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There is a very good discussion on the AikiWeb forums, about uke collusion in practice/training. It's particularly relevant for me, because I will be participating in the Aikido Bridge seminar later this week, where Ikeda Sensei will be teaching, and where there will be lots of opportunities for refining my own ukemi, and observing the ukemi of others.
One of the comments there, about how professional athletes train, brought something to mind: In horseback riding the relationship between the rider and the horse is very much like the relationship between Nage and Uke.
The rider (Nage), through their cues, posture, weight shifts, placement of attention, and so on, is able to affect the balance and motion of the horse (Uke). It should not be a battle - it should be a partnership. They are not in opposition. Horse training essentially is training the horse to be a good uke - sensitive, not reactive, not anticipating, but moving as directed when the rider makes a request correctly.
Of course, beginning riders are hopelessly uncoordinated about their weight, center, attention, posture, hands, feet, etc. A horse that refuses to budge, or who can't understand what is being asked, would only frustrate them. Thankfully there are talented, experienced, angelic horses referred to as "schoolmasters" who and understand, and who happily play along with these fumbling newbies. A good schoolmaster lets the rider get the feeling of what a correct trot, balanced halt, or smooth cant
We've recently had a few project days at the dojo - a New Year's Cleaning Day before our first training of 2011, and yesterday re-stretching the mat cover, now that it's settled in after its first 6 months in use. And back in June and July we helped prepare the new location, move there, and clean up the old place.
It's one of things I really love about our dojo, and probably about martial arts schools in general, that it truly is a community, where people pitch in to help. That we can pitch in and help. There's a sense of belonging and ownership that's comes from serving in that way, and it's available to everyone, of any rank. As a relative newbie who cannot contribute much else, personally, I really value that opportunity.
In so many of our other day-to-day experiences we pay our money, get what we paid for, and call it even. We are not allowed past the "Employees Only" signs. There are "No user serviceable parts inside." We are kept out, not authorized, not needed.
In a dojo, it's a community. When your neighbor is putting up a barn or their crop needs to be brought in before a storm, you don't wait to be asked, you pitch in and help. And sometimes you bring food, too. You get more out of service than you ever give, and more than you could ever pay for. It's how the community, your community, is created, and it's a privilege to be a part of it.
I hope everyone's holidays were peaceful and happy. Mine were laid back, no big deals. Some family, some friends, a great hike on New Year's Day… And we adopted two kitties, after being catless for a few months. All in all a nice time.
It's a new year, but there's nothing really new. The rhythms of seasons, work, and the dojo continue like heartbeats and breathing, regular and reassuring. Last year, 2010, was mostly wonderful. No big vacations, no winning the lottery. I ended the year healthier than I started it, which is great (and for which I credit my Aikido training - and not at all just the physical part). But the big thing is that the little things went well. Just regular daily life - meaningful, engaging work, things going pretty well for family and friends, and training more, and getting more out of it than I could have imagined at the start of the year, and thoroughly enjoying every minute.
Pauliina Lievonen, one of the team that writes The Mirror column on AikiWeb.com, posted this on her Facebook page at the end of the year:
"New year's resolution: More of the same. :-) "
That really hit the nail on the head. Sure, there's room for improvement. There are things I'd like to do better, goals to be met, etc. But all in all, I'm very happy, and looking forward to continuing on in the same way, as much as possible.
I hope your 2010 was like that. And whether it was or wasn't, I hope your 2011 is the kind of year that leaves you hoping for more of the same.
We had a sho-dan promotion at our dojo recently, a 73 year-old gentleman named Lloyd McClellan.
Lloyd's story is his to tell, but I'll share my own experience of Lloyd.
When I started training, at 46, I read a few things by George Leonard Sensei. Leonard Sensei had also started Aikido at 46, I believe, and had written an essay titled "On Getting a Black Belt at Age Fifty-Two." He went on to become a 5th dan. I found these bits of information very heartening. 46 was not "too late."
From my newbie perspective Lloyd has been training "forever." He is older, he is senior to me, and he is competent, kind, generous, a good teacher, and he's strong as an ox. Those things are great, and worthy of admiration, but didn't surprise me that someone who'd been training forever would have those qualities.
