Friday, December 6, 2013

Monday, November 25, 2013

Highlight Reel

Well, the results are in...  I've been watching the video that Hamden Sensei made for me (thank you soooo much!) with a very critical eye, and I guess I'm both satisfied and humbled.

Some of my favorite sequences are irimi nage with Mark, and pretty much everything I did with Eric.  Here's Mark making me look good, for instance (and even here, my posture could use some work!)

Here's the video (I've edited it down to just under 12 minutes):

Honestly, there were quite a few techniques that I don't recall, and I'm not sure how I'd even name them.  I was just trying to do something like what Gaston Sensei was calling out.   I'm happy with how I dealt with that kind of adversity.  I told several people the story of how, at one point, I started to panic, thinking "what's he talking about? -- am I this unprepared?"  As luck would have it, I happened to look down at my feet and see those black painted toenails, and I loosened up (thanks, Tonya).

Even Jiyu Waza looked OK, mostly.

...and there's that pesky Randori.  I'll be living with this for a long time, and I only included this sequence in the "highlight" reel to remind myself that I'm not the bigshot that I sometimes think I am.  It really looks as bad in the video as it felt.  When Evil Todd grabbed me from behind, I was already pretty tired, and from there I really never got my bearings -- I never recovered.   Well, perhaps at the veeeeery end -- when I threw A.K and moved right to Christie.  I want to believe I was about the finally get a rhythm going, but Sensei clapped.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tai Chi

One thing that's been on my list for some time has been to study Tai Chi with a local teacher.  He's really awesome, and has a close connection to the gentleman in the video below.    I plan to start this Saturday.  I'll do this instead of adding Saturday aikido, but this is something I can do with my wife, Linda.

Can you spot Kokyu Ho, the beginnings of Shiho Nage, and others?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Ender's Game

Folks, if you haven't seen Ender's Game in the movie theater yet, I think it's worth the watch. I read the book in high school.  The premise has only gotten more relevant.

If you do watch, look for Aikido in the movie.  The most obvious references are the hand-to-hand fight training (I saw kote-gaeshi, hiji-garami, and a couple others in quick succession), and several fight-against-the-bully scenes that were relevant, too.

Then there were the less obvious references.  Lots of verbal Aikido on Ender's part, when he works with one of his team leaders, for instance.  Or his whole approach to the ultimate enemy.  Or the final "irimi" that ends the movie.

Anyway, worth the watch.


Saturday, November 2, 2013


Well, it's over.  And, of course, it's just a beginning.

Thanks so much to everyone for participating today, and especially for helping me all along the way -- not just my teachers, but everyone (because, ultimately, you're ALL my teachers anyway).

So how did I do? All in all, I did OK. There are some things I wish I had back, but I knew there would be. Most importantly, I got lots of great feedback and accolades from my teachers.  Given that I came to Roanoke Budo Kai with two other schools worth of other ways to do things behind me, I had a lot of relearning to do, and it wasn't always easy.  The fact that my teachers gave me an enthusiastic "thumbs up" today is something I'm very proud of, and very grateful for.

Some key things I remember...

Whitt Sensei has run the show for all other tests (Kyu Tests).  Today, Gaston Sensei did, and I swear that about a third of what he asked me to do was stuff we'd never practiced in class.  Perhaps that was a good thing for my state of mind, as it kept me thinking creatively, rather than getting all knotted up when something wasn't working.

I had some great Ukes.  Chris survived a one-pinkie surprise tekubi, for instance (sorry, Chris).  Eric graciously flowed through a bunch of kokyus and kaiten nages.  Christie kept coming at me when I was in the chair.  Mark's amazing backfalls were a joy to work with during irimi-nage.  Todd was a challenge for Shihonage, but we got it together.  Sankyo and Yonko on AK was, well, it's always fun to work with AK.   If I missed anyone, I apologize.   Ya can't do Aikido without Uke, and good Ukes are precious.

Randori... ah, well...  One thing I can say is that it's been a lot of years since I've been that tired (at the end).  Guess I have a few things to work on yet.  :-)

Thanks, everyone.  See you on the mat on Monday.

Butterflies and Toenails

Tonya has expressed that, in solidarity with and in support of my test in 90 minutes (!), she was painting her toenails black, and encouraging others to do the same.   So, I could hardly not do so myself, right?

I figure it'll symbolize "loosening up" a bit.  It ain't pretty, believe me...

Thanks to all those who have emailed me with their support.  (gulp).

