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Today marks the beginning of my third year in Aikido.
When I first started training, I meant to become a better horseperson. I have, but part of the process has been to discover that I don't want to have a horse of my own, and so he is off with a friend, looking for his new person.
At first I thought I would not bother with weapons. I've never been into swords and ninja and samurai. I was just going to stick with the open-hand stuff. Instead I discovered that I love weapons work.
When I first called Sensei to ask about training, I explained how I could only be at the dojo one night a week. Now I train four or five days a week, plus workshops and seminars.
At first I disregarded the "woo-woo" stuff I'd heard about. Now I see that the emotional, energetic, spiritual, and embodiment aspects are where the real fun is. Well, there, and flinging each other around the dojo.
This year is a new adventure. I see a few familiar things on the horizon, a couple of seminars, and testing for 3rd kyu in July, but mostly I'm walking the path in wonder, open to discovering whatever lies ahead.
About this time next week, if all goes according to plan, I will be packing up Rainy's things, feeding him a few last carrots, and sending him off to live with a friend. She will be evaluating him, training him, and ultimately finding him a new person, and a new future. He's bored and lonely here, and too talented to spend his youth puttering around my backyard with just two donkeys for company.
Rainy will be taking a day-long trip north to the bay area, in a big box stall on an air-ride semi-trailer. At the farm he will be living in a pasture with three playmates, and will be working with a trainer several days a week. It's going to be a little rough on me, saying goodbye, but he'll have fun there.
I am giving up riding. More accurately, I am giving up lying to myself about being a rider. Sure, I'll go out with friends, or to a dude ranch now and then, but I'm letting go of saying that any day now I'm going to get around to taking regular lessons, training in dressage, doing groundwork in the yard, and putting some miles in on the trails. It hasn't happened in the nearly 15 years I've had horses, and it's not going to happen. It was a story I told about who I was, one I was very attached to, but it wasn't true. It's time to stop telling it.
I have had plenty of frustrations. I have faced challenges. I have been discouraged, injured, sick, busy… Rather than pointing the way toward this realization, those things actually kept me from seeing it. I thought things would
[NOTE - I originally published this as a link to grabmywrist.com, where I also post this blog, but decided the whole list should be here, too. As I go along I'll only be updating the other one, but when all is said and done I'll post a revised/final version here, too. Enjoy!]
This summer, June 12-18, I'm going for the first time to the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo College, in Atherton, California (in the Bay Area). The sensei are Robert Nadeau, Frank Doran, Hiroshi Ikeda Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei, plus other instructors in the evenings. (If you're going to the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo College, drop me a note! I'd love to meet up there, and get to know some of the names here as real live people. :-) )
It's the kind of thing where you stay in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, swim in the pool, and eat, breathe, and sleep Aikido for a whole week. I'll be driving there and back (about 10 hours each way). Part seminar, part summer camp, part road trip. Woohoo!
I know a bunch of folks who have gone before, both fellow students from Aikido of San Diego, and people I've met at seminars (and am looking forward to seeing again!). Dave Goldberg Sensei has gone many times, and says he's never had a bad day there (besides, it's a cheap vacation). Cathé, a dojo mate, went last year and has given me a whole array of great tips for having a great time.
Being the planning, list-making sort, I've been planning and making lists. If you're going, too, you might find them helpful. Check back from time to time, as I will be adding to these, I'm sure. Here's what I've got so far:
This excerpt from The Book of Five Rings reminded me of something Sensei said in class recently, in the context of techniques versus principles. My recollection of the point is that if you hunt for techniques in jiyuwaza ("When my partner attacks like x, I should do technique y."), you will be limited in the freedom, flow, and appropriateness you can achieve. Even if you get really good at it, you will still be only really good at a self-limiting system of operating. Your mind will always be getting in the way of free expression. Instead, by internalizing the principles, the appropriate techniques will appear easily.
"The Great Learning speaks of consummating knowledge and perfecting things. Consummating knowledge means knowing the principles of everything that people in the world know. Perfecting things means that when you know the principle of everything thoroughly, then you know everything, and can do everything. When there is nothing more you know, there is nothing you can do either. When you do not know the principle, nothing at all comes to fruition.
In all things, uncertainty exists because of not knowing. Things stick in your mind because of being in doubt. When the principle is clarified, nothing sticks in your mind. This is called consummating knowledge and perfecting things. Since there is no longer anything sticking in your mind, your tasks become easy to do."
From The Book of Five Rings - A Classic Text on the Japanese Way of the Sword
By Miyamoto Musas
Everyone's first few days (weeks? months?) of training can be disorienting and overwhelming. You need to learn how to dress yourself, how to sit, how to stand… Acck! You also hear a lot of new words - Japanese terms and phrases. When I was hearing them for the first few times I couldn't even make sense of them enough to remember them so I could look them up later.
Here's a huge tip: Almost every dojo, including ours, has a list of common terms in the dojo handbook! Be sure to look there - it's very handy.
For my first Words post, here are some you will hear in every class. They are mostly the same from dojo to dojo. You'll be saying them often, too. Here goes:
[OWN-ah-GAH-ee-shee-mahs Note that the "u" at the end is silent. A good way to remember it is that it sounds a little like "Oh my gosh, a mouse!" To help with spelling, remember that it starts with "one".]
