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Every so often someone will ask me "So, what's this Aikido thing that you do?" They may have some idea that's it's "kind of like karate," but they rarely know anything more. I usually end up stammering something about it being "a martial art, sort of like Tai Chi, but Japanese, and not really like Tai Chi, but there's no punching and kicking. There's this blending, and going with the energy, and... Oh heck, just come watch a class some time." Pathetic.
So I've been thinking that I should come up with an Aikido elevator speech, for just such occasions. An "elevator speech," if you haven't heard that term, is a very brief, clear statement, usually about what you do professionally, or what your company does. Something you can say when you talk to someone for a few seconds in an elevator.
There are a few tricks to an elevator speech. Obviously, it has to be short. It has to be engaging, easy to understand, and memorable. Less obviously, but most important, it needs to evoke in the listener the correct understanding. That does not mean that your explanation needs to be complete, or even accurate. It means that you have to say something that causes the right picture to form in their mind, taking into account their experience, vocabulary, and state of mind. You might even need to consider their age, gender, cultural background, etc. You have to speak in a way that they get it.
Let's look at the answer to "So, what do you do?" from one of my past careers. I was "part owner,...More
The comments on YouTube, about my 5th kyu exam, got off to a predictable start with "good luck in a street fight no offense" [sic].
From looking at the person's recent comments on other people's videos, this is one of the nicest things they've said to anyone. Most of their other comments are downright vulgar.
My reply: "None taken. In my 47 years I've never been in a street fight, and don't intend to go around starting any scraps in pubs. :-) My practice of Aikido has nothing to do with fighting."
That apparently hit a nerve with someone in Poland, who said (ellipses his - I did not edit this): "..and that this the reason this unique, interesting and demanding martial art is dying....cause people like You practice aikido with firm belief that it has nothing to do with fighting..sad..."
I could just delete their comments, but what the heck, let's see where this goes. I'm sure I won't change their minds, but others coming along and reading the comments might find the discussion interesting. I responded:
"Aikido is not dying, never mind being killed off by 'people like me.' Yes, it comes from centuries of fighting arts, and yes, it is effective. But O Sensei did not create it to help people become better street fighters.
The goal of most non-sport martial arts is not fighting. It's interesting that even in my video comments field you are trying to start one. If you want to fight, find others who want to fight, and have a great time. I'm not opposed to that, it's ju...More
The other day in a weapons class Sensei wanted to work with bokken, and before class was considering what to focus on that day. The class ended up being an intensive little workshop, essentially, with lots of emphasis on breathing, correct technique, and incorporating weapons into familiar techniques, such as ikkyo.
Sensei's classes are frequently, no, usually, like that. "Just a regular weeknight class" is never "just" anything.
After class I usually thank Sensei, if he's not busy talking to someone. "Thank you, Sensei," I say, adding something like "I really enjoyed the class," or "that was really interesting." Even, maybe especially, when the class was challenging, or even frustrating.
It's polite to thank your teacher, and sometimes I feel like it might come across as only that. Just being polite. But there's nothing contrived about my gratitude. I deeply mean every word. (And I've told him so.)
Classes are always inspired, never rote or perfunctory. Familiar techniques are presented in fresh ways, new subtleties explored. Sensei considers the response his words might elicit in a given student, knows just how much pressure or breathing room each person might need that day. He gauges the mood and abilities of the assembled students, and tailors the content of the class accordingly, on the spot. He sees endless detail in the mass of movement on the mat and offers strategic corrections, all while planning the next technique, managing the energy of the group,
If you read my post about my 5th Kyu test you may recall that when I sat down at the end of it I thought "Darn it. That wasn't how I meant to do that!" It felt mechanical, uncommitted. Sensei's feedback was that it looked like I was "being careful." That wasn't how I meant to do my test, and yet... That's exactly what I did. I've been doing a lot of thinking about that since Saturday.
Aikido provides a laboratory, in which to learn about who and how we are in many areas of life. Or maybe a mirror, in which we can see ourselves more clearly. Interactions can reflect how we are with authority, trust, risk, arrogance, and so on. We can learn what scares us, what makes us happy, where we shut down, or where we step up.
It often takes several days for a lesson to sink in, for me. I'll remember a phrase or an expression, and the significance of it will come to me, finally. I suppose it's similar to working out a problem, and a whole new way of looking at it pops into your head as you're walking to get the mail.
I had such a moment this morning, out feeding Rainy and the donkeys. I was rushing because I was running late. I meant to clean the pen before a rainstorm arrived, but I didn't have time. I was going to get up at 5:30, so I would have enough time, but I hit snooze until after 6:00. I planned to get to bed early, but didn't. I had intended to get to work on time, by 8:00, but I was late... again.
I had been thinking, since Saturday, about why I was being careful...More
I wasn't worried about passing, though. I was more interested in doing well. Or at least doing my best.
I did OK. Only one or two brain cramps on techniques, and I didn't shut down during jiyuwaza. A few minor "D'oh!" moments, but nothing horrid.
On the good side, I knew the names of everything, and the basics of how each technique went. Watching the 4th kyu test (the next one I'll have to take) I realized that I know those names and techniques, too, basically. And even a lot of the ones on the 3rd kyu test. I felt reasonably relaxed and present, and was able to breathe and focus pretty well.