Domo Aregatou Gosaimasu


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Almost Showtime

My daughter asked me if I was nervous about my black belt test coming up on Saturday.  She's a nervous child.  Worries about everything.

I told her: "Not really. Why should I be nervous? I've been training for a long time, I have the complete support of my teachers and the people I train with, I'm healthy, and, well, I'm just ready."

In other words, I lied.

Hell yes I'm nervous!  I'm confident.  Resolved.  Determined.  But definitely nervous.  Woke me up several times last night, in fact.  Nothing like waking up dreaming about kaiten-nage. Very disorienting.

I know that test day is seldom anyone's best day. I know I'm going to screw up, and I know that I'll be largely evaluated on how I do under that kind of stress. I know that I'm expected to know the techniques -- not perhaps perfectly (whatever that means), but to a high level of proficiency and confidence.  I know that, most of all, I'll be evaluated on how I handle myself -- attitude, composure, physical and mental posture.

So what do I have going through my head?  What mantra am I chanting continuously?

  1. You. Can't. Go. Too. SSSllloooow.  No matter how fact Uke attacks, slow down the technique during the blend.  Take the air out of it.  Drain the adrenaline.  Control the pace of the whole test.
  2. Extend the blend.  Move, relax, breathe.  
  3. Hip to hip.  Don't overshoot the blend.  Don't be tempted to work on the outside.
  4. Welcome the screwups. Means it's real. If you ain't fallin' down, you ain't tryin'.

You can do anything for 2-3 hours.  Just stay focused.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sorrentino Seminar

OK, so I responded flippantly to Tonya's recent post to the Kai's email list about the Sorentino Sensei Seminar yesterday.  I owe a real response.

First of all, hats off to Tonya for pulling off a great seminar.  She's been very magnanimous by giving a lot of credit to everyone for volunteering various stuff, but there's no getting by the fact that she was the force behind it.  Thank you very much, Whitt Sensei.

And here were Tonya's comments about the things that stuck out for her:

1.       Aikido training is about improving me, not my partner (work with the uke you have, not the one you wish you had….and newbies are a wonderful gift)!
2.       There are 3 jobs on the mat: Sensei, nage and uke.  Each need to do their job with full commitment and focus and if that happens then its good training!
3.       Half of your “dojo dues” goes to your ukemi practice so don’t waste that money by learning nothing as uke!
4.       If there’s room to drive a truck or even a motorcycle between your hips and uke’s then you have a problem!
5.       Give an honest attack….I love the analogy of getting a glass!
6.       Some of his attack choices were different than ours: punch/ withdraw and when grabbing kosa tori to get to ushiro kubishimi we should attempt pull/ move uke instead of going around them!
7.       Structural integrity: head over shoulders over hips and while a wide stance provides stability it limits mobility!
8.       It’s ok to go slow b/c if you are going too fast to be aware of your body then you can’t fix your mistakes!
9.       Sankyo lifts and separates while nikkyo crushes (that seated sankyo pin was fun, wasn’t it?!)
10.   You can keep knives (and tegatana) sharp and effective by cutting the meat and joints (sword hand – not hammer hand, don’t cut into uke’s strength).

I echo all of what she said, and I'd like to emphasize #8.  Tonya is laughing, I'm sure, because I certainly didn't heed that advice when working with her that day!  I remember Sensei telling a joke, but I can't remember the joke...  something about learning to do something that was hard, and how stupid it was to think that speeding up would make it easier.  What was the "something," anyway?

OK...  Some other things that stuck out for me...

Stacked Lessons

As do many good teachers (including ours), the day's lessons clearly built on each other.  "I never throw anything away!" says Sorrentino Sensei.  I love that.


In general, the context for all Aikido techniques is "multiple attackers, weapons everywhere."  Sometimes this can be very helpful if something we're doing seems puzzling in a martial sense.  Context is important.


OK, there were three essential elements, according to Saotome Sensei.  The second was Kuzushi -- unbalancing, and the third was "posture" (can't remember the Japanese term -- I think it sounded like "says she," or "she say".  Help, anyone...)

Hey -- here's an interesting take on Kuzushi.  Very deep. I really like it.  Remind me to blog about "AABLE" (my own mnemonic).

Final note on Kuzushi.  "Kuzushi first -- then 'do a technique.'"  Gee -- never heard that before.