You will hear and say this at the beginning of class, when Sensei and the class all bow to each other, and when you approach another student to ask them to train with you (you both say it). I've heard several interpretations of it. Whatever the exact translation, in practice it is a polite request which functions as "would you please train with me?"
Domo arigato gozaimashita
[DOE-moe ahr-ee-GAH-toh GO-zah-ee-MASH-ta When I have heard native speakers say it, it sounds like there is a comma after domo, like this: "Domo, arigato gozaimashita."]
Everyone says this when Sensei and the class bow to each other at the end of class. It means "thank you very much for what you just did."
Arigato means thank you.
Domo is an polite, formal intensifier, like adding "very much" in English, except it comes first (like muchos grácias in Spanish).
Several people have asked me recently about some of the words we use at the dojo. I've sent them some info privately, but what the heck, I might as well share with everyone.
It drives me nuts to not understand what's being said. Even worse, to use words I don't understand, repeating them by rote. So I've tried my best to make sense of the terminology around Aikido. In most cases the explanations I give will simply be my own understanding of the meanings, tricks I use for remembering them, etc.
Some of the things I intend to cover include
Numbers and counting-related words
Attack and technique-related words
Names of things
Weapons technique names
Commonly-heard Japanese greetings and phrases
These posts will be as accurate as I can make them, but will all be informally based on my own very limited understanding. I will try to give some indication of how sure I am of what I'm saying, and if I'm just plain wrong please tell me so (and if appropriate I'll go back and correct things). Any pronunciation tips I give will only be for how I've heard them spoken in the context of training, not The Correct Japanese Pronunciation. In no case should anything in these posts be considered authoritative. I do hope it will be helpful, though!
When I know of solid sources of information I will point those out. There are a few very good books, websites, and podcasts, both for learning Aikido-specific terminology, and for learning to speak Japanese.
Someone on Facebook recently asked what your sensei says regularly that sticks in your mind & helps inform your Aikido or other Martial Arts practice mentally, physically, or spiritually?
I actually misinterpreted the question as asking about things Sensei says about Aikido that inform my life outside the dojo. Off-the-mat Aikido. Here are the things (not his actual words, of course) that came to mind, plus a few more, that stick with me:
Constant reminders to settle, check our own posture and alignment. Be in integrity with ourselves.
Attend to doing what we are doing as well as we can, not to trying to make it affect our partner.
Notice where we are, and where we are going. Being aware of these things is what allows opportunities for positive transitions to arise.
Keep our eyes up and see the big picture. Don't focus attention on the attack.
Work with others at their level. Help them be safe, and don't pile on information or levels of detail or finesse they are not yet able to understand.
It's not about having a soft or a hard style. It's about being appropriate to the situation.
If you operate at the mind-based level of planning each action based on if-then decisions leading to codified responses, you won't experience freedom in your actions, and you will always be limited in what you can achieve.
And one that I heard for the first time in tonight's class, that seems to fit here: If your attacker wants to retreat, build them a golden bridge on which to ge
We did a simple little cleaning project today at the dojo. The bamboo around the garden had gotten mildewy with the recent rains. It had become worn and mottled, attacked by the elements. It took only a little time and elbow grease to reveal the warm natural color and solid structure that was still there under the grime. It's beautiful again.
I took before and after photos with my iPhone. Afterward a few of us went out for lunch. We were talking about how we got started in Aikido, and how we'd changed because of it. Our Befores and Afters.
It wasn't until I thought about the photos I'd taken that the parallels came to mind. The bamboo started out shiny and fresh, as we all do. The seasons took their toll. Ugliness and disease were winning out. It had started to look like maybe we should give up, and pitch it in the dumpster. But Sensei knew what was underneath all the crud. So we worked together, put in a little effort, and brought it back.
That knowing what's under the crud that's built up, that working together, that little effort and elbow grease... That's what we do, with Sensei's guidance, in Aikido. We bring each other back.
So about that seminar, finally... I had a great time at the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar a couple of weeks ago. Doran, Ikeda, and Tissier Sensei taught again, and this time each also did a tanto (knife) class. I got to train and hang out with some really nice folks I met there last year, several of my Aikido rock star heroes, and some new friends I hope to see again soon. I even got to have a house guest for the duration. On the basic "having a good time" scale, it was way up there. Lots of fun.
I love training at the level of intensity available at seminars - really focusing on nothing else for several days, without distraction. I definitely plan to be back next year, and am looking forward to 4 days with Patrick Cassidy Sensei in February, the Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo Park in June, Robert Nadeau Shihan some time this summer, and our dojo retreat in the mountains in the fall. And some day, on my wish list, George Ledyard Sensei's Weapons & Randori Intensive. There's something about that removal from everyday life to just train that allows for breakthroughs. More on that another time.
It was interesting to notice that this year I got more frustrated and impatient with myself. Last year I was only a 6th kyu with about 6 months of training behind me. My most fervent wish at that point was to not make a complete fool of myself - to clap at the right time when bowing in, address the instructors appropriately, and to not be an embarrassment to my dojo or teacher. Th