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[I wrote this post almost three years ago, but tucked it away with a hundred or so others in my Drafts folder, because it felt a little too raw. A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about it. Now, with another free intro class coming up at our dojo, it seems like a good time to hit the Publish button. Here it is, unedited.]
There is nothing that touches us quite like being "gotten" - known for who we really are. Being recognized. And there are few things so exasperating as being seen as someone who you are not.
The photo on the left is me, on my 2nd birthday, on what I'm guessing was a birthday present. A Wonder Horse. Like a rocking horse, but on springs. I think they make bull-riding practice rigs like this. I probably played on it until I outgrew it or wore it out. I'm sure I fell asleep on the damned thing. If they had these for grownups, there wouldn't be a weight problem in our country. It was only a plastic horse, but it offered movement and energy and adventure and freedom from gravity. I loved that thing.
The photo on the right is me, dressed and posed as someone I never was. I remember that day very clearly. They moved the round walnut coffee table over to where the photographer's background was, for me to sit on. I was told to smile like that, and the photographer positioned my hand, with my finger against my cheek, and turned my head just so. I protested, but the photographer (who was a professional after all, and who knew best) insisted. I'm sure it was supposed to look sweet and cute. But it didn't look like me. I was as furious as a little child can be. It still pisses me off to think about it. My mom recently gave me that red checkered dress from the photo, to do with as I like. I think I'll burn it.
In Aikido, we train to be both nage (like the rider - connected, clearly directing the horse in a way that doesn't elicit confusion or a fight) and uke (like the horse - light, responsive, moving, centered, with no resistance to the rider's direction). This classic video of Stacy Westfall's nearly legendary ride demonstrates both beautifully. And it's a beautiful song, too. To the unitiated, it looks like she's "just sitting there," but she's controlling every movement - it's just really subtle.
I have 13 training days left before my 1st kyu exam on March 9th.
It's been a very difficult week for me, personally, quite outside of my comfort zone. But I've been learning to deal with conflict in a way that benefits everyone. And isn't that the whole point after all?
I've been training really hard, with a lot of focus, and things are starting to come together. I'm seeing more patterns, groupings, and relationships, rather than dozens of separate techniques. And I'm starting to find some new subtleties and details. It still seems like there's a long way to go, but I'm basically feeling on track.
There's quite a large group of us all training for exams on the same day - from 1st to 6th kyu. We've all been supporting each other and training together, which has been a fantastic experience. We've also had a great deal of help from our very generous yudansha, who have spent hours with us refining techniques, clearing up confusion, and polishing the rough spots. I'm feeling very fortunate indeed to have them!
Tomorrow, Sunday, we have another three-hour open-mat session in the afternoon. I want to focus on smoothing out some techniques that I basically understand, but haven't gotten into muscle memory very well yet. Slow, smooth, relaxed, repetition. Breathing is important, I hear, too.
Right now, though, I'm really tired, and looking forward to a hot bath and a good night's rest.
Big ideas seem to come together for me in the morning, perhaps before the rational, detail-oriented part of my brain comes online and takes charge. Earlier this week, when I was uncharacteristically up before sunrise, a larger theme came to me that will help tie my book together. And now this morning, blundering around the kitchen getting my coffee, I realized that two things I've been struggling with are really the same. I am on the verge of publishing my first book, and in a few weeks I have my first kyu exam. In both cases, I've alternately been unconcerned, and a little panicky.
One day soon I will hit the Publish button, and my first book will go live on the Amazon store. And on March 9th, Sensei will call me up in front of the class, and for about 45 minutes I will bring forth everything I've got. No do overs. No excuses. I will wish I might have had more time for editing and rewriting. I will wish I had trained harder, spend more time, focused more clearly… But it will be what it is, and I will have to leave it at that and move on.
I know I still have some time. Feeling rushed and stressed out will not help me. These are just stepping stones on much longer paths — there will be more books, and more exams in the future. No lives are on the line. In the greater scheme of what's important in the world, these are No Big Deal. In one sense this is a sane, adaptive way of looking at things. But I recognize it as a defensive strategy: "It's not that important… I wasn
It's been a bit of a disjointed week… since my post about Monday, I've helped in the little kids class on Tuesday, and participated in two classes Tuesday evening. In the second class on Tuesday, I got to make a request, so I requested that we work on timing and entries, from munetsuki and shomen-uchi. We worked on kokyu-ho, kokyu nage, and kote-gaeshi. That was really useful, and I feel a lot more comfortable with those, although I still feel like I'm only doing them in slow motion. I'd love to be able to spend some time really drilling on these techniques. I feel like a few hundred repetitions would be a good start.
Wednesday was a relatively pleasant but unproductive day. I woke up late, making up for a few nights of sleep deprivation, and then had a massage, took a hot bath, and saw the chiropractor, all in hopes of continuing the improvement in the nerve in my neck and arm. It's been doing a tiny bit better each day for a few weeks now. That sounds like a lovely, relaxed day, but I had things I needed to get done, and didn't make any progress on them at all. So in spite of appearances it was actually pretty frustrating and stressful. I helped in the older kids class, but skipped the evening training on Wednesday to go out for early Valentine's Day dinner with my husband, Michael. Wednesdays are test prep nights, and people stay late to train together, so I hated to miss it this close to an exam. But the alternative would have been to miss the weapons class and the ad
Last night's classes were all great fun, and the last one was a bit different.