Irimi, irimi, irimi

The whole day was about irimi.  Entering -- in a lot of different contexts.  Some new twists (for me) included:

  • If there's only one attacker, maybe tenkan isn't your best option, because you risk turning your back to your opponent (sorry -- "partner").  But, with more than one attacker (which we always assume, right?), turning gives you the opportunity to see the rest of the field.
  • Don't dwell on Uke after the technique is done (watch it on YouTube -- ha!)  Move on to the next attack.
Dynamic, not static

Sorrentino Sensei acknowledged the value of practicing technique from a static position, but strongly emphasized that he "didn't want to cultivate that" as a mind set, and hinted that our practice can do that if we're not careful.  Even tai no henko was practiced dynamically in a number of different ways.

Being Uke

I was honored and very grateful to be called up as Uke several times.  Wow, what an experience to try to work with Sorrentino Sensei!  I remember him demonstrating one technique, where he was quipping about how Uke "couldn't let go if he wanted to."  To me, it felt like I could get hold of him if I wanted to!  I just kept trying because I knew that if I didn't, he'd hit me with that hand I was trying to grab!

I was also impressed that he ran the whole seminar without his "own" Uke.  Most teachers bring an Uke or two that they're familiar with.  Sorrentino Sensei did not, and that's a testament to his abilities as a practitioner, and as a teacher.

Meeting the Blacksburg folks

I trained with a number of our fellow aikidoka from Blacksburg, and then hung out with them at lunch, too. Great people.  I think I'm going to try and make it to the Tuesday night class every once in a while next year.


I gotta get me one.  :-)

Hakama Continued

Look, I know it's the height of vanity to have my hakama be the subject of the last three posts (!), but I rationalize it with the knowledge that this will be interesting to anyone who hasn't worn one yet.

So, since my Hakama was on the long side (right at the tops of my feet), I decided I'd have to wash it or hem it or something.  After lengthy online searches to learn about how to wash a hakama, I finally resonated with a couple of people on an aikiweb forum who said "throw it in the washer, throw it in the dryer."  I particularly liked the comment about "they're basically Japanese sweat pants."    Mine's 100% cotton, BTW.

I figured that, since I sweat a lot, I'll probably not be able to depend on dry-cleaning over the years, or even any elaborate washing method. So I'd have to bite the bullet and machine-wash eventually anyway.

Also, I figure the way you treat your hakama might be indicative of your aikido.  For me, I want to treat it with respect, but I don't want to baby it, either.  My aikido is probably never going to have all the creases be perfect anyway, if ya know what I mean.  That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it.

So anyway, I washed it (cold water, low spin), and I even threw it in the dryer (low heat, only 20 minutes). Then I hung it overnight to complete the drying, and today I ironed the pleats back in as best I could (using an old pillowcase to make sure the iron never touched the hakama itself, since that would likely give it a post-iron sheen).

Feels pretty good, and I think it looks pretty good, too.  Oh, Yeah.

So yes, I'll probably wear it to tomorrow's class, and thereafter, including during my Shodan test.  I figure this is my own little way of saying "I'm ready."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Hakama Arrived

Hakama arrived. Think I tried it on?  Damn right I did.   :-)

Tried three different ways of tying it on.

  1. Front first, knot in the back, front knot left to hang
  2. Back first, twisting himo around belt, tidy front knot
  3. Same as #2, but with a different front knot.
  4. Back temporary tie-off, then front, then back -- simple knots, all exposed and in front
From what I've recently read in "In The Dojo", by Dave Lowry, #1 is the most traditional. Despite the knot in the back (which I wonder will get in the way during ukeme), I think it was my favorite, though tying that knot in the back will take some practice.

I've seen several "twists" (pun intended) on #2 and #3.  I've never seen #4 -- though it's interesting to note that this was the only video by an actual Japanese Aikidoka.

Some interesting Hakama facts and mythbusters -- also from the book:

  • There are seven front pleats in total -- four on the left, three on the right.  There's lots of lore over the mysticism of this number.  Nobody knows.  But the fact that there's one more pleat on the left probably harkens back to the day when swords were worn -- primary weapons on the left.  The extra pleat on the left might be a little more durable, or the one-less pleat on the right might make it a little easier to stand up (right leg first, of course).
  • The story about Hakamas being worn to hide the practitioner's footwork (oooh) is apparently complete bunk.  In fact, at different point in history when Hakamas were actually worn in battle, they almost always had draw-strings around the ankles -- to keep from tripping on them!   Hakamas are essentially just pants -- with lots of different versions dating back to riding chaps and formal kimonos.
  • While we're on the subject of "bunk"...  The author of "In The Dojo" also says that the mystic stories about "black belts" being just white belts that got really dirty over time...  they're bullshit, apparently.  A famous Judoka somewhere in the 1950s was spreading Judo throughout Europe.  He had a very large class, with students from his school and from others.  He needed to tell them apart.  And so the black belt was born.  That's it.   Colored belts in other martial arts are, as most of us know, a westernization geared towards a more "goal oriented" approach to training.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


Oooohhh... big news for the blog today.  I ordered my hakama.   :-)

OK, so there's not rule in our dojo about waiting 'till you're Shodan or any other rank before you wear a hakama.   But there is a sort of unspoken tradition.  That said, there is some chance I may actually wear this hakama prior to my Shodan test, and I've been thinking about taking my test wearing it.

