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Aikido students generally belong to a dojo, or school. When we start training we join the dojo, and pay membership dues. An Aikido dojo is not a typical business. We are not consumers, we are members of a community. We belong. It is ours.
We don't just pay our dues, take our classes, and go home. Belonging to a dojo means becoming part of a committed group of people walking the same path. The dues cover basic expenses, like rent, cleaning supplies, and sometimes a modest (very modest, usually) income for the chief instructor. As students we also contribute to the success of the dojo with our time and effort -- cleaning, assisting in kids' classes, posting flyers, and so on. Occasionally we make material contributions, too, like a new entry mat, potted plants for the garden, or creating weapons racks. The dues keep the dojo open, but the members of the community keep it running.
If you are thinking of joining a dojo, you will probably consider the commute from your work or home, the class schedule, the condition of the facilities, and the qualifications of the sensei (the teacher, and usually the owner) and the other instructors. When you visit, notice the people tr
There's a long story that ultimately gets around to someone continuing to pour tea into an already-full teacup. The tea runs over the sides and is wasted. The lesson is that when we are hanging onto what we already know, there is no possibility of learning something new.
From this story you will hear the expression "Empty your teacup." To learn, we must be willing to make room for new ideas. This open, inquisitive state is called "Beginner's Mind," or in Japanese, sho-shin.
There is no power in already knowing. In Aikido we practice the same techniques over and over, year after year. There is always something new to discover in them. I help in the children's classes at the dojo (Aikido of San Diego), and it's hilarious -- although I'm careful not to laugh -- to hear a new white-belt kid say, with an exasperated sigh, "I already know this one! We did this last week." Their teacup is full. They think the know all there is to know about the technique, so they mindlessly repeat it, hoping we'll eventually get around to doing something more interesting. We all do this. We stop noticing, stop paying attention. We already know how things are, and that's that.
This is the first in a series of posts about Aikido that will continue right through the month of April - twenty-six posts, one of each letter of the alphabet. Most posts will be more concise; this introductory post won't be typical. This series is meant to be an introduction to the art, and an exploration of some of the ideas that surround it. My intent is that anyone with even a casual curiosity will enjoy and benefit from these posts. Serious students are likely to find something of interest, too, of course!
A is for Aikido.
What is Aikido [eye-KEE-doh]? This basic question seems like the most appropriate place to begin.
Aikido is a unique Japanese martial art. Instead of fighting, resisting, or blocking an attacker's energy, we join with the attack and redirect it, often sending our attacker into a harmless fall or roll, or restraining them safely on the ground with a joint lock or pin. Aikido can be soft and flowing, or sharp and decisive. No matter the style, it is not an aggressive art. Fighting is never the goal of Aikido.
The result of training in this non-oppositional way is not only that we learn how to handle a physical attack, but we also come to see how we are in relation to others, and we learn how to handle conflict in other life situations. Aikido people around the world are involved in conflict resolution, non-violent communication, and peacemaking efforts.
In Aikido we train with our partners, not against them.
[Note: Hi. I've missed you all! I have been blogging right along at GrabMyWrist.com, and have added tons of content to my completely revised site. It's been my intention all along to mirror my posts here, too, but I got behind for a good while. Now I'm finally getting back to that.]
During April 2016 I will be participating, along with hundreds of writers around the world, in the 7th annual Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Each day (except for Sundays) I'll be posting thoughts on a topic beginning with that day's letter of the alphabet.
This series of posts will be appropriate for anyone with even a casual interest in Aikido. That is, they will not be technical, how-to, or minutiae about the art, they will be highly accessible and inclusive. I hope you will share them with people who might be interested in the art. And please jump in and share your thoughts.
Here's my current list of titles (subject to change, of course).
A - Aikido - Practicing Harmony - A Good Idea for Bad Times B - Beginner's Mind - The Power of the Empty Teacup
--- C - Community - Evolving Together D - Dojo - The Place of The Way E - Elephants and Blind Men - Aikido Is An Elephant F - Fun - Joyful and Vibrant Training G - Grounded - Being Settled, Stable, and Strong H - History - How Aikido Came Into Being
--- I - Inclusion - Aikido is for All People J - Japan - Tradition, Language, and Culture in Aikido K - Kihon Waza - Practicing Basic Technique L - Life Lessons - Taking Aikido into the World M - Mastery - The Endless Path N - Nage and Uke - Th
In looking back at 2014 I see it involved a lot of completions - clearing out the old, and making room for new things - and beginnings - laying the foundations for future work. Time to head into 2015 and take advantage of all that groundwork.
Thankfully, Michael and I, and our immediate families, all stayed mostly healthy, happy, and sound all year. *whew* Plus we celebrated out 25th anniversary.
Most of the first half of the year was consumed with managing a whole-house renovation. There are still bits and pieces to be completed, but for the most part we now have a home that is much more pleasant and functional, and supports us better in our respective activities.
Throughout that time I was dealing with our donkey Eeyore's worsening arthritis. I tried to keep him comfortable, and he had his good days, but was trending in a bad direction. Eventually, in July, we elected to give him the easy way out. Now Clementine is on her own. She was doing well, but now seems to be having trouble with tendinitis or something in her front legs. Having the vet out, again, tomorrow, to see if there's anything we can do to help her heal and get off pain meds. Right now she's not very happy, and I'm hoping she doesn't follow the same trajectory as Eeyore did.
