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I love going to the dojo. It's a centered, focused, bullshit-free experience. The etiquette, aesthetic, and whole feel of of the place make being there a real pleasure. The people are friendly, supportive, committed, and working toward shared goals. There is structure, but there is constant discovery and newness, too. At the end of a trying day it's wonderful to walk through that door, take a deep breath, and put everything else aside for a while. I love being there, and I miss it when I can't go and train.
The obvious solution is to go and train more. And that's not a bad idea. But it's not possible to train all the time. There are also family, work, home, animals, community, and other interests. Oh yeah, and sleep.
More important, the point of training is not to escape from the world, it's to make the world a better place. I've been thinking lately about what I can take from Aikido training and apply to other areas of life.
I'm not talking about what people typically mean by "off-the-mat Aikido," which is more (as I understand it) about using Aikido principles to resolve conflicts in other areas of life. Blending with someone's point of view in a business meeting, for example.
I'm thinking more of what it is about training that makes that such a compelling and rewarding experience. What works - practically, logistically, spiritually, personally - about doing Aikido that makes being at the dojo such a joy? What practices can be applied to work? To horsemanship a
I've been doing more weapons classes, and really enjoying them. There's something that feels more centered and focused about working with weapons. Well... most of the time, anyway.
We practiced tonight with the jo,
and some things were starting to flow.
But grace was not to be,
'cause I fell like a tree
when I caught my foot on Nage's toe.
I'm fine, thank you. Just got my feet tangled up and fell plumb over sideways. Thud.
I demonstrated just a little bit more competence during the rest of the class, at least. I don't know what it is about weapons that makes techniques involving them seem so much simpler - or at least more comprehensible. Maybe it's just that introducing a single straight line into the equation adds a hint of order or a point of reference to the usual wiggly confusion of arms and wrists. In any case, I find weapons classes to be quite a lot of fun, and very rewarding.
Have I got your attention? Good. ;-) It's not a trick. This really is about love and seduction. And Aikido.
I walk at lunchtime. One day while I was walking, I was writing a haiku in my head. I went through a dozen or so versions, from various perspectives. It was shortly after an experience in class where Sensei demonstrated being connected with one's partner. It was very disconcerting, but in a very pleasant way. It got me thinking "this must be what it means to look into someone's eyes and steal their spirit." It was disarming enough that poetry was rattling around in my head long after the class ended.
You look in my eyes.
Breath leaves me, balance is gone.
You steal my spirit.
It wasn't (only) that my ability to resist the technique had been overcome. More like my will to resist it just crumbled. Or maybe even the desire to resist. I wanted to go with it. And then was left wondering what on earth that was that he had done.
Maybe everyone above 5th kyu and up is having a good snicker that I'm just figuring this out. ;-) Snicker away. I'm alway happy to create a little merriment. Is this the whole point, of all the blending, and joining, and getting inside the technique?
Look into his eyes.
Take away his breath... balance...
And steal his spirit.
It started to gel a little for me tonight, when Sensei was coaching my partner, kind of jokingly taking him aside, saying that the blending we were working on could feel like seduction. And that people like
Our dojo is closed over major holiday weekends. Over the Thanksgiving break there were no classes Thursday through Sunday.
I went to class Wednesday night (unusual, for me), and tonight (I would normally have waited until Tuesday). Still, 4 days away seems like an awfully long time.
I noticed something interesting in both of the classes tonight, I think. We were having fun, and laughing like we always do, but there seemed to be a little different intensity and concentration. It was quieter than usual. During some exercises it sounded like a library (with soft falling, of course).
It reminded me of the silence one hears just after a group of hungry friends sets down to dinner.
"Aikido is obviously an art form that is expressed through the body, which gets information from our sensory awareness. That means feeling. … Feel what's happening now, act on that information, and trust."
— Dave Goldberg Sensei, from a past blog post "The Case for More Body Awareness"
There is so much of value just in this one post from October that it's worth reading again from time to time. And if you haven't been following Sensei's blog, here's your chance to start.
Aikido has been the primary focus of my thoughts and activities this year. Studying and practicing Aikido has changed my life for the better in many ways. This Thanksgiving I am particularly grateful for everyone I've met so far along this path. Here are a few who come to mind:
My parents, for enrolling me in a YMCA summer Judo program in third grade. In addition to being a fun introduction to martial arts, the reflexive breakfall response probably saved my head years later in a bad fall.