For the record, I ordered from bujindesign:

Also, for the benefit of others, I will say that sizing was a bit of a problem.  According to the size charts (measuring from my navel to my ankle bone), I got 104 cm -- which puts me in a size 27.  But, according to my height, I should be a size 29.   After some back-and-forth with Bu Jin, and some questions to my fellow Aikidoka, I settled on a 28.   We'll see.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Elemental Aikido

OK, and now for something completely different.  I've only spoken of the following to a few of you in the past.  It's a somewhat whimsical subject.

In my years in Aikido, I've seen a lot of students -- and a lot of advanced ones. I've observed that there's often a point in an advanced student's training when "their" Aikido comes out. They start to take their training a little past what Sensei is teaching, and start to express themselves; start to find what works within the teachings for them, personally.

I've had some fun over the years classifying my Sempai in "elemental" groups -- in the old, alchemical traditions of "earth, air, fire, and water."

So I'm going to step out on a limb to give some examples, using my Kai Sempai.  Note that these are just my opinions/observations, and that no element is superior to any other, and I wouldn't presume to judge, in any case.

Gaston Sensei:  Fire and Earth (um, volcanic eruption?)
Hamden Sensei: Earth
Goodbar Sensei: Air
Breile Sensei: Earth and Water (um, mudslide?)
Rakes Sensei: Fire
Whitt Sensei: Not sure. Probably Fire and something.

For my own entertainment, here are some of my previous teachers:
Robert Nadeau Sensei: Earthy Air (hm.  sand storm?)
Hiroshi Kato Sensei: Earth, probably
Jim Friedman Sensei: Fire and Air
Daniel Palmer Sensei: Earth

I studied under Nadeau Sensei twice, somewhere around 1991. I don't really consider him my first teacher because it was only for about 3 months each, and I don't feel like it "stuck."  But he certainly was a very intense teacher, flamboyant character, and did leave an impression.  Nadeau Sensei was a direct student of O'Sensei, and still teaches in San Francisco.

Jim Friedman Sensei was my first teacher, from 1996-2001.  He started under Iwama style, and then studied under Hiroshi Kato Sensei, who was a direct student of O'Sensei.  Kato Sensei is 78, and still teaches, visiting Friedman Sensei's Dojo from Japan about twice a year. I got "hands on" with Kate Sensei a couple of times, and it was special.

Daniel Palmer Sensei was my teacher from 2002-2006, in Asheville NC.  He studied under Akira Tohei Sensei, also a direct student of O'Sensei.

Not sure why I felt the need to write all that down, but since it's my blog I don't need a reason. Besides, as I'm coming up on my Shodan Test, I think it's important to honor my own "lineage," as it honors my teachers.  I'm proud of my eclectic history, I guess.  I hope to live up to that tradition.

Inceidentally, I think it's rather impossible to determine your own element.  I think it probably has to be done by someone observing from the outside -- or from someone consistently on the receiving end of your technique.  

What's my elemental style, for instance?  I suppose I have a personal affinity -- a preference -- for a water element.  If I lived in Arlington, for instance, I'd love to study under Saotome Sensei, I think.  I also love to watch Donovan Waite Sensei. And I would love to channel Take Sensei (Seagal) at times.  But I really have no idea.  My element is probably wood or something. Sawdust, more likely.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Saotome Shihan

In preparation for the upcoming Sorrentino Sensei seminar, I went digging for more information about Aikido of Northern Virginia, ASU, and Saotome Shihan.

I came across this awesome 1-hour YouTube video (I LOVE YouTube!  This is FREE, people!).

This is a very complete breakdown of a huge selection of techniques performed by a true master, plus some great snippets of his philosophy.  From what I've seen at Sorrentino Sensei's seminars in the past, and from the couple of times I've actually gone "hands on with him," we're going to see a lot of this kind of technique on October 19th.  Very, very cool.

A couple of things I'm particularly interested in...