Because of other priorities and limited finances (career transitions can be hard on one's bank account, after all) I didn't get to as many seminars as I would have liked. But I did participate, as usual, in the Bridge Semina
[At our dojo we have a tradition of submitting an essay when we test for sho-dan. My exam was today, and here's what I wrote.]
13 December, 2014
Dear Ueshiba Sensei,
We have never met, Sensei, but I am a student of yours. My direct teacher is Dave Goldberg Sensei in San Diego, in the United States. His teacher is Robert Nadeau Shihan, who I am sure you remember well. Goldberg Sensei also trained in Japan with your devoted student, Morihiro Saito Sensei. Sensei has had many teachers - he has told me about a few of them - and I have learned a bit here and there from other teachers and friends as well. There are many bubbling rivulets and quiet brooks that feed into the river that is my experience of Aikido, but they all originated with you.
I owe you a debt of gratitude for this art you created. I've been practicing Aikido for a while now, and so thought I should introduce myself and share with you how my training is going.
Today I am testing for the rank of sho-dan. Some of my friends who aren't familiar with martial arts see earning one's black belt as having arrived. It is an accomplishment, of course, but it feels to me like a starting point, like being accepted into a university. Commencement. "Beginning rank," truly.
It has been a great adventure getting to this point. So many hills and valleys, forks and detours, breathtaking vantage points and mysterious deep canyons. I have traveled to seminars and camps and other dojos, and made good friends from around the world. So many kindred spirits in this community! My health is much improved, to say nothing of my attitude. I
Oh what a day! Glorious!
There's nothing better
Than a friend
Oh what a day! Glorious!
The smell of rain
Has hitched a ride
Upon the wind
I've got good friends
To the left of me
And good friends
To my right
Got the open sky above me
And the earth beneath my feet
Got a feeling in my heart
All in life is sweet
Oh what a day!
It seems like I've been checking things off to-do lists and taking care of details for days. Finally in the last few hours before exam day, and pretty much on top of things.
A few of us cleaned the dojo earlier, and set up chairs for guests last night. Someone pointed out it was my last time going home as a kyu-ranked student. Acck!
Today I had some notes to write and errands to run. I've got my gi (and new hakama) packed up and ready to go in the morning. My stuff for the dojo holiday party afterward is ready to go.
I just need to get the coffee pot set up so I don't need to fiddle with that in the morning, and have Clementine's morning food ready except for adding hot water. I have a little writing to do, and want to run through things in my head once more. And then I think I'll set every alarm clock I can find and try to get to sleep.
Taking a quick break from getting my brain, body, and environment ready for Saturday to look beyond my coming sho-dan exam. There are things I've been wanting to do, but I'm kind of living in risk-avoidance mode lately. The idea of pulling a muscle or spraining a joint doesn't stop me most of the time, but right now it would be really inconvenient. After Saturday, though... Here are some things I'm looking forward to trying in the coming months:
Learning to surf, with my friend Karen (whose brilliant idea is was). How did I grow up in Pacific Beach and not learn to surf?
Trail running. I am not a runner, by nature, but for some reason that's been calling to me for a while now.
Snowboarding, maybe. No specific plans to go, but I've always wanted to try it.
Strength training. Yeah, I've been doing my PT exercises and swinging a kettlebell a little, but I want to get a little more serious about it.
Going to the local trampoline place - wall-to-wall trampolines - and playing. Who's in?
Working more on suwari-waza and hanmi-handachi-waza (techniques from a kneeling position). I've been enjoying training in those, but don't dare overdo it.
And nothing to do with risk - I've just been busy with other things:
Gardening. The yard is starting to green up with recent rain, and more on the way. Perfect time to tidy up, and get the raised-bed veggie garden ready for planting.
Finish some house projects. OK, not really looking forward to doing those, just looking forw
A week from Saturday, on December 13, 2014, my friend David and I are scheduled to test for shodan ("beginning rank"). Tonight is the final (yikes, that word, final...) run-through.
On the one hand, it's just a test. Afterward I will show up and train just the same as before. But it's also Kind of a Big Deal. I've been training for a bit over five years, and for the past year working diligently with David and our sempai to refine and polish our techniques. I'm sure I have improved, but it's the kind of improvement where you finally catch one thing, and see two others you need to work on. It's easy to feel overwhelmed and incompetent.
As with any big deadline in life - a trip, graduation, marriage - there are a lot of little things to coordinate as it approaches.
I paid my exam fee months ago, just so I wouldn't have to have it on my mind, but still have my association fee to take care of. Shodan is the rank at which the international association starts to care that you exist, so there's a registration fee for that. Up to this point I've only been an anonymous student at my dojo, as far as the outside world is concerned.
I actually bought two hakama - those black flowing skirt-like pants-chaps things - several years ago, at 4th kyu. I knew I would get here eventually, and my favorite gi supplier was going out of business, so I snapped them up. I finally took them out of the package and tried them on a couple of weeks ago. One fits (the other needs to be tailored),