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One morning recently a group of high school students visited the dojo to experience a special class, to get a feel for what Aikido has to offer us. They were a very nice bunch of young people - thoughtful, articulate, and open-minded. Aikido is a really broad and challenging subject to grasp in only an hour or so, but they picked things up pretty quickly, and made some very perceptive and insightful observations. It occurred to me that at their age they have developed quite good language skills, and still retain the clarity of vision and honesty that children have - not yet jaded.
A theme throughout the class was looking at Aikido as a practice of noticing and letting go of our resistance in life. Our natural inclination in relationship to others is to be light, open, joyful, loving, to see clearly, express ourselves, and trust. To be connected. But when resistance blocks that way of being we are left with anger, sadness, cynicism, living in fear and confusion. Shut down and alone.
At one point Sensei was demonstrating a blend, with me as uke. He was showing what it looks like when we are coming from resistance, tight, cringing, contracted. Maybe being pushy or reactive. I'm sure I've forgotten the exact words, but he was asking something like "what is my resistance keeping me from expressing?" The kids threw out a few answers safe answers. And then from one girl, "Your love for her."
There were some uncomfortable giggles. It may have sounded like she was teasing. B
This past month or so has been an amazingly varied, intense, and joyful period of Aikido for me. I've had a great time, and learned tons. I would not have said a few weeks ago that I was on a plateau. I wasn't feeling frustrated or stalled out in any way. But in the last few weeks I have felt a sort of acceleration kick in. Zero to 60 is one thing. But when you've already been doing 60... Wow.
I'm not sure why it's been like this, but I'm enjoying the heck out of it, and waking up excited about each day. In my experience, as a native San Diegan, this time of year is one of beginnings. It's blazing hot for months, and then things start to cool off. Rain comes, and the hills start to go from gold to green. I associate the changing light and weather with the start of start of the school year, so it just feels like a time for learning new things. Also, I've been writing a lot here (not just the posts you've seen, but drafts for future posts, or just private reflections), plus putting my thoughts down on paper after class in a notebook I carry with me in my dojo bag. Writing helps me digest information, see patterns, and remember. I've been writing because I've been inspired by everything I'm experiencing and learning, but the writing also deepens the experience and solidifies the learning.
Actually, this all really started around the beginning of August. Sensei did some really revealing and inspired work with us on embodying qualities in our Aikido. We had several classes
I came upon this footnote yesterday, about the Japanese word "saeru":
"*note: saeru is clarity, and Harry Watson notes that the word has strong poetic force, and says the best way to think of it is in relation to the clarity of the moon on a cold autumn night."
The specificity of meaning really struck me. What a beautiful image. "Clarity" alone is OK, but each of us might make up in our mind's eye something different that it means for us. I might envision a turquoise beach in a cove, where I can see all the way down to the white sand beneath the lapping waves. You might see a perfect crystal bowl, with sparkling facets splitting the sunlight into rainbows on the dining room walls.
Saeru: The clarity of the moon on a cold autumn night.
It's easy to picture the outlines of trees against the sky, and sharp shadows on the colorless ground. We can feel the chill in the still air, which smells vaguely of damp earth. Searu. Clarity.
In class we are sometimes given an element to explore. Sensei will call out a word: Earth, fire, water, wind, smoke, life, steam… We try to manifest the feeling of the word in our Aikido. It helps us access new energies within ourselves that we may not have realized we possessed, or maybe have been afraid to show. A heavy, deliberate person might find a new lightness through being smoke for a few minutes. One who is quick and forceful might discover that they can flow and relax when embodying the character of water.
I recently participated in yet another Aikido seminar. In fact, it was the weekend immediately following one at our own dojo. Between the two weekends, as I was leaving after Tuesday night's class, a friend observed that I do a lot of seminars, and must really enjoy them. She asked me what I get out of them. It's a good question, and one that has a lot of answers.
I find seminars physically and mentally challenging, and that's fun for me. Training with different instructors, and seeing techniques done in different ways help me get a broader view of the Aikido world. It also helps me see the "normal" way I'm used to doing things with fresh eyes. Sort of like doing everything with your non-dominent hand for a while.
I get to hang out with good friends I only see a time or two a year, some of whom I consider to be my mentors, or maybe more like sisters and brothers. We exchange stories, share ukemi pointers on the backyard lawn, and demonstrate techniques on each other, right in the middle of restaurants. We inspire and encourage each other.
Training with new people lets me feel some really different energy. It gives me a chance to learn to deal with that, and see things I need to work on. At my home dojo we really focus on committed, on-target, intentful attacks. At this seminar, with George Ledyard Sensei*, we did that too, but some of the training was a lot faster and harder than I'm used to. It was a great opportunity to notice where I get reactive, and also where
Here are some snippets from the Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei, September 14-16, 2012, at Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, California. (Note that all quotes here are as best I remember them - not necessarily exact.)"As a martial artist, you can never have too much sensitivity. What you want to eliminate is reactivity."
"There are those who train when they can, and those who train."
