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Mindful Practice
Mindful Practice
by Lynn Seiser
03-15-2010
Mindful Practice

Breathe in: slow down and pay attention
Breathe out: slow down and pay attention
Mindful practice

When I first saw Aikido I was interested but unimpressed. It looked like people were cooperating. How could anyone be thrown or taken down by someone moving in slow motion? It looked fake. Until I was thrown and taken down by someone who not only moved in slow motion, but barely moved at all.

When I first started practicing Aikido I watched my Sensei demonstrate and then I would attempt to imitate it. I really did my best. Usually I just heard, "No, again". Yet I was sure I was doing what he had shown me. Yet when he did it, it worked. When I did it, it didn't. On occasion I would actually ask what the difference was. He would throw me. I felt the difference. I began to pay attention to the feeling. I slowed down and paid attention.

I used to think that I was hiding bad technique behind speed. Then I would be reminded that I was not that fast.

In simple terms we can call this concept of slowing down and paying attention mindfulness. While many consider this an eastern concept, it is something we all already know.

A systemic approach and orientation would suggest that a change in one part of the system would eventually create change in all the other parts of the systems. It is like that butterfly effect that suggests that if a butterfly flaps its wings eventually it would create a tidal wave someplace. It is all (and we are all) connected if we slow down and pay attention.

I don't teach the most energetic (energetic as in aerobic) classes. (I tend not to focus on energy because I don't necessarily have a great energetic or kinesthetic sense. But I do trust that where ever the head/mind goes, the body/energy follows.) I tend to go through the warm-up exercises as solo training, slowly paying attention to the body mechanics behind the movement. Breathing in and breathing out. Staying relaxed and aligned. Slow and smooth.

Recently I was teaching a class and we were doing Kote-gaeshi. A white-belt watched and then said that I was establishing a mechanical connection for the twisted wrist to the uke's center. I then reminded him that I was also creating a mechanical connection between the twisted wrist and my center too. He smiles and said that then if I turn my center I will turn the uke's center. Ah, the wisdom of a white-belt who slowed down and paid attention.

In the past I have compared the connected between tori/nage and uke as communication, a conversation. As a couple's counselor, I find that communication is very important. It's the vehicle that makes everything happen. It's hard to tell someone what is going on with you if there is no communication. (Actually there always is some form of communication being exchanged, but it's usually negative and destructive. Thus the need for a couple's counselor.) Likewise, it's hard to know what is going on with someone if they don't tell you and you aren't listening. (I often find that mind reading or interpreting others based on my experience is not always helpful or accurate.) At best, both parties are still talking (yelling) but no one is listening. Usually I have them take turns listening and talking to each other. To do that, they have to relax, breathe, get out of their own heads and really pay attention to the other person and how they are responding. Many are surprised what they hear. They had no idea that the other person was in such pain because they were too busy aggressively asserting their own position. Two people in pain yelling at each other does not facilitate positive communication. Usually we need a speaker and a listener. We need to slow down and pay attention to each other. We need to become a "we".

It is interesting that we can actually change the way our brains fire. We can change our neuro-pathway because of neuro-plasticity. We do it by slow voluntary repetition of a thought or act. We do it through mindful practice. The neuro-pathways then reproduce themselves through neuro-genesis with the new neuro-pathways.

I was taught the four levels of competence. First is unconscious incompetence: it doesn't work but we don't know it. The second level is conscious incompetence: it doesn't work and we know it doesn't work. Third level is conscious competence: it only works when we slow down and pay attention. The fourth level is unconscious competence: it's just the way we do it. But usually by the fourth level, we have uncovered a whole different aspect that we are totally consciously incompetent at and the cycle continues.

The third level of conscious competence is our level of training. It is how we wire something in through conscious voluntary slow repetition. It is the level of mindful practice.

This can extend to all aspects of our lives. When we slow down and pay attention to our speech, we don't say so many dumb things. When we slow down and pay attention to our partners in life, our relationships become better. When we slow down and pay attention to our work, the quality and quantity improves.

I once realized that the only things I could do quickly were all destructive. To do anything constructive in life I had to slow down and pay attention. Life is mindful practice.

