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Thanks to a happy fluke in my calendar, my next two weeks will be my own personal Aikido Intensive. It means being at work an hour early (and I am not a morning person). I'll have to kick butt on caring for Rainy and the donkeys, and on doing my strengthening exercises in the mornings and evenings. But I know it will be well worth it. It's also going to be a particularly intense time at work, with some long hours, so Aikido will be a good re-centering time each day. And that's all my days will be - sleep, chores, exercises, work, Aikido, critters, work, sleep.
It starts this Saturday with an Aikido class, watching exams, & dojo party (and making a salad Friday night). There will be Sumo suits! Naturally I'll try to get a cool photo or video to post.
Next week I plan to train Tuesday through Saturday. Sensei will be away, so the classes will be taught by several of the yudansha. I've trained with most of them before, and am looking forward to experiencing their whole spectrum of approaches to Aikido and teaching throughout the week. There's only one I have not had the opportunity to work with yet, but have been wanting to. I think he's teaching two of the classes. Woohoo!
The following week Sensei is back, so the week will have an entirely different awesome quality to it. I plan to train Monday through Saturday that week.
I hope I can do that much! I'm really excited about seeing how near-daily training is different from the sporadic 2 or 3 days a week I've be
"Create each day anew by clothing yourself with heaven and earth, bathing yourself with wisdom and love, and placing yourself in the heart of Mother Nature. Your body and mind will be gladdened, depression and heartache will dissipate, and you will be filled with gratitude."
Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei), from The Art of Peace, translated and edited by John Stevens
A month ago I would've thought of this as some lovely idealistic vision, but it's becoming my real daily experience.
Note: I also posted this at www.grabmywrist.com, where the text was accompanied by a photo of a butterfly on an orange blossom in my backyard.
There's been a discussion on AikiWeb lately, "Aikido Changed My Life!" about the ways one has been changed by Aikido.
I have been practicing Aikido for only a little over 6 months. Even in that short time I have had many experiences of not recognizing myself, more so in the past few weeks.
The changes I can explain are changes I have intentionally made - better fitness, weight loss, a more disciplined approach to some things at work and home. (I shared some of these in a post before my first exam "Reflections at the First Milestone", and will share more recent ones another time.) In making these changes my practice of Aikido is a piton* in the rock face - a source of support and safety that enables me to climb higher.
But there are many changes I cannot explain. I'm happier, more settled, less cynical, more focused. I'm more aware of the emotions of people around me, more willing to be open and vulnerable with people, filled with gratitude, deeply touched by kindness. I've grown, and watched others grow. Things that were hard are easy. I never expected this.
This path is taking me through some unfamiliar but breathtaking territory.
*Pitons ("PEE-tahn") are those metal pins that mountain climbers pound into cracks and then hook onto to keep them from falling to their deaths if they slip.
Since my last post was about looking for the lesson in everything your teacher does, I'll expand on that a bit with a realization I came to recently about being a student.
I'm a user experience analyst by day, writer, former technical communicator, and amateur horse trainer for fun. In each of those contexts I hear the same kinds of statements: "They're just lazy." "They're too dumb to understand." "They're being difficult on purpose."
When you are a writer, user experience designer, teacher, or horse trainer, and your reader, user, student, or horse isn't "getting it" (let's just call that whole group "students"), it's always useful to assume that the problem lies with you.
It's not that every failure of a student is your fault, but coming from that assumption is where you find your power to influence the interaction. This is a point I've been making for years. You aren't using language they understand. You are asking more than they can do at the moment. You haven't sufficiently grabbed their attention. You haven't engaged them sufficiently in learning.
If, in your mind, your student "really is too dumb to understand" there's nothing you can do about that but whine and justify your failure. But if it's that you are presenting the subject in a way they aren't able to grasp, then you have the power to change that. By adjusting your communication style so that this student (however dumb they may "really" be) can understand, you can reach them. If users aren't readi
In any interaction with Sensei I assume there is a lesson - that Sensei knows exactly what he's doing, and there's a point to it.
In a recent class we were doing an exercise, each walking straight toward Sensei and turning tenkan to avoid his bokken swings, sideways at our midsections. I did OK the first time through, and got back in the end of the line.
The next time I was up I was ready. Was it going to be right or left? Watching for any sign... a shift of weight, tightening of arm, or settling of a hip. I knew what was coming, and was ready for it. I tried to be equally ready to tenkan out of the way to whichever side, depending on the direction of the swing. When it was my turn I moved toward Sensei trying not to favor either way. Trying to not anticipate one or the other, left or right...
And he tsuki'ed directly into me.
I'm sure he had to pull the thrust to keep me from impaling myself, even though I folded in the middle and backed off. And the class and I had a good laugh. Dammit. I didn't see that coming.
I can't say whether he really meant it as a lesson, or if he was bored with going to the left and right, or was just having a little fun. But I took it as a lesson - although it didn't quite sink in until a couple of days later, when I sort of got the joke and started laughing as I was feeding the horse and donkeys. I had been ready for something I "knew" was coming. I was planning what I was going to do, based on my expectation of what I was sure wo
Something I have found fun and useful in several areas of life (music, riding, and now Aikido) is to commit to doing or participating in something, and then figure out how to make it happen. For instance, I might commit to being at a weekend horse camping event. Then I have to get after making sure my truck and trailer are ready to go, get my horse used to loading in the trailer, etc. I don't wait until I'm ready, and then commit. I commit, and then use that commitment as a reason to get off my butt and get ready.