Lloyd is also a just plain cool guy. He wears a cowboy hat and a cowboy mustache, and he drives a pickup. It would surprise me if there weren't some cattle at some point that back up that hat.
He knows his limits on the mat - he doesn't roll a lot, doesn't sit in seiza - but he doesn't let them stop him. I've seen him frustrated, tired, and in pain, but I've never seen him discouraged.
But the most impressive thing about Lloyd didn't really strike me until his sho-dan demo came up. Lloyd started training when he was 65. I don't know if it ever crossed his mind to ask himself "what am I thinking, starting a martial art at my age?" If it did, he didn't let it stop him.
"Your form was fine." Sensei said when he came to discussing my 4th-kyu test. He was giving us each feedback in the post-exam circle of promotion candidates. "Were you nervous?" he asked.
Huh... Nervous? I had felt really well prepared. I hadn't been afraid I would screw up any particular techniques (but of course I did anyway). I knew I was really focused. Intent on giving it my best. I had sort of half-assed my previous test (5th kyu), and had instantly wished I could've done it over - done it right. But there aren't do-overs on tests. This time I was doing my darnedest to nail it.
"Yeah..." I allowed, as best I can recall saying, "not totally freaked out, but I was probably a little nervous."
I was totally freaked out. The weird thing is that I didn't recognize it. Sure, I made a couple of mistakes on jo suburi - the one thing I thought I really had down, and there was that one technique where my back heel came off the ground and I noticed my leg was shaking... I didn't recognize that I was nervous. It's not OK with me to be nervous. Nervous is fearful, uncertain, and weak. I don't get nervous.
What I did recognize was a feeling, one I'd had after my first and only piano recital as a teenager. I had played "Come Sail Away" by Styx. I played it just fine. But when I was done and sat down I had to ask someone how I'd done. It was like I hadn't even been there when I was playing. At the end of my test I'd had the same feeling. I thought I'd done basicall
One of the aspects of Aikido we are constantly exploring is that if an attacker or body does not perceive a threat (such as a strong grab or hard block) they will naturally not react defensively (or at all). Staying relaxed and soft can help the other person become relaxed and soft, too.
The guy with the ball doesn't tuck his head and charge through the line, instead he walks through like he has no place special to be. It's so soft, relaxed, and casual the whole opposing team fails to perceive the threat - until he starts to run, and then it's too late. Freaking brilliant. (And legal, too.)
My exam for 4th kyu is one week from today. I'm excited, and starting to feel almost ready. I have gotten so much from my practice these past few months, and have been having a blast training.
Several of us who will be testing have been on the mat 4 to 5 days a week lately, staying late to train together after class, helping each other and working with our mentor, who has his hands full between me and two 3rd-kyu candidates. I've got a jump on the 3rd kyu test, at least, when I eventually get there! I've being doing ukemi for them when I can, and going through all the jo and bokken suburi that are on their test (mine are a subset of theirs). We've all learned and grown a lot together, and gotten closer as friends, too.
I am mentoring someone for the first time, too. She will be testing for 6th kyu, and I will be her uke. She is a joy to work with, and I'm looking forward to her test!
Since my 5th kyu exam in February I have trained 143 days (so far), helped with moving the dojo to our really nice new location, trained in two seminars - Robert Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei - and assisted with the logistics of the latter. I've participated in two Aikido In Focus workshops with Sensei, watched a lot of exams, and enjoyed several dojo parties. I've gotten more comfortable with working with brand-new beginners, doing my best to provide ukemi that lets them get the feel of techniques - or at least doesn't get in their way. I've been having way too much fun practici
I ran across this quote recently, and quite liked it, especially in light of some recent conversations about Aikido. At first it seemed in line with the fairly mean-spirited "Stupidity Should Be Painful" sticker on my guitar case. But on further reflection it's much more compassionate - about expecting the best of those around you.
"Most people accept stupidity and incompetence in every form they come across because they would rather be seen as easy-going and friendly than to get what they pay for and want. But the really easy-going and friendly people are found where _competence_ is rewarded, stupidity is an accident to be ignored, and incompetence has a cause worth fixing. If you _actually_ care for the people around you, you don't allow them to be stupid, and if you _respect_ people, you are not afraid to have zero respect or tolerance for (some of) their actions."
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