When you watch, notice the very common footwork during the blend.  I think this kind of footwork is something we don't do as much as he does.  When we blend into Shomenuchi Ikkyo, for instance, it's explicitly very linear.  Notice when he does it.  It looks more like the kind of blend we use during, say, Yokomen-uchi Aiki Toshi (the Tenkan version -- not the Irimi version that Evil Todd whipped out on me during last Saturday's exam.  :-)).  This footwork was very common at my first dojo, and was taught explicitly at my second dojo as one of several forms of "ten shin" (which I think means "footwork").    I think this kind of footwork is what, in our dojo, sets AK's Jiyu-Waza (randori) apart from the rest of us mere mortals.

I loved the beautiful koshi-nages.  We don't do this in our dojo, and I think this video shows how these classic hip throws -- from Ikkyo, Sankyo, Shiho, and even Irimi-nage entries -- can all be done big, small, hard, soft, and anything inbetween.  The irimi-naga entry was a new one to me -- how cool is that!

Enough for now.   Do check out the video.  It's better than anything on TV.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Jiyu Waza

Kyu testing is coming up, and of course my own Shodan test is only a month away.   So I spent several hours today watching YouTube videos of various Randori and Jiyu Waza demonstrations and training sessions.   (BTW, those terms are often used incorrectly.  In general I'm talking about multiple attackers, free attack, free response).

Steven Seagal (Take Sensei) continues to have some of the best Randori on YouTube,

... But I just stumbled across this one, in which my worst fears were discussed quite clearly.   I freeze. I get caught, and then I seem to forget everything I'd like to think I "know" about Aikido.

And what are the standards to which I hold myself?
1) Never stop moving
2) Be aware of the whole mat
3) Don't get stuck on a single Uke (in our training, we're taught to "finish, and then move on", but it's still bad form, at least at higher ranks, to dwell).  Deal with the attack and move on..
4) Be calm.  Even if I screw up (which I most certainly will). If you exude tension and fear, so will everyone else.
5) Never, ever, stop moving.  (AK's words: "Keep movin' and you'll get somewhere you know")

Some more advanced pointers that I hope to emulate occasionally:
1) line up Ukes so that I'm always the least exposed (shikaku)
2) make THEM look for ME

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ukeme YES!

Chris Lee (fellow aikidoka and webmaster extraordinaire) sent out an email today.  And I quote:

"Today I came in to work to find everyone scrambling a bit, one of my colleagues it out and we are working to cover her courses, office hours, and such. 
The reason she is out may help you (as it did me) to put your troubles in perspective. 
This weekend doing yardwork she fell and broke both arms.  Multiple fractures in each, full cast on one, removable cast on the other.  This sucks.  But, there is more - she is young and has a 9 month old daughter, her first child. 
Our support network is great at the college and she'll be swamped with offers to help, but that will not make everything easier. 
So, PRACTICE YOUR UKEMI !!!  I can't tell you how many times I've told new aikidoka that the best life skill they may get out of class is learning to fall without getting badly hurt. 
Today I was reminded of that.
See you all on the mats!! 

I wanted to respond to this, as it hit close to home.

The biggest injuries of my life have been:
  1. Bicycle accident when I was about nine.  Flew over the handlebars and destroyed most of the skin on my chest, side, and some of one arm.  Out of school for months as I recovered.
  2. Broke my wrist by falling off a skateboard, shortly before starting high school. (It was in a department store, but that's irrelevant).
  3. Hip injury (subluxated sacroiliac) after doing a bicycle kick in a soccer game in college.  I was in excruciating pain for two weeks, and had one leg 2 inches "longer" than the other.  "Fixed" after my first-ever visit to a chiropractor.
  4. Badly dislocated shoulder during an ultimate frisbee match.  I was 25 or so.  Got worse in subsequent years, ultimately resolved with surgery.
Each of these injuries would almost certainly have been avoided and/or minimized, had I known how to fall.   I didn't learn that until years later.

Since learning to fall in Aikido, I've taken at least a couple of falls (that I can remember) that would have disabled my younger self, but that instead left me laughing:
  1. BIG back-fall on the street in front of a big crowd of neighbors while on roller blades. Neighbors still talk about it.  I got up and bowed for the applause.
  2. Stupid stationary fall off a bicycle when I couldn't get out of the clips.  I distinctly remember laughing on the way down.  Even had enough presence to save my bike from getting scratched.
Ukeme matters, folks. Chris is right.  It's possibly the most useful everyday skill you can take with you. Practice it.  The mat is your friend.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Kinder and gentler

Gaston Sensei has been teaching for the past two Thursdays, and I've been wondering what to write about it. There's a lot to say, most of which I'm still digesting.  But here's something from last night.