Master Fred Kenyon, my Tang Soo Do teacher in 1979, for introducing me to the side of martial arts that wasn't about violence, even though I came to him to learn how to be violent.
Mark Rashid, for showing me that one's horsemanship could benefit from practicing Aikido.
My husband, Michael, for his enthusiastic support and love.
Visiting teachers, writers of books, and producers of videos, for making a wide range of knowlege and viewpoints accessible. Way too many to list, but in particular George Ledyard Sensei, for his "Principles of Aiki" DVD series.
Jun Akiyama, for the worldwide community of friends and teachers here on AikiWeb.
Janet, Jo, Cherie, Ashley, Tara, Mark, Robin, Carlos, Flo, Michael, Paul, Joe, Karen and a hundred others, for sharing their friendship, knowledge, and enco
When flying a plane, one thing a pilot does, to be sure things are working correctly, on course, and safe, is to frequently scan the instruments. Check the altitude, check the heading, check the airspeed, etc. Look around for traffic, communicate if needed... Check the altitude, check the heading, check the airspeed, and so on. Scanning the instruments lets you detect little problems quickly, and fix them before they become bigger problems.
I'm finding that paying attention to each aspect of my Aikido would be a similarly good idea. Am I breathing freely? Does my posture have integrity? Am I centered, and grounded? Am I aligned with Uke/Nage? Try to work out the next step of that new technique... Am I breathing freely? Does my posture have integrity? Am I centered, and grounded? Am I aligned with Uke/Nage? Notice the little problems quickly, and fix them.
Inattention to one aspect or another in Aikido has similar consequences to inattention in flying. Going faster than you're capable of going safely. Heading in the wrong direction. Unintentional flight into terrain.
Doing a frequent scan of a few key points could help keep me on course. It's something I'll play with, and see how it goes.
"It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look. To affect the quality of the day - that is the highest of arts." Henry David Thoreau
Well, this post is a bit late, I meant to have it up on Sunday, but Monday will have to do.
If you've been reading regularly, you know that I just completed my own personal sort of 16-day Aikido Intensive. I was on my own for 16 days, so free to ignore the niceties of civilized life. Like sitting down to meals. Or having conversations. I took the opportunity to do as much Aikido as possible, to see what that would be like.
It was a sort of vacation for me - not from work (there was plenty of work done), but a vacation from normal daily life. It was a personal challenge. Could I do that many classes? Could I keep myself healthy and sound? It was a trial run, and practice, for a 4-day seminar I'll be doing in January. It was a great opportunity, to do such a variety of classes, and gain so much experience in such a short time. It was a learning experience, in which I discovered a lot about myself. It was hard. And it was a tremendous amount of fun.
Committing to being in classes every evening meant leaving work an hour early every day. That meant getting in an hour early (and I am not a morning person). It meant kicking butt during the time I had available. And I did it. The work got done, and done well.
I learned that sleep, and days off to rest and reflect, are critical, as is eating well, both for physical endurance and healing, and for being able to mentally absorb what I was learning. I need time for lessons to sink in - time to think about what I've learned. ...More
This is a quick post about today's classes. Tomorrow I'll put down some thoughts about the whole 16 days.
There were 2 classes today: Weapons, and open hand.
In the weapons class we did the first 10 jo suburi. I think I'd done them all before, but at any rate none were a mystery, so I was able to focus on doing them correctly. I need to work on my timing. I was coming in ahead of the strike, which isn't a terribly good idea. I'm feeling pretty good about most of the jo techniques I've learned. I'm sure they are very crude at this point, but I think I have the concepts down enough to practice a bit on my own, and recognize at least some of the things I might be doing wrong.
In the second class we worked mostly (entirely?) on preparing to do breakfalls. (Yay! Something I have done nearly none of before today.) Not exactly like this video shows, but that's the idea. I was with a group doing really easy, low stuff (like early in that video), while most of the class did more advance practice (like later in that video). Even the "easy" stuff feels really awkward and scary at first! Like "no way, I'll die." LOL But by the end of class it was feeling much more natural.
It's not that I'm in any hurry to be doing spectacular high falls, but I feel a little "at risk" not knowing the basics. Like driving a car without knowing where the brakes are. So I was really glad to start working on this a little.
More tomorrow about the whole experience of my 16-day "Per