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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 have long suspected that that is an Instructors' Course at Aikido Summer Camps or Association Meetings where teachers learn techniques for making us laugh at ourselves (and cringe a little), to improve our technique and awareness, or jar us out of habitual patterns of thinking.
Every Aikido teacher I've encountered - Sensei, the yudansha at our dojo, and visiting teachers alike - to the best of my recollection, has used pointed humor and sometimes pretty stern shaming in their teaching. Mostly it's really funny, and often includes some very good physical comedy. And it drives the point home like a nail gun.
"This is what some of you look like. I'm exaggerating, but only a little."
I have to laugh, and at the same time *facepalm* I see that once again I have let my arm trail behind my center in a tenkan, or completely forgotten to hold Uke's shoulder down when setting up the pin for sankyo. D'oh!
One whap upside the head I received in a recent one-on-one session on suwariwaza was "They call it 'knee walking' not 'duck walking'." The teacher, whose natural, flowing, centered shikko is an inspiration, then proceeded to show me exactly what my "duck walking" looked liked. Oh no... It was both mortifying and very funny.
A teacher could very "politely and respectfully" explain the rationale, physics, and anatomy behind their instructions, and demonstrate again the "preferred" way we should be working toward, blah, blah, blah... But that's explaining, not training
There are many times when I am struck with gratitude for my teacher. Here is a man who has trained in Aikido for many years, who is a perceptual genius, and who has devoted himself to sharing the art with his students.
The physical experience of training with him is that of being enveloped - utterly controlled, and completely safe. The emotional sense is one of total freedom to try, fail, and learn, again completely safe, trusting.
That is not to say it's all sweetness and nice, painless, or comfortable. Sensei sees through pretense, to the heart of the matter, and is willing to be direct and honest. Sometimes a seemingly off-hand comment cuts deep. My initial reflexive reaction is to defensively discount it as a moment of temper or frustration perhaps, or simply something misperceived. "That's not so." "I am not like that." "He's wrong."
But it's probably true that more it stings, the more accurate it is, and the harder I've been trying to hide it.
I've learned to allow for the possibility, even in my initial denial (which I now recognize as automatic, and meaninless), that there may be some truth there. "What did I do, or how was I being, that created that perception?" Of course, there is no differentiation between how I am perceived and who I am really. There is no "real us" that the world never sees. There is only how we come across to others.
It's a privilege to work with someone who sees so clearly. No one has ever had such faith in me to be open to str
I have posted about past Aikido In Focus workshops. They are held at our dojo, and led by Dave Goldberg Sensei. Each (as the name suggests) focuses on one aspect of Aikido. I've done all that have been offered since joining the dojo, and each its own way has been life changing.
My first, just over a year ago, was called "Relax, It's Aikido." You can read about my experience of that workshop here. The work we did in that short morning session let me see there was a whole way of being I had unconsciously walled myself off from, and allowed me to regain access to that way of experiencing life.
So here we are with another workshop coming up this weekend. I signed up for it weeks ago. I'm looking forward to it in the way one might normally reserve for going skydiving, or doing a ropes course: Excited, nervous, hopeful, maybe a little scared, giddy... I try to balance this against the reality that this is just a 2-1/2 hour one-time thing, with one very human sensei leading it, and a varied handful of students. Who knows how it might go. I try to not get my hopes up about what could be accomplished in so short a time. But then my past experiences tell me that significant insights and changes are possible.
Here is the subject of this workshop:
In what ways am I getting in my own way?
How am I limiting myself?
What should I be "looking at" in my own practice?
Interesting. I don't feel frustrated or stuck. I haven't been on a plateau. I'm preparing for my upcoming 4th
Sometimes my brain seems like hard, dry ground. If too much information is poured onto it, a lot runs off, and down the gutter. More soaks in from a gentle rain than from a fire hose. Even so, it sometimes sits in pools for days before it settles into the soil. Eventually the ground softens, and some time later I begin to notice hints of green. Tiny leaves of knowledge, sprouting.
Sometimes bits of information are more like ping-pong balls, fired from all directions. I see them all, but can only grab so many before they bounce away. I might notice that several went off into a corner, and I can go and collect them later, but many more escape.
