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"Breathe in, and enjoy breathing in."
"Breathe out, and enjoy breathing out."
Patrick Cassidy Sensei, from Aikido Montreux, was here teaching a seminar recently. While instructing us in an ukemi exercise he told us to do something (basically a way of rolling around smoothly on the mat), and then he added the instruction to "enjoy doing" what we were doing.
Until that moment I had seen enjoyment as a passive thing that might or might not happen, depending on the circumstances. But he presented enjoyment as a deliberate, volitional act. "Enjoy doing this."
It's something I've been exploring since: Enjoy driving to work. Enjoy washing your hair.
I was reminded of it this morning, when Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, was leading a meditation at the Plum Village Online Monastery, and gave the instruction above, about breathing.
As a member of the dojo community we often want to make a contribution in some way. As a beginner there's often precious little we can do. We can't teach. We often don't know enough to jump in and take on dojo projects. But there are little ways we can help out. Keeping the dojo nice is one way any of us can do a little something.
Sometimes we don't notice the little details because we are looking at them all the time. And sometimes we just don't know what do. Here are some ideas. They will of course vary between dojo. Check with your dojo cho, sensei, or sempai before taking on anything too risky (like painting the walls a new color!). These things are probably pretty safe ways to pitch in:
Pick a small area that doesn't get cleaned often, and take it on. Like a cabinet, or the strips along the walls that daily vacuuming doesn't get.
If you have a green thumb, pull weeds, deadhead the old flowers, prune what needs pruning, or maybe bring a few plants to fill in gaps in the landscaping.
Wipe down the door jambs or baseboards.
Wash the windows. Or just one window. Clean the mirrors.
Seek and destroy all the cobwebs! Escort the spiders outdoors and turn them loose.
Take the rags and towels home, wash and fold them, and return them.
Take the rugs outside (far away from any open doors) and beat the dust out of them.
Clean out the refrigerator, or the microwave.
If you have dressing room curtains, vacuum the dust off them.
[Another in my series of "Ten Things" posts. I was going to call them "Ten Tips" but some are going to be "Ten Ways," "Ten Reasons," etc.]
When I first started in Aikido weapons held no fascination for me at all. I never watched Samurai movies. I was not fascinated by Ninjas. OK, so yeah, I had a throwing star years ago, but that's about as far as it went. I wasn't planning on training with weapons at all, in fact. And then one time I had my days mixed up, and ended up in a weapons class by accident. And I loved it. Go figure.
Weapons training can help us understand open-hand techniques better, and helps develop better alignment and grounding. At our dojo we can start training in weapons right away. The classes are not reserved for advanced students. In fact one student recently did the weapons class as his very first-ever Aikido class, and he did fine.
Weapons work can seem mysterious There's more confusing etiquette and tradition to figure out, and even more new words to learn. Plus there are people swinging sticks at you! It can be a little intimidating. So if you're thinking about trying weapons classes, but are a little nervous about the whole thing, take heart, you will do just fine. Here are ten tips to help you jump in:
In my experience at our dojo, just before class the instructor will announce which kind of weapon you will be using. The long straight ones are "jo" and the shorter curved ones are "bokken." The little ones in the basket on the floor are "tanto."
Most dojo have some school weapons, that anyone may use. If you aren't sure which are OK, ask. At Aikido of San Diego these are
[I've been meaning to write up a series of "Ten Tips" posts, for all those subjects where I have a little of this and that to say. This is as good a topic as any for the first one.]
I love it when aikidoka from other dojo come play with us. It's fun to meet people from all over the world, and to learn a little about how things are done in other places. I don't travel a lot, but if I did I'd sure want to visit other dojo, meet folks there, and get my Aikido fix!
I've been to a few other dojo for seminars, talked to a lot of people from other schools, and I've been confused myself when trying to figure out how things work in new places. So here are a few pointers for figuring out "the way things are done" that might help you feel more at home when you train somewhere else:
Most dojo welcome visitors of any affiliation. Knowing the affiliation or lineage can be interesting, though. The dojo where I train for instance, Aikido of San Diego, is affiliated with Aikikai, through the California Aikido Association (CAA), under Division 3, headed by Robert Nadeau Shihan.
Notice (or ask) how are instructors and others addressed? At our dojo only Goldberg Sensei is addressed as "Sensei". At some dojo any instructor who is teaching at the moment is addressed as "Sensei."