"The hands do not create power; they only give the power direction."
Introducing our upcoming bokken work:
"After lunch we're going to talk about the same stuff, we're just going to have sticks in our hands."
During the lunch break on Saturday I got to play with the high-fall practice spotting-rig thingie at Two Rivers Budo - that was fun! [Concept: Adam Fong, Craftsmanship: Hannes Stein]
"The gears have to mesh before the drive gear can affect the other one.
Don't start your tenkan [rotation] until you've made the connection with your partner."
A few of the subjects discussed in studying irimi: algebra, physics, pick pocketing, black holes, motion receptors, attention, misogi, tomoe, drawing-in, and collusion.
On Saturday we had a short but awesome class with Yoshi Shibata Sensei, who introduced us to his "Yoshi Sticks" to help us see the direction of energy and connection between Uke and Nage.
Many thanks to Ledyard Sensei for three days of challenging, fun, and thought-provoking instruction; to Yoshi Shibata Sensei for an enlightening class on Saturday; and to Geoff Yudien, Adam Fong, and their students for hosting
[This is not particularly Aikido-related, but I wrote it on a 20-hour train trip on the way to an Aikido seminar this past weekend. Since I posted it on GrabMyWrist.com I figured I should share it here, too. I'll be compiling some brief posts and quotes from the weekend into a single post here later today, too.
You think of the beautiful Italian woman you waited with at the station, conversing in Spanish - the common ground you share. She's in your home town for 20 days, making a side trip today, with her sundress, cheerful tote bag, and elegant cream shawl. Utterly alone, yet happy and secure, 6,500 miles from home. The train calls you each to different cars, and with a smile and a quick wave you know you will never see her again. If she told you her name, you've forgotten it already.
You write in your red notebook, and a friendly-looking woman takes the seat next to you. Thankfully she nods and lets you be. As her stop approaches you strike up a brief conversation. She rides this train to work most days. Beats driving. She wishes you a good trip, and is gone.
You check Facebook. Another friend has lost her horse. Half a dozen in the space of a month. Neurological disease, laminitis, snake bite, heart failure… Best friends for years, decades… And now an empty stall and a broken heart. You wish her peace. She did all anyone could. Sometimes there's nothing anyone can do.
At Union Station, with its leather seats and elaborately-tiled walls, you wait for your next train. You notice the young, rosy-cheeked woman next to you is not napping, but Ill. When roused she's uncoordinated and slurring. She fumbles through her purse and finds a blood glucose test kit. Uh oh. She's dropping things. You offer a small bunch of grapes, but she has to check f
Yesterday was my 50th birthday. For those who I haven't already bored with this story in person, here y' go:
When I turned 48 I hadn't been training all that long, wasn't in great shape, and my ukemi was way less efficient. We don't often do birthday rolls (mostly because people are out doing other things on their birthdays, I think), so I was kind of surprised, and really tickled when at the end of class Sensei called me up. He said "We have a birthday today. Linda Eskin is turning 18!" And I thought "Why you patronizing so-and-so [edited for civility], not expecting as much of me as of other students... Rrrr..." And then he threw me 18 times, and it about half killed me. LOL I saw, and appreciated, the wisdom in what he'd done, bless his heart.
But then afterword he said "And next year she'll be turning 17!" And I thought, "Why you... No way. That's just not cool." It sure as hell wasn't in my plans to get weaker and less capable over time. But I knew in one year, which goes by pretty quickly, I probably wouldn't be able to do 49, so right then and there I made it my goal, and told him so, that I would be able to do 50 rolls on my 50th birthday (which was on a class day - yes, I checked, two years ago).
I've kept that goal in mind this whole time, working on getting the effortful spots out of my rolls as best I can, training for endurance, and taking really good care of myself (icing injuries, doing my PT exercises, etc.). With my birthday fast approaching I did so
Exquisite. I had to look it up just now to be sure I had exactly the right word.
"Of special beauty or charm, or rare and appealing excellence, as music, or poetry. Extraordinarily fine. Intense; acute, or keen, as pleasure or pain. Of rare excellence of production or execution, as works of art or workmanship. Keenly or delicately sensitive or responsive."
Yep. That's it. Tonight's classes were exquisite. Another of those "I don't know how Sensei does that" evenings.
I'd better back up a few steps, since a lot of things came together for me:
I've been reading Dan Millman's "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" in which his training includes some intense self-discipline, and he manages that successfully (mostly). I found that admirable, enviable, and lacking in my own life.
I have signed up for the week-long Living Embodiment Conference in November 2012, and I'm really excited about it, even though it's not for months yet. Something about this work speaks to me, especially as experienced and expressed through Aikido.
I keep telling myself I want to lose those last few pounds. And yet I find myself drawn to the kitchen, or mysteriously eating more than I really should. It's not that hard, I've done it before… but it's like I'm not paying attention. At all.
Over the weekend I had things I wanted to get done. I did some of them, but piddled around and neglected many others. By Sunday night my car was still a mess, and I hadn't started my laundry. Then today I could