I recently signed up for a 3-day riding clinic in March. I've done virtually nothing with Rainy (my horse) for months. So having a date in early spring when we have to be capable of participating in clinic (plus having the truck and trailer current on maintenance, etc.) is a good goal. I've promised to be there, and paid in full. Time to start getting ready.
Now just this past week I have signed up for the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar (http://aikidobridge.com/). It's in mid-January. I figured with 3 months to work on everything in general, and to get in better shape, I should be OK to participate in a 4-day seminar without dropping dead. I just need to put in some extra time, focus during class. It's a killer opportunity, but it's just a seminar. No biggie.
And then the videos I ordered arrived, of the same seminar from past years. Uh oh. Mind you, I just did my 6th kyu exam. Nevermind "beginner's mind," I have beginner's everything. The vide
A bunch of random-but-related thoughts have been swarming around my head lately like so many butterflies that won't alight long enough to permit a decent photograph. So I'll try doing what I've done before here when I can't herd ideas into coherence - I'll just blurt them all out and see if there's anything useful among the lot.
Thought #1: When I was preparing for my first exam (6th kyu) one of the things I had to work on was basic jiyuwaza (dealing with free-form attacks by Uke - all simple grabs at this level).
Jiyuwaza was really intimidating for me. It wasn't fear of getting hit or grabbed - I've done sparring before (and besides, I knew my mentor/uke wasn't out to get me, really). It was fear of looking stupid, not being able to think of what to do. Brain cramps, basically. It felt to me like being asked to sing a song I didn't know. I didn't know what to do. Deer in the headlights time. Hated it. My mentor, Scott, would suggest practicing jiyuwaza, and I'd melt into a heap of whining about how I hated it, and wasn't any good at it. "Oh no, not that."
Luckily I recognized that for what it was. In addition to Scott's very capable coaching about what to actually do during jiyuwaza, one thing that really helped me was dressage coach Jane Savoie's advice to say to myself "I love doing jiyuwaza! It's my favorite thing! This is my chance to have fun and play!" Yes, I actually said that stuff every time - in a convincing enough way that my brain started to buy into i
I'm just back from this morning's seminar on Connection, and things are only just starting to sink in. So I'm sure I'll have more thoughts (or feelings?) on this eventually. But here are a few things that stood out for me at first glance.
We did an exercise where we did shomenuchi ikkyo, ura waza, but without touching each other. Just staying together through the technique in a sort of magnetic way. It was pretty easy and slow at first, and as Nage it felt a bit like operating a marionette (a puppet operated at a distance by strings). But then we switched partners and I was working with someone doing it quite a bit faster. And I, when I was Uke, had to keep up! It required a lot more alertness, and willingness to actively move with Nage's direction. He'd spiral backward and downward quite fast (it seemed), and I had to move to stay with him. A strange experience, throwing oneself!
A little light went on there. I have been relying on Nage to physically move me through techniques. Not actively resisting, but not actively extending into the technique, either. Shutting down. Being done unto.
Later, while doing kotegaeshi, I injured the back of my hand - I think by getting behind Nage's motion, instead of staying with him. No biggie, but it blew up a little, so I sat out for a while to do the ice, pressure, & elevation thing. It gave me a chance to watch and let things sink in.
Everyone was working on a reversal technique, and exploring the idea that staying connected
[Originally posted on my blog www.grabmywrist.com, on 10/10/2009, at 4:25 p.m., when AikiWeb was down.]
I've heard it said that Aikido is more like police work than like the military. You want to control a bad situation, keeping everyone as safe as possible. There's nothing comparable to storming in and taking out the enemy. It's an analogy that resonates with me, and has been very useful in explaining to non-Aikido friends why my training isn't about fighting or beating people up.
But I've noticed something in the past week that brought another image to mind. First, I was watching Sensei working with some of the yudansha. There was no rushing, no anger, no malicious intent. What I saw was calm, composed compassion, along with undeniable power and absolute control. It suddenly reminded me of watching a veterinary technician (vet tech) control an animal patient. Vet techs have a variety of techniques they use to immobilize a animal so it can be safely treated without hurting them, the veterinarian, or itself. The animal is absolutely controlled, but with no intent to cause it harm, only kindness and sympathy. It's done firmly, so there's no question in the animal's mind that it might be able to get loose, but no more force is used than necessary. It's interesting that the animal usually feels safe, and calms down.
Later I got to experience being Uke as Sensei demonstrated a technique. The analogy held up. There was no pain, or even force, but there was also no question of resisting, and a sense of total safety.
It's easy to imagine some of the sense of safety being
I didn't know what to expect from this seminar. Relaxation is something I knew I needed to work on in my riding, at least, and it was bound to be a pleasant enough experience, so I signed up. I regularly go to a 90-minute class, and the seminar was only 2 hours, so I wasn't expecting miracles.
But I knew immediately that something deeply important had happened to me in the seminar. The best I could do at the time was to see it as a mental image of hands lifting a stuck Roomba (a wandering robotic vacuum cleaner) out of a corner. Or perhaps more poetically, a little fish being helped from a tide pool into the open sea. (Funny that I think "kohai" sounds like it should be the name of a little fish.) There was a distinct sense of being set free from a tightly bounded existence, and having a vastly expanded space in which to live and play with others. I noticed friends laughing, and it made me happy. I seemed more receptive to the emotional states, both positive and negative, of people around me. Something happened, but I couldn't say what it was.
There's very little of the visceral, experiential "doing" of Aikido that I can put to words. I think that's why I end up writing poetry ab