Belt colors, if they are used, can help clue you in to the level of your training partners. We have a few belt colors (6 & 5 = white, 4 & 3 = blue, 2 & 1 = brown), and only yudansha wear hakama. In some schools, belts are white for all kyu ranks. In others, everyone wears hakama. So don't assume that people wearing white belts are newbies, or that those wearing hakama are yudansha.
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
[Note - This is the latest in a series of posts about Aikido Words. Each of them is tagged "words" here. You can also find a page listing all of them on the other version of this blog: www.grabmywrist.com/words. There are also some links to video examples there.]
Weapons work shares many words with open-hand training, but weapons also have a lot of words of their own. There are a bunch of numbered things, too, and those can be really confusing until you have a sort of framework for understanding them.
So here are some words about weapons stuff, starting with the basics. There will be another couple of posts going into jo words and bokken words. Often you'll hear technique names with the numbers in Japanese. That will be another post, too.
I'm just going to cover the wooden weapons we use in regular training here. Maybe we'll look at katana, shinai, iato, shinken, and other weapons words later.
Jo - The longer straight one that looks like a rake handle.
Bokken - The somewhat shorter one with a little curve to it, like a sword. Also sometimes referred to as just ken. You'll also hear tachi in the names of bokken or sword exercises.
Tanto - The little one, about the size of a hunting knife.
The Kinds of Things We Do with Sticks
One of the most confusing things for me, when I was first trying to figure this stuff out, was sorting out the kinds of things we were doing. Not the specific instances, but the groupings. One exercise would be a suburi, another would be a kata, sometimes we practiced awase... I couldn't figure out what was what. It's hard even to describe. Let's just get right to it.
Sensei has announced that there will be an uchi-deshi program at our dojo, beginning in mid-summer. You can contact him for details (via the Aikido of San Diego website) if you are interested in participating.
It looks to me like a rare and valuable opportunity to train intensively, deepen one's understanding of Aikido, learn to teach, test one's own limits, and discover new possibilities, all under the guidance of a truly gifted teacher.
It also looks to me like a right of passage. Forging, like seeing combat, for a future military officer. A gateway. How one moves from casual student to serious practitioner.
Right now I'm not in a place to walk through that gateway. I don't know if I ever will be. I hope, maybe, somehow, someday... There's a little fear and frustration about that. What if I'm not able? What if it's not there? A sense of loss. And there's reminding myself that upset from thwarted intention just points to a commitment.
It's OK, though. There are cracks to peek through, high places where one can see over, and a lot of space to explore on this side of the wall. For now.
Just the names conjure up tension. I have fun practicing them, and am improving (softer/safer). But I also end up with some interesting bruises and sore spots now and then, from doing them in a slappy, braced, breath-holding, brute-force-ish kind of way.
We go about learning to do them in a relaxed, easy way, but at some point between the working up to them and the doing them my brain flips from "swoosh" to "wham!"
A few days ago when one of our instructors said we were going to work on high falls (Yay!) a fellow student jokingly suggested that we should "work on low falls instead."
Huh... I think I like that idea!
The point isn't to get lots of air, it's to land comfortably, with as little impact as possible. Keep (or get) your head low to the mat. Reach over and touch the mat as you rotate into rolling down softly. No "wham!"
Thinking of them as "low falls" takes a little of the edge off, and is a handy reminder that the idea is to get low, not high.
Feedback (which I know will be constructive, on AikiWeb!) is welcome. I'm pretty happy with how I did, but of course can see lots of things to work on for next time.
I figure now that I have 4 exam videos, they deserve their own playlist. So here it is, starting at 6th kyu (in case you have nothing better to do). LOL http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0F5D81895C5E5A30
My 6th kyu exam has around 9,500 views so far. Every month or two I get a nice comment from someone who's been encouraged in some way by my exam videos (usually a new student who is freaking out about taking their first test, as I was). One of my favorite comments came in a few hours ago, and just made my day:
"You're amazing, Linda-sama. I started train Aikido last week, but before - I had lot of doubts: if I am too old, people are bad, everything will be bad. I'm waiting about two years for my first train. But i taste it, and became addicted of this art. Thank you, for recording. Good luck! (sorry about my english)"