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Recently a teacher wrote a frustrated blog post about their students not training enough to really improve, not participating in seminars with visiting instructors, and not supporting the dojo community.
The context was Aikido, but it could have been music, horsemanship, or anything else. I see the same thing happen all over.
We mostly live in the same world. We have jobs, families, and other things going on in our lives. But if we want to get good at something, anything, we have to put in the hours. And if we want our teachers, schools, and arts to be around for us, and for others, they need our active participation and support.
What does that look like to me? Join, and pay your dues, even during times you can't train for a while. Pitch in and help with projects and events. Invite your friends. Promote your art publicly. When teachers are generous enough with their time to write books or produce videos, buy them. Show up and train, and support each other.
Something I've noticed about people's participation (or the relative lack thereof), is a common way of thinking and speaking about priorities. "I can't…" "I would, but…" "I have to…" It's disempowering. It robs us of the opportunity to engage fully (at whatever level is appropriate). When we're honest with ourselves about where we are, and what's true for us, we have some power in the situation. When we whine about our circumstances we become victims to the choices we've made, and powerless to change.
On Saturday morning I head off on my big Aikido adventure of the year, a road trip to the week-long Aiki Retreat at Menlo College in the Bay Area. This is my first live-in, out-of-town Aikido seminar, and I'm really excited to be going! Summer camp! Woohooo!
The instructors are Robert Nadeau Shihan, Frank Doran Shihan, and Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei. I've been in seminars with each of them twice before, except for just one seminar with Mary Heiny Sensei. I'm looking forward to exploring their teaching in more depth.
I'll be taking two days to drive up, and two days back, visiting horsey friends along the way in Fresno, Livermore, and San Juan Bautista. Here's a map of my route, if you're into that sort of thing.
I plan to post a lot of photos, observations, insights, and other random blabbering at www.GrabMyWrist.com, from my iPhone, so my blog (only there, not here) will be rather busy and random for a while. Expect typos and incomplete thoughts! I'll be on the road June 11-19. I won't be checking email while I'm away, so use Facebook (I'm easy to find) or text messages (619 368-4333) if you want to say hi.
A friend recently gave me a book she thought I might enjoy, and I really have. It's the sort of book that whatever you open it up to, there's something relevant to whatever's going on. It's poetic without being sappy, and inspiring without being preachy. Calming. Sensible.
Just yesterday day a friend on Facebook mentioned that it must have been really sad for me to give up riding. My reply began "Surprisingly not all that sad. Trying to remain committed to something I was really no longer committed to was difficult. Finally seeing things clearly was a relief. …" And just hours later I randomly picked up the book, and opened it to this, which is also relevant to Aikido technique, and Aikido in everything:
Everyone will tell you
"Change is hard,"
Transformation is the greatest
On your spiritual journey.
But it's not true.
Change is not hard.
Resistance to change is
If you let go
Surrender into the
Open your fists and
All you are clutching
And simply be still as the
Winds of transformation
Blow through you
Then everything in you that is
Will be carried away with the
Leaves and dust and debris
Lifted into the air and
And all that will remain
If you stop trying so hard to change
Like a strong breath clearing a
Palmful of ashes
Just let the
by Nicole Grace,
from her book: Bodhisattva - How To Be Free
Today marks the beginning of my third year in Aikido.
When I first started training, I meant to become a better horseperson. I have, but part of the process has been to discover that I don't want to have a horse of my own, and so he is off with a friend, looking for his new person.
At first I thought I would not bother with weapons. I've never been into swords and ninja and samurai. I was just going to stick with the open-hand stuff. Instead I discovered that I love weapons work.
When I first called Sensei to ask about training, I explained how I could only be at the dojo one night a week. Now I train four or five days a week, plus workshops and seminars.
At first I disregarded the "woo-woo" stuff I'd heard about. Now I see that the emotional, energetic, spiritual, and embodiment aspects are where the real fun is. Well, there, and flinging each other around the dojo.
This year is a new adventure. I see a few familiar things on the horizon, a couple of seminars, and testing for 3rd kyu in July, but mostly I'm walking the path in wonder, open to discovering whatever lies ahead.