First, in the kids class, we reviewed a very direct kind of kokyu-ho from gyakute-dori, focusing on extending energy out beyond Uke. It's interesting to watch the kids working on that. At first Sensei had them work by themselves, just standing in hanmi and extending energy through their outstretched, relaxed arms and fingers While they seem to get that idea of extension, when they went to working in pairs they seemed unable to trust that it alone was sufficient. Instead of simply extending their arm out past uke's center, most of them resorted almost immediately to trying to push Uke over by shoving into Uke's neck or face with their upper arm, and rotating across Uke's center, clotheslining them. We probably all do this, especially as beginners in this particular technique, but in everything really. It's hard to trust the correct energy and form will ultimately produce the best outcome, so we fall back on trying to force things to happen the way we think they should.
Next, in the all levels adult class, weworked on a few techniques from ryote-dori (grabbing both wrists from the front), including tenshi-nage, kokyu-ho, and an interesting combination of the two, where the near hand does kokyu-ho while the far hand essentially executes the top half of tenshi-nage. The class was very technical, in a kind of centering and meditative way, really focusing on the minutia of our movements. A few goo
When I tested for 2nd kyu, almost a year ago now I was required to demonstrate the 31 jo kata. The 31 jo kata is a flowing series of 31 techniques with the jo, a wooden weapon that looks essentially like a rake handle. There are strikes, thrusts, blocks, and parries. The kata is sort of a pantomime of one side of a hypothetical fight against someone else similarly equipped with a jo. It's a fairly long and complex weapons exercise. The idea of the exercise, which was created by Morihiro Saito Sensei, is to demonstrate proper form and energy throughout (that is, crisp technique, good posture, and relaxed-but-focused movement and breathing). To be successful we have to understand how to do each movement well, and also memorize the order of the whole thing.
As part of training for that I had to learn to count to 31 in Japanese. We count the numbers of the techniques out loud, in front of everyone, as we do each movement of the kata. For others who will be testing for 2nd kyu, I will share here how I learned to do the counting.
It's easy to find information on numbers in Japanese. The sounds of the words are easy to make, and the rules for combining the numbers above 10 are very straightforward. It's not even a little bit confusing to understand it. Anyone can look up "how to count in Japanese," and have that information in seconds.
But you may have noticed that I didn't call this "How to Count to 31 in Japanese." Instead, I called it "How to Learn to Count Out Loud to
Today marks the beginning of the four-week countdown to my first kyu exam on March 9. I spent the afternoon training with friends , and the evening discussing training strategies, among other things, over dinner.
I've been training with my exam in mind for a good while, but the date has seemed safely distant, off in the future sometime. I haven't been too concerned with things that aren't smooth, or for that matter that I hardly know it all, because it felt like there was a lot of time left. No worries. I've been dealing with a funky nerve in my neck and arm, fighting various colds and coughs, and trying to get my first book finished and published. Just show up and train, there's no rush… But now suddenly it doesn't feel like I have much time at all! This is the time to snap out of that "whenever" thinking, and instead begin to bring a good bit more attention, precision, and fullness to everything. Now.
I have technique notes written down here and there, and a few scribbles about things I need to work on. I will feel more secure once I have them in one place, with a clear list of the things I really need help with.
But first, I promised I would finish another blog post, about counting to 31 in Japanese. So that's next, and then getting all my notes together in one place. Ready? Acck! Go!
[Originally posted January 22nd, 2013 - Catching up on a couple of missed posts here.]
Well, I've run into an interesting complication with writing. I've managed to screw up the radial nerve in my left arm. My thumb and forefingers tingle and go numb when I use my right arm for things like the trackball or the keyboard. So, I'm trying an experiment. I am using the voice to text feature on my iPhone to dictate blog posts And other writing.
The good news is that Aikido seems to loosen things up. I trained for 12 days straight at the beginning of the year, and improved continuously. My physical therapist was very impressed. Then for one day on a Sunday, I didn't train, and instead worked at the computer off and on. That about did me in! Even with frequent stops for stretching, PT exercises, and other movement, my neck and shoulders got really tight and painful.
I got back to training, slowly, with a few false starts, and yesterday managed over six hours on the mat. I'm no worse for the wear. If anything everything is a little looser. Today I have a class in the morning, and then another appointment with my orthopedic doctor. We'll see what we can figure out.
Meanwhile, I had a great time over the weekend at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar, and at a seminar with Dave Goldberg sensei at Aikido Tijuana. I was very disappointed to not be able to take ukemi for some shodan exams there, on Sunday. Alas… I hope next time I will be able to. I am grateful that this injury at least is not keeping me off the mat, for the most part. I just need to learn how