Breathe in: slow down and pay attention
Breathe out: slow down and pay attention
Mindful practice

Thanks for listening, for the opportunity to be of service, and for sharing the journey. Now get back to training. KWATZ!
Lynn Seiser (b. 1950 Pontiac, Michigan), Ph.D. has been a perpetual student of martial arts, CQC/H2H, FMA/JKD, and other fighting systems for 40 years. He currently holds the rank of Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in Tenshinkai Aikido under Sensei Dang Thong Phong at the Westminster Aikikai Dojo in Southern California. He is the co-author, with Phong Sensei, of Aikido Basics (2003), Advanced Aikido (2006), and Aikido Weapons Techniques (2006) for Tuttle Publishing. His martial art articles have appeared in Black Belt Magazine, Aikido Today Magazine, and Martial Arts and Combat Sports Magazine. He is the founder of Aiki-Solutions and IdentityTherapy and is an internationally respected psychotherapist in the clinical treatment of offenders and victims of violence, trauma, abuse, and addiction. He currently lives in Marietta, GA and trains at Roswell Budokan.
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Old 03-15-2010, 04:58 PM   #2
Susan Dalton
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Re: Mindful Practice

I had never heard the four levels of competence expressed this way. Mind if I quote you?
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Old 03-15-2010, 05:56 PM   #3
SeiserL
 
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Re: Mindful Practice

Quote:
Susan Dalton wrote: View Post
I had never heard the four levels of competence expressed this way. Mind if I quote you?
I probably stole it from some one else myself. Its like energy, its best if your keep it moving.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 03-17-2010, 09:09 PM   #4
Rayleen Dehmke
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Re: Mindful Practice

Fantastic post! I have to say I was very mindful the other night during practice and it makes all the difference, it has carried over into other aspects of my life too. I am a new Aikido student and easily frustrated. Hope I haven't jinxed myself now 'Mindfulness' isn't second nature just yet, I know I have to make a conscious effort to make it work.
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Old 03-18-2010, 09:54 AM   #5
SeiserL
 
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Re: Mindful Practice

Quote:
Rayleen Dehmke wrote: View Post
'Mindfulness' isn't second nature just yet, I know I have to make a conscious effort to make it work.
IMHO, mindfulness isn't second nature for most of us and only a few will reach unconscious competence. Anything worth achieving is worth our conscious effort.

Thanks for reading and responding.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 03-18-2010, 12:08 PM   #6
Anita Dacanay
Dojo: Cleveland Aikikai, Cleveland, Ohio
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Re: Mindful Practice

This reminds me of the feeling I had in my first seminar class with Kayla Feder Sensei a little over a month ago. I was anxious about taking the class; I didn't know where I was going exactly, didn't know if the class would be too advanced and leave me feeling lost, etc.

Sensei took a long time getting us warmed up; and there was a moment when we were breathing and stretching and I felt my revved-up mind let go and connect with my body. I remember feeling this sense of gratitude towards Sensei for helping me get grounded! That sense of practicing slowly and mindfully did carry through the entire class and heightened the experience for me.

Yes, Rayleen, it is the ideal toward which we strive - not many of us find ourselves in that state without conscious effort applied!
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Old 03-18-2010, 02:42 PM   #7
SeiserL
 
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Re: Mindful Practice

Quote:
Anita Dacanay wrote: View Post
Sensei took a long time getting us warmed up; and there was a moment when we were breathing and stretching and I felt my revved-up mind let go and connect with my body.
Yes, its a "letting go". It happens if we "let" it.

We can "make" the mind concentrate, but we must "let" it be mindful.

If we "make" Aikido work, we use force and muscle and its not Aikido (its wrestling). We must "let" ourselves connect and move, "letting" the technique work.

Compliments and appreciation.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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Old 03-19-2010, 04:53 AM   #8
crbateman
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Re: Mindful Practice

More good stuff, Lynn-san... IMHO, there is no more important concept than "Again!".
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Old 03-19-2010, 10:52 AM   #9
SeiserL
 
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Re: Mindful Practice

Quote:
Clark Bateman wrote: View Post
IMHO, there is no more important concept than "Again!".
Osu my friend,
Yes agreed.
Relax, breathe, and again.
I seem to hear it a lot.
And now look forward to it.
Yet, like they say, you never step in the same stream twice, again is never really again.
Rei, Domo.

Lynn Seiser PhD
Yondan Aikido & FMA/JKD
We do not rise to the level of our expectations, but fall to the level of our training. Train well. KWATZ!
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