly all the time. Or ever.
So why was I wound tighter than a sharp E string last night in class, when I felt like I didn't know how to do a technique correctly? I reminded myself to breathe, drop my shoulders, settle, breathe, drop my shoulders... It had no effect on the fear of humiliation turning my stomach into a knotted wet rag.
Watching myself from a sort of disembodied perspective it was pretty funny. Like "You idiot. Knock it off. You're a freakin' 6th kyu. Get over yourself." But even when you know you're being ridiculous it's not always easy to shift to a more effective way of being.
It's easy being a total newbie. It's OK to know nothing at first. There's no pressure. Maybe I've reached a point where I expect that I should know something by now. After a whole, what... less than a year?
And so here I am, being impatient with myself for being impatient with myself. Stupid ego.