And then there are times like tonight, when something precious is gently offered. I accept it with both hands, not sure what it is, and hold it as tightly as I dare, for fear of dropping it. It seems fragile, and important. Rare. I turn it this way and that in the light, feel the roughness and smoothness of it, and listen for any sound. Perhaps if I sit quietly enough, and look into it long enough, I will understand its message.
One of my horsey friends, Lisa Illichmann, posted this yesterday in a discussion thread about some ongoing hatefulness or other in the popular media. This is so well stated, and relates so well to Aikido training, that I asked her if I might share it here. (And she said that I may.)
"Anger, like any strong emotion, is addictive. We actually begin to enjoy the rush of anger (which really is only a form of fear), it makes us feel right - some injustice has been done to us - and this, of course, makes the others wrong.
Interestingly enough, the same is true with strong feelings of love. We can just as easily become addicted to the rush of love. And more interesting, both of these emotions can be trained, honed and perfected. All we need is conscious practice in order to go from fear to love. (Emphasis is on the word "conscious.")"
For me, the dojo is the place to practice. And make a little change. And practice. And fall back into familiar patterns, and see that, under the magnifying glass of Aikido. And practice some more. "…conscious practice in order to go from fear to love." So well put.
Frank Doran Sensei says simply, and to the point, "Practice kindness."
Dave Goldberg Sensei says, in his most recent blog post, "Love is the glue between Yin and Yang—Uke and Nage. If you let the glue set and harden you lose the qualities that make your Aikido compassionate. You will not be a protector of *both* Uke and Nage. Keep the glue alive and vibrant so that it will s...More
The same ocean breeze is here, warmed and softened as it made its way inland up nine miles of wide river valley, Still familiar, but stronger near these hills on the north side, it wanders in through the broad half-open door. The bright high note of two small bells invites us to settle deeply into sitting, breathing.
The river to our west flows in silence, but the distant freeway's roar could be a river's roar. Breathe. Spiraling fans above confuse and redirect the breeze. Inhale. The river-scented air expands our lungs and our awareness. We sit on what was fertile bottomland a hundred years ago. Exhale. Settle.
The breeze touches our necks and lightly strokes our hair, like a lonely ghost glad to find company. An empty tanker truck rumbles and bounces down the road. Inhale. Inspire. Inspiration. Breathing.
The soft mat and the hard floor and the fertile soil and the flowing river cradle us, sitting, eyes closed, in their open palms.
The mission's bell, still just a whisper here, sounds more urgent on this side of the valley. It calls the farmers in from their fields as it has for centuries, not knowing they are long gone, the farmers, and their fields too. Exhale, and let them go. We cultivate something else here now. Our work nourishes the spirit.
The two small bells guide us back as the mission's bell falls silent. The breeze remembers its direction and continues, through another door and up the valley.
A few months ago I said I felt "Like Bread Dough," letting things settle in as a new 5th kyu. I decided to allow myself to spend some time just showing up and training. I have indeed been doing that, while mostly concentrating on other things - training my horse, getting some health questions answered, helping move the dojo, and doing my work and a few house projects. While some of those things are still ongoing, I've found that lack of focus on my Aikido rather unfulfilling, and now I'm eager to get back to work. Looking forward to class tonight!
I've had a bit of a scare recently. I will not be fine (who among us will be, really?), but I'm a lot better off than I feared.
The past week was difficult. I had just started outlining a twenty-year plan for my life and career from 47 to 67. I'd ordered a stack of interesting books, and made a list of mentors to talk to. There were things to learn, possibilities to investigate... Exciting stuff.
Then I stumbled onto what sounded like some very bad news during a routine physical. Suddenly the future didn't look like it was going to be much fun. I don't scare easily, but I've never been so afraid.
It was like being in a hurricane, struck by new information and realizations like 2x4s hurled in the wind. In that hurricane, Aikido was the deeply-rooted tree I was clinging to. Friday night's class (see my previous post about it) could not have come at a better time or been more perfect. (How does Sensei do that?) Everything I've learned about meditation, breathing, staying present, being in my body, moving in, keeping my center... It all came into play. On Monday, when I should have been up in the mountains training my horse, I arranged for him to be turned out to play, and went to the dojo instead. Clinging to my sturdy tree. Another two classes last night kept me grounded.
Today I got test results that added up to very good news. More tests ahead, and ongoing management. But I was already doing that.
Aikido is probably the best thing I could have been doing for