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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.
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.