About this time next week, if all goes according to plan, I will be packing up Rainy's things, feeding him a few last carrots, and sending him off to live with a friend. She will be evaluating him, training him, and ultimately finding him a new person, and a new future. He's bored and lonely here, and too talented to spend his youth puttering around my backyard with just two donkeys for company.
Rainy will be taking a day-long trip north to the bay area, in a big box stall on an air-ride semi-trailer. At the farm he will be living in a pasture with three playmates, and will be working with a trainer several days a week. It's going to be a little rough on me, saying goodbye, but he'll have fun there.
I am giving up riding. More accurately, I am giving up lying to myself about being a rider. Sure, I'll go out with friends, or to a dude ranch now and then, but I'm letting go of saying that any day now I'm going to get around to taking regular lessons, training in dressage, doing groundwork in the yard, and putting some miles in on the trails. It hasn't happened in the nearly 15 years I've had horses, and it's not going to happen. It was a story I told about who I was, one I was very attached to, but it wasn't true. It's time to stop telling it.
I have had plenty of frustrations. I have faced challenges. I have been discouraged, injured, sick, busy… Rather than pointing the way toward this realization, those things actually kept me from seeing it. I thought things would
[NOTE - I originally published this as a link to grabmywrist.com, where I also post this blog, but decided the whole list should be here, too. As I go along I'll only be updating the other one, but when all is said and done I'll post a revised/final version here, too. Enjoy!]
This summer, June 12-18, I'm going for the first time to the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo College, in Atherton, California (in the Bay Area). The sensei are Robert Nadeau, Frank Doran, Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei, plus other instructors in the evenings. (If you're going to the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo College, drop me a note! I'd love to meet up there, and get to know some of the names here as real live people. :-) )
It's the kind of thing where you stay in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, swim in the pool, and eat, breathe, and sleep Aikido for a whole week. I'll be driving there and back (about 10 hours each way). Part seminar, part summer camp, part road trip. Woohoo!
I know a bunch of folks who have gone before, both fellow students from Aikido of San Diego, and people I've met at seminars (and am looking forward to seeing again!). Dave Goldberg Sensei has gone many times, and says he's never had a bad day there (besides, it's a cheap vacation). Cathé, a dojo mate, went last year and has given me a whole array of great tips for having a great time.
Being the planning, list-making sort, I've been planning and making lists. If you're going, too, you might find them helpful. Check back from time to time, as I will be adding to these, I'm sure. Here's what I've got so far:
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
Everyone's first few days (weeks? months?) of training can be disorienting and overwhelming. You need to learn how to dress yourself, how to sit, how to stand… Acck! You also hear a lot of new words - Japanese terms and phrases. When I was hearing them for the first few times I couldn't even make sense of them enough to remember them so I could look them up later.
Here's a huge tip: Almost every dojo, including ours, has a list of common terms in the dojo handbook! Be sure to look there - it's very handy.
For my first Words post, here are some you will hear in every class. They are mostly the same from dojo to dojo. You'll be saying them often, too. Here goes:
[OWN-ah-GAH-ee-shee-mahs Note that the "u" at the end is silent. A good way to remember it is that it sounds a little like "Oh my gosh, a mouse!" To help with spelling, remember that it starts with "one".]
You will hear and say this at the beginning of class, when Sensei and the class all bow to each other, and when you approach another student to ask them to train with you (you both say it). I've heard several interpretations of it. Whatever the exact translation, in practice it is a polite request which functions as "would you please train with me?"
Domo arigato gozaimashita
[DOE-moe ahr-ee-GAH-toh GO-zah-ee-MASH-ta When I have heard native speakers say it, it sounds like there is a comma after domo, like this: "Domo, arigato gozaimashita."]
Everyone says this when Sensei and the class bow to each other at the end of class. It means "thank you very much for what you just did."
Arigato means thank you.
Domo is an polite, formal intensifier, like adding "very much" in English, except it comes first (like muchos grácias in Spanish).