Sensei stated last night that his Aikido is "not your 'kinder, gentler' Aikido."  Anyone would agree, I'm sure -- certainly anyone who's taken ukeme for him. His style is less about elegance and grace, and more about efficiency and effectiveness.

This style is not necessarily my personal preference.  But last night, Sensei put it in perspective for me in a way that sunk in.  He said that Aikido is unique as a martial art in that you could use the same techniques to handle a drunken uncle at a party as you do to handle an attacker in an alley with a knife.  He believes that if you train for the drunken uncle, you'll never be able to handle the knife-wielding attacker.  So he trains for the knife, knowing that it's easier to "dial it back" for the drunken uncle.   It's that whole "Shin Ken" (live blade) thing, I guess.

Sensei, Domo Arigato Gosaimasu

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


On September 11, 2001, My alarm went off at 5:30 am, to get me out of bed in plenty of time to make it to 7:30 Aikido class at Suginami Aikikai in San Francisco.  It was a clock radio, so I woke up to the surreal announcements of "an airplane has crashed into the world Trade Center."   After realizing I wasn't dreaming (I probably hit the snooze button), I jumped out of bed to go to the TV.  Shortly thereafter, I saw, with millions of others around the world, the second plane crash into the second tower.

I watched for some time.  Finally, I made my way to the dojo, feeling numb and confused.  We set up a TV that we could see while we trained.  We trained slowly, in stunned silence, wiping the mats with our tears rather than our sweat.  I remember thinking "this is exactly why we train -- to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Suginami SF

So, as part of my 10-day family vacation to San Francisco, I woke up early to take the J-Church from our apartment in Noe Valley to my old dojo, Suginami Aikikai.   Got there, after a little detour, before the Clarice (the current uchideshi) had opened the place for 7:30 am class, so I got some coffee and came back. Jimmy Sensei recognized me immediately and greeted me with a big hug, an immediate inquiry about Linda (my wife), and an apology for the fact that the plant we'd left him with hadn't survived.  Not a bad memory, I'd say -- it's been 11-12 years, after all.

I dressed out and trained.  There were six of us, total.  Two of which I knew.

We started class with loose warmups, complete with one of those kinds of conversations I remember so well.  Jimmy was in rare form -- expounding, with a twinkle in his eye, upon his rich knowledge of the "deep south" (in my honor, of course), based on a book he'd recently read called "Better off Without Them," a book about what the US would have been, had the south seceded.   I figured he might have been making it up, but no, it's a real book.  He also drifted into a conversation about creationism and darwinism, which in turn drifted into his "theory" that we really evolved form bears, not monkeys -- a theme which reappeared throughout class -- especially because I, personally, look more like a bear than a monkey (a good thing, I suppose).

Jimmy Sensei was not big on mat-talk. He often told people (including me) to "shut up and train" (in Japanese -- which I don't remember).  He said "if you're going to talk on the mat, talk about something besides Aikido."   He was walking that walk, as it were.

If you met Jimmy Sensei on the street, you wouldn't notice him.  He's small (maybe 5'4" ?) and slight of build.  He used to color his hair differently every month, but he seems to have grown out of that.  His arms are covered with tattoos, but a) so what? it's San Francisco, and b) he doesn't show them off.   You wouldn't know he was a 6th degree black belt with training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo.  You also wouldn't know he used to be the lead singer (maybe still is?) of El Destroyo, a band that toured with the Violent Femmes.

OK.  Back to Aikido.

After warmups and jokes, we did Tai No Henko -- Omote and Ura.  See my blog entry about Omote and Ura, because this is a good example of the difference in terminology and how it's applied.  Perhaps I'll demonstrate at the Kai some day.

The bulk of class, however, focused on one of the students' upcoming 5th Kyu test.   Weapons, in particular.  We did five awasio movements, done as paired practices (Ikkyo through Gokyu).  These came back to me, but only in the roughest sense.  Then we did Ikkyo and Nikkyo Jo-Waza forms (omote and ura, again), which came back to me, but only barely.

I got to work with Ace (real name "Edsio") for weapons, which was a real treat. (Tradition at this dojo, BTW, is that, for weapons practice, you stick with the same partner the whole time).  I was privileged to see Ace's San-Dan test many years ago.  Ace is easily in his 60's.  He has always trained very slowly and VERY gently.  But his Randori was spectacular.  He moved like the wind and got a standing ovation from everyone including Kato Sensei (Jimmy's teacher, who was visiting from Japan).