On the room-for-improvement side... I really felt like something was missing, like I was "demonstrating how the techniques go" instead of *doing* the techniques. Like kind of half-singing a song to get across what the lyrics are, as opposed to really putting it out there like you mean to be heard. It felt half-hearted, uncommitted, low energy... something like that. When I sat back down in the line afterward, while watching the others, I knew I hadn't done my best, but I didn't know why. I wished I could've had a second chance, to get up there and do it like I had intended to do it. "Darn it. That wasn't how I meant to do that!" Oh well.
An interesting life lesson there... How often do I - do we - start out
My exam for 5th kyu is Saturday morning - tomorrow. When I first started working with my mentor a month ago we began with a sort of diagnostic run-through of the exam. I knew all the technique names, and basically what they were. There was plenty of room for correction and refinement, but I wasn't completely lost. I felt like I was on a pretty good trajectory for being ready by exam day.
Then in mid-January I did a seminar, which was great fun, and a tremendous experience. I loved it, but it was exhausting, and dumped a whole lot of new information into my little 6th-kyu brain.
The next couple of weeks were difficult all around, and left my confidence a bit battered. I couldn't seem to do anything right in class. Friends on Facebook were commenting that my Aikido posts had been negative lately.
I accumulated a dozen or so small injuries and ailments - a jammed thumb, a knee that didn't like to bend, sore shoulders and neck muscles, a stomped foot, assorted bruises and tight muscles, etc. I found myself stiff and guarded. Lingering symptoms from a cold in December returned, and my breathing was getting clogged up during class. One night I must have been dehydrated, and whited out (and sat right back down) when I stood up quickly from seiza.
Last Wednesday I had the worst bout of vertigo since starting Aikido. The world was spinning. I felt seasick and was tipping over and falling into things. Feeling grounded isn't even a possibility in that state. ...More
Long time, no blog post! After the recent seminar, circumstances promptly dumped me back into my normal life. Work was busy. The weather was insane, with the most dramatic storms we've seen in years. The power was unreliable for days. Rainy the horse, and the donkeys, have needed extra tending with all the rain and muck. And after one 6-hour power failure our refrigerator broke for good, which meant an evening throwing out everything, and filling an ice chest with enough to get by on. It's been like camping in our own house. On top of that, I've been training all I can, because my 5th kyu test is coming up a week from Saturday.
Now work is settled back into a good steady pace. The rain is coming down more gently. The new fridge arrives tomorrow, and we're making a restocking run in the evening. Training for my test is proceeding apace. Almost back to a normal routine.
For the past week I've been wanting to post something to sum up my experience of the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar. It was such a long, intense, diverse, and new experience it's hard to know where to begin, so I'll start at the end.
I've lived in San Diego County all my life. It's a lovely place. People from all over come here for vacations. Whenever I've flown back into San Diego on a commercial flight there have been people visibly and vocally excited about coming here, many for the first time. "Yay! We're in San Diego!!!" It doesn't matter where I've been, what I've seen, what I've been doing, wh
I had a great time today (Sunday) at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar at Jiai Aikido in San Diego. I found myself understanding a bit more, able to do a bit more, and somehow not being quite as exhausted or sore at the end of the day as I was on Saturday. Maybe one eventually gets used to training all day? LOL All in all a really enjoyable day, and I feel like I can actually apply some of what I learned.
The guest instructor this afternoon was Francis Takahashi Shihan, 7th Dan. He was very generous about working with everyone, and has a warm sense of humor. He will be holding an Intensive Practice on Saturday, February 6th in Alhambra, California. Go if you're anywhere in the area!
After the seminar tonight a really big group went out to dinner at Todai (a Japanese buffet). A few of us stragglers were still hanging out and talking as the staff tried to close up for the night. A special shout out to Wayne. Looking forward to training with you and everyone on Monday morning.
Another amazing day. I'm learning a lot about attending seminars. Sit in the middle, so you can hear. Drink more water than you think you need to. Eat something at each break. And now I know that if you throw the morning's sweaty gi in your car at lunch, all the windows will be fogged up when you go to leave in the evening.
There are a lot of levels of understanding at work. There are some things I just Do Not Get. I can't even understand what's being explained, never mind attempt it. There are other things I understand, conceptually, but cannot begin to do at all. Someday... Then some things I get glimmers of success, and could see being able to do them with some exploration and practice. And there there are the ones where I Really Got It, and was able to do the technique the way it was shown. Woohoo!
This morning's sessions included a good mix of all those things. A few "duh... what" moments, and a few "aha!" moments, with a lot of everything else in between.
At lunch a few of us went to the park at the bay to take a quiet break, and just rest. We ended up with a dead battery, but luckily another friend was able to come rescue us with a jump start, and we all got back in time for the afternoon sessions, which started at 3:00.
About midway through the afternoon I was really tired, and my knee was tight from sitting around on the lunch break. I and some of the people I was working with were not catching the subtleties of whatever was being shown, and were sort o
What a long day! I'm exhausted. A hot bath and a good night sleep (and some ice packs on my knee) are at the top of the priority list, so just a quick post tonight. I need to sit down with my notebook and try to remember what we did today. It's all in there somewhere, but describing much of it is beyond me at this point.
The guest instructor this evening was Wilco Vriesman Sensei from the Netherlands. (Here is a video of him at another seminar - not today.) He had a really interesting way of breaking down the areas of the body, and which area does what. A sort of short hierarchical checklist one can go through when doing techniques to be more aware of where things are falling apart. I would love to spend more time on it (and will try to be aware of it when I'm practicing). There was a lot packed into that one hour!