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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
I've really been enjoying training lately, even though I have been at the dojo somewhat less to make time to work with Rainy, my horse. I look forward to classes like a kid on Christmas morning. I'm having fun with Rainy, and we're progressing well, but I miss Aikido on the days I don't go.
The connections and similarities between Aikido and horsemanship go much deeper than I had expected. That will be the subject of my next column for "The Mirror" on AikiWeb, in June. I'm constantly making wonderful discoveries in that area, and hearing virtually the same words from my horsemanship teacher and Sensei. There have been a few jaw-dropping moments with each where all I could think was "did I really just hear them say that?"
For most of this spring, summer, and probably fall I am in a really wonderful place with respect to dojo life. I'm not close to testing (my next exam will be for 4th kyu), and I'm not advanced enough to mentor others. I don't have any seminars coming up. Nothing in particular is expected of me. I feel like bread dough that's been left in a warm, quiet place to rise. The ingredients are all there, and well mixed. There's nothing to do but let them expand and mature. Just train.
I can almost feel the synapses in my brain making new connections, as the discrete skills and pieces of information I've accumulated over the past year weave themselves together. Recently, after being off the mat for a few weeks with a minor muscle strain I felt like I'd bee
I am celebrating the completion of my first year in Aikido by staying home and fighting off a cold. I really wanted to be on the mat tonight. Instead I have the opportunity to practice writing with only half my brain engaged. My apologies if I ramble.
It's hard to believe it's already been a year, but it also seems like a lifetime. In some ways, it has been a lifetime. I am not the same person I was when I first stepped onto the mat.
It would be impossible to overstate my gratitude and admiration for my teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei. He passes on the touch of the founder through his technique, speaks our dojo community into existence, and embodies a safe space for discovery and transformation. He demonstrates that one can be vulnerable and strong, gentle and effective, trusting, allowing, patient, generous... These have been more powerful lessons than any exercise or technique I've learned.
I have trained 155 days. I've participated in seminars and workshops. There was a dojo retreat, picnic, exam days, lunches, and parties. I've learned a little about Japanese culture and language, martial ethics and history, and met the most wonderful people. I reached my goal of losing 40 pounds, and on the whole am much healthier (the present cold notwithstanding) and stronger. I've developed some discipline in other areas where I had been, frankly, a slob about things. I still have a long way to go.
I've tested for 6th and 5th kyu. Whoever said your first test is the hardest
One of the yudansha who teaches at our dojo, Cyril, uses a variety of people as Uke when he demonstrates techniques. It makes classes that much more intense, because you never know when or if you'll be called up, so you'd best pay sharp attention.
Learning to be a good uke is really important to me, for a lot of reasons. A lot of the most valuable learning in Aikido comes from ukemi. Like learning to move with and into the energy and situation, rather than fighting against it, for instance, not as a way of giving up, but to keep one's center and regain balance. Being a good uke isn't just falling, it includes providing committed attacks so one's partner can practice effectively. Ukemi seems to be where I find growth and discovery happening, more than in practicing techniques as Nage.
So I'm grateful every time I'm called up to help demonstrate a technique. Even when (and it seems to be the case more often than not) I screw it up in some spectacular way, and have to be shown what was wanted. Although he is incredibly gracious about it, I hate being incompetent. Crawling under a rock has sounded like a good plan on a few occasions.
I learned early on, however, that abject humiliation, even in front of the whole class, will not kill me. The only thing to do is shake it off, note the correction, focus, and do better the next time.
Actually, I'm grateful for the correction, and for the fact that even after I screw something up pretty thoroughly, I'm called up again