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You might recall that the person who introduced me to Aikido is Mark Rashid, a teacher of horsemanship, author, and Nidan in Yoshinkan Aikido. I had participated in one of his horsemanship clinics in February of 2009, after my large, young horse, Rainy, got scared at the beginning of a ride in the mountains, gave a few good bucks, and I came off.
I've not ridden Rainy except maybe once or twice around the backyard since starting Aikido in May 2009. Now that I'm a lot more fit, and in somewhat better control of my breathing and body language, I thought it might be time to start riding again. My plan was to ease into it with a few minutes of walking around the backyard. Walk, turn, walk, whoa. That kind of thing. Easy peasy. Maybe another little ride tomorrow, and one Sunday, maybe.
Everything went fine today until a neighbor somewhere out of sight made a small, sudden noise. That wasn't a problem, but Rainy's reaction was. He spun and bolted. My limited ukemi skills served me well. When I realized I was so far off balance there was no recovering I bailed in an organized way. I was able to let go as I fell, which is surprisingly hard to do. I was able to aim away from Rainy's legs, and toward a clear patch of soft ground just beyond a log and before a tree trunk. I must have rolled, and slammed into the tree, because I know I was diving forward and to the right, head-first, but ended up on my left side, with my feet tucked under me. Most of the road rash and bruises are
Rainy is my Percheron x Paint/Quarter Horse gelding. He's about 5 years old, 16 hands tall, and 1,400-some-odd pounds. Rainy loves water, carrots, oranges, and belly scratches. He is a sweet-natured, pushy, friendly kind of character. Not a mean bone in his body. But he's young and "green" (not highly trained). He can spin quickly enough and run fast enough to avoid being eaten by the lions he imagines are lurking in the bushes.
Some of my upcoming posts are going to be about applying Aikido to riding and horsemanship, so you might as well know who I'm talking about. :-)
Enjoying the first beautiful, quiet morning of a 4-day holiday weekend. No classes for a few days, but the two last night were so rich it may take 4 days for everything to sink in. The first offered a powerful new perspective on familiar techniques, and the second taught calm focus under pressure. I am so lucky to have such amazing teachers.
I've been much more relaxed, and really enjoying training, having discovered and let go of my energy on testing. Last night when Sensei was walking around watching our practice I was still trying to get it right, of course. But instead of worrying that he'd notice my mistakes when I made them, I was hoping that he would. He did, of course, and provided very useful feedback and clarification. So grateful for amazing teachers, and for being able to take responsibility for my own attitude about learning.
And now, a few days with my sweetie pie, family, and friends, puttering in the yard, time with the critters, and riding Rainy for the first time since starting Aikido.
Soft eyes, quiet mind.
Notice thoughts and let them go.
There! Feel it and move.
Great seminar today, about getting off balance, returning to center, discovering what's possible now, and acting on that. How wonderfully appropriate (and enjoyable). I'm left with noticing when I'm thinking, planning, and trying to direct, rather than just seeing what's in front of me, and doing what's available.
A couple of months ago, roughly, I set a goal for myself of training as if I were going to be testing for 5th kyu on February 6th, the next day tests are held at our dojo. As I said in a post about it then, my goal was not to test that day, or even to be ready to test that day, just to train so that I could be as prepared as possible.
What I was hoping to avoid was what I did before my 6th kyu test. In that case I was bopping along happily training in whatever came along in class (which is great), but not paying any particular attention to what techniques that would be required on the test. When my name appeared on the Dreaded Dojo Whiteboard (where Sensei writes the candidates names), I found I had a lot of learning to do. So I was hoping to at least be less blindsided if my name were to appear this time around.
If you've read my last few posts you know that I've been uneasy about something recently. I couldn't put my finger on it, though. It felt like some mashup of grief, disappointment, pressure, and feeling very inadequate. But I couldn't put my finger on a reason. There were no circumstances to support feeling like that, or none that I could see.
What was really out of character was Thursday night, in weapons class. I was freaked out at not feeling like I had one of the techniques down clearly. I didn't know it, and felt like I should've known it. Sensei was walking around the mat watching and correcting people, as senseis do when they are teaching, you know,
I usually don't dream weird dreams. I usually dream about work, or about something I have to do the next day. Boring. But last night I had a really strange dream. I'll tell you about it first, and then what I think it represented.
The dream started with me arriving, as if by transporter, or warp in the space-time continuum, in a room. It was obvious there was no way of going back where I'd come from. There was a doorway or hall, and women were coming in or walking through in small, quiet groups. I was pleading with them to tell me where I was, who they were, where I should go, what I should do. They could see I was lost, and seemed sympathetic, but couldn't understand what I was asking, and I couldn't understand them. They took me to another room where I met with an older woman who seemed to be their spiritual leader or counselor. She could see I was very upset by this time, but she too could not give me any answers. Through body language and touch she let me know that I was safe there, and that she understood, if not my story, at least what I was feeling, and that I was OK.
At first glance I figured I must be watching too much Star Trek, and didn't give it a lot of thought. But as I started going over the details in my mind I came to a different interpretation. The rooms were simple and plain, white and wood, with no decoration. The women were soft-spoken, and clearly part of a tight community where they knew and understood each other without a lot of talking. They were
I like to imagine that I am a rational person. I would like to believe that I don't care so much what other people think. It's nice to pretend that I have enough sense to know that a beginner is not expected to do things perfectly all the time. Or ever.
So why was I wound tighter than a sharp E string last night in class, when I felt like I didn't know how to do a technique correctly? I reminded myself to breathe, drop my shoulders, settle, breathe, drop my shoulders... It had no effect on the fear of humiliation turning my stomach into a knotted wet rag.
Watching myself from a sort of disembodied perspective it was pretty funny. Like "You idiot. Knock it off. You're a freakin' 6th kyu. Get over yourself." But even when you know you're being ridiculous it's not always easy to shift to a more effective way of being.
It's easy being a total newbie. It's OK to know nothing at first. There's no pressure. Maybe I've reached a point where I expect that I should know something by now. After a whole, what... less than a year?
And so here I am, being impatient with myself for being impatient with myself. Stupid ego.
In tonight's class we played with being relaxed, staying unified, and flowing. It was a wonderfully focused and pleasant class, actually very relaxed, unified, and flowing in its own right. What was particularly nice was the effect it had on my energy.
I've been in a sort of mysterious "energetic funk" for the past few days. Not tired, not sick, but feeling sort of physically and energetically closed and guarded about something, the way one's muscles can be tight to guard a painful joint. In class on Friday I was really stiff, nothing felt smooth, and simple movements eluded me. I felt ungrounded, off balance… I found myself holding my breath and scrunching my eyebrows. It was evident enough that I got feedback twice in class (as Uke) about relaxing into the technique instead of fighting it. Saturday was a little more fun, but still with something "stuck" that I could not identify. I sort of lived in the question over the weekend, of what "it" might be that was keeping my gut and my energy in knots, but I never happened upon an answer.
Whatever the cause, tonight's class was the cure. I found myself breathing freely, standing solidly, moving smoothly, and smiling easily again. What a relief! And when I find myself feeling off balance next time, now I have some things I can play with to try to get back in sync with myself.
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.