What did I take with me?  Less about Aikido technique, and more about Aikido community.  Jimmy ended class with a short speech, thanking me for returning, and saying that, while it's his job on the mat to see to it that we're doing it "right" (whatever that is -- his words) and taking it seriously, that, in the end, the technique itself is often somewhat arbitrary.  We settle on something because it works at the time, and because we need to settle on SOMEthing so that we can train together.  And THAT, is what it's all about -- training together.

Here are some other fun links to give you a feel for the dojo.

Kato Sensei, Jimmy's teacher, still visits fro Japan twice a year.

Here's some interesting stuff that Jimmy wasn't doing when I was there.  The Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and boxing stuff is new.

Some Jo Kata -- this is a form that Jimmy Learned from Kato Sensei, who learned it from O'Sensei

...and this one just for fun (not Aikido in the traditional sense)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I left, my heart...

... in San Francisco...

OK, yes.   I've always trained at really awesome dojos with really awesome people.  The folks at Roanoke Budo Kai have been good to me despite all my foibles.  Before that, the gang at Asheville Aikikai did the same.   But I must admit that some part of my heart will always be with Suginami Aikikai in San Francisco. 

I lived in San Francisco for about 5 years (roughly 1996-2001), and I'll be going there later this week with my family to visit some long-time friends and get a taste of the City again. It's been almost 12 years since we moved away, and we haven't visited since.  Which means it's been 12 years since I trained at my first dojo, as well -- the same one Tonya visited a number of months ago.

So, I guess I have no choice (Tonya!) but to go train with my brethren on the old mat again.  A lot has changed since then, and I'm finding that I'm very nervous about the prospect.  At the time I trained about 13 hours a week.  Now, I only manage that in a month.

Will anyone recognize me (kinda almost hope they don't)?   I am, after all, 12 years (and about 12 pounds) older.   Will anyone recognize my Aikido?   Will Sensei watch me and shake his head in disappointment?   Will I even represent my current Aikidoka -- and my current Sensei -- well?

All of this is, of course, silly baggage that I'm pretty sure I can leave in the dressing room before I step onto the mat.  But it sure feels like a lot of weight right now.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Omote, Ura, and me

Last Thursday, thanks to Tonya (Whitt Sensei), I had a revelation regarding Kosetori Ikkyo, Ura. That's Ikkyo from a cross-hand grab out of ai-hanmi (which is when both Uke and Nage have the same foot forward -- both left, or both right -- what we called "closed stance").

First of all, I will point out that "Omote" and "Ura" have several interpretations in the Aikido world.  You can google them as well as I can.  In the interest of "full disclosure," in fact, I'll admit that I think the way we teach Omote and Ura at the Roanoke Budo Kai is not my favorite.  I'll explain.

In my past (admittedly limited) experience, but backed up by most of what I find on the internet, Omote usually means something like "to Uke's front side," or "to the front of Uke's center line."   Ura usually means "behind Uke," or "to the rear of Uke's center line."   Sometimes they even just mean "the standard technique" and "the alternate version."    

For us at the Kai, Omote and Ura mean something slightly different, and very specific:  Omote means "forward (relative to Nage's original position)," and Ura means "backward (relative to Nage's original position)."   

Once more, with feeling...    At the Kai, Omote and Ura are statically defined cardinal directions, relative to the original position of Uke and Nage.  In my past experience, they were dynamically defined descriptions of a relationship between Uke and Nage throughout the technique.   

As with most things in life, both viewpoints have merit.   In this case it's a little like "east and west" versus "left and right." If you're trying to find the restaurant, directions that say "head south on Interstate 81" can be more useful that "turn left on Interstate 81." Of course, if you're on Hershberger Road, "turn right onto Williamson Road" is probably more useful than "turn southeast."  

Treating Omote and Ura as cardinal directions in our dojo seems to add an element of precision to the training.  If you know exactly which direction you're supposed to end up moving, you can work toward that goal with purpose.  Precision is one of the hallmarks of our training at the Kai.  Also, I think a lot of our techniques are quite linear compared to other styles, and I think the cardinal directions definitions suit that style well.  

On the other hand, I think treating Omote and Ura as relative directions puts the focus on the relationship between Uke and Nage, which I think is the key no matter what "style" you're training in.  And therein lies the root of my little revelation on Thursday.

