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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
Every month or two Sensei offers an Aikido In Focus workshop at the dojo. This time the subject was jiyuwaza, or freestyle. One-on-one practice, using whatever techniques are appropriate to the circumstances. Jiyuwaza is great fun. It's also a source of endless frustration because I get in my head and freeze up trying to think of what I should do next, instead of going with the energy given to me by my training partner. I go to these workshops regardless, because they are always a valuable experience. But an In Focus workshop on the "free" in freestyle? Heck yes, sign me up.
Aside from being familiar with the format and the topic of the workshop, I had no preconceptions or expectations. Honestly, I hadn't even had time to think about it.
Every time I go to the dojo I take a few minutes on the way there to consider what I would like to get out of the experience. My hope for today was that I could let myself be open enough to get it.
I got to the dojo, warmed up, and bowed in.
These workshops are really experiential. You feel them. They get into your muscle memory and emotions. It would be very hard to write up any kind of synopsis. What it looked like was about a dozen people on the mat, talking briefly at first, moving into a standing body-awareness exercise, and then on to slow and simple, then progressively faster and more complex, partner practices that ended with people doing some really nice, flowing, centered freestyle. At the end we sat on the mat around
I got the book "Holding the Center - Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion" by Richard Strozzi-Heckler recently. I finally picked it up to begin reading it last night, and randomly opened it to this paragraph, in the chapter on Teachership:
"The kanji for sensei is a man leading an ox by a nose ring. This indicates that through wisdom and intelligence a teacher is able to guide even that which is difficult and resistant. Sen depicts the earth giving birth to a plant, which in turn yields a flower or fruit. From this image we are reminded that life comes from life, that learning and growth come from a living transmission. Sei is often spoken of as Heaven, Human, and Earth united to create something new and useful. With the symbols placed together, sensei or teacher is someone who has more experience than us, whose consciousness is more expanded, who has walked before us on the path that we are now on, and who embodies a vision of the world that is more powerful than the one we now live in. Sensei is able to guide students on the steps that are necessary for them to gain proficiency in a specific discourse. A teacher is someone willing to cultivate our own life so that it will bear fruit."
While the explanation of the symbols escapes me*, the sentiment rings true. The entire chapter is a very interesting look at what it is to be a teacher.
*Specifically, is it a man leading an ox, or a fruiting plant, and human/heaven/earth? Or does one of those explanations refer only to
Nadeau Shihan, 7th Dan, trained in Japan with O Sensei in the 1960s. He has been teaching Aikido since 1965. He runs two dojo: Aikido of Mountain View, and City Aikido in San Francisco. His students have included several of my favorite Aikido authors: George Leonard, Wendy Palmer, and Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei. He is a founder and division head (Division 3) of the California Aikido Association. It is an honor to have him come to work with us.
I had the privilege of training with Nadeau Shihan last year, before I'd even tested for 6th kyu, and very much enjoy and "get" his approach to teaching. I'm really looking forward to training with him again, now that I have a tiny bit more experience and perspective.
This year, Friday evening will be a question and answer session. We've been invited to submit questions. I thought it might be interesting to share my questions here. If you want the answers, come to the seminar. Not that all, or any, of these will be asked, of course. Lots of people will be asking questions. This is just my unfiltered list - the things I wonder about.*
Your Experience of Aikido
Q: What brought you to Aikido?
Q: Is there something in your background that made you particularly receptive to, or inquisitive about, what has been avail