Tonya pointed out the "simple" fact that, during Kosetori Ikkyo Ura, after you've taken Uke's balance, it's not about "pulling" Uke around to the Ura direction or somehow "reversing Uke's momentum" (as I pictured it) -- it's about changing YOUR direction -- as NAGE.  Once I grokked that, what Uke was doing (in my control, of course), was almost irrelevant.   Oh yeah -- this is Aikido.  Duh.

So, for me, this was yet another case of an "Aha!" moment that I apparently wasn't ready to hear the other 10,000 times I'd heard that particular teaching.  Changing my direction (as Nage) from one wall to the opposite wall made our definition of "Ura" quite obvious, and, in my case, psychologically painless.   I believe I've finally come to terms with the cardinal directions.

Sensei, Domo Arigato Gosaimasu.   :-)

Monday, July 15, 2013


I just stumbled across a great article whilst searching for "Aikido in Belize."  (I'm going to Belize next week -- but that's another story).

I just wanted to share this awesome read:

Some passages that were particularly profound for me:

"It's not that physical strength isn't important, it just needs to be the proper kind of strength. A strong, fearless spirit is essential to do our art. But it cannot be the spirit of fighting... it must be the spirit of "fudo shin" or immovable mind. "   What I like about this is that it alludes to the difference between "strong" and "stiff" -- and between "relaxed" and "limp."   And that applies mentally as well as physically.

"When the mind is excited or "noisy" you are feeling yourself, not the partner."   I think this is at the heart of my struggle with Jiyu-waza.  Also the fact that we do stress technique in our Jiyu-waza.   I used to do "randori" at other dojos, where the attack was mostly limited to a grab, and I did much better.  Not focusing on the attack and "appropriate" response allowed me to just blend.  I need to get back to that even when there is a specific attack.  It really shouldn't matter.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013


We've all experienced it, but I'll speak for myself.  Uke is "being stubborn," and I'm getting frustrated.  My technique, rather than getting better and more focused to compensate, gets worse. I resort to speed and strength.  Which frustrates me even more. I should know better. I blame myself.  Training sucks.

As much as I hate to admit it, certain Ukes give me more problems than others.  Intellectually, I know that this isn't always all my fault.  Sometimes it IS "Uke's fault."   But that's irrelevant.  I can't change Uke. I can only respond -- and that is part of the training, too.

Aikido training is a very intimate thing. For newcomers especially, the human dynamics of grabbing each other, sweating on each other, causing each other discomfort, leading, blending, etc, are all obvious new sensations.  But those things are on the surface.  They are perhaps a bit unexpected for the newbie, but right out there for all to see.

The more subtle new sensations have to do with the interpersonal non-physical stuff:  perceived stubbornness or bossiness; a partner who seems overly interested in teaching rather than just training; class dynamics that include talking too little or too much.

To all newbies (say, less than 100 years of training): this never goes away.

I'm at a stage in my Aikido life where I "feel" like I should be able to show some proficiency much of the time.  Most of the time these days, I work with folks who are at least somewhat less experienced than I am.  So my ego says I should know something. <puff up chest> "I'm the Sempai!  Listen to me!", says I.  Unfortunately, when I'm tired or I've had a hard day and I'm not on my mental or emotional game, I find sometimes myself "arguing" with Uke, even if Uke is right. (note to self : Assume Uke is always right).

For my Ukes out there who know what I'm talking about, I apologize.  I'm still learning.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Jiyu Waza

Well, Chris Lee's work on our new web site looks awesome! (I'll let him reveal it when it's ready).  With that site, he's threatened to add a link to this blog, so I  figure I'd better start writing again.

Where to start...

Recently, I've been struggling with Jiyu-Waza.  There are plenty of things I do in the dojo that I'm not satisfied with, but this is one that has me really frustrated.  The voices inside my head during Jiyu-waza are like this...

"Breathe, relax, blend... CRAP!  Whoa, that was clos... Shit!  Breathe, rela  MOVE! C'mon, Mike. Whu?  OK, not bad -- now do something DIFFERENT!  How'd I get here?  Blend, dammit! Why am I out of breath?!  Drop your center!  Damn -- not like that.  Grrr -- wrong blend again!!  <pant> we don't do that one here...  Where'd he come from!??  Jeez, when's she gonna clap, ferchrissakes?!....  "   etc, etc...

In general, too many exclamation points.

Here's the thing.  I'm a much better Uke than a Nage.  I've known for a long time that 80% of my "deep" learning comes from being Uke, not Nage. (note to self: blog about Tonya's recent awesome "Uke-centric" class).  But I also know intellectually that there's really no difference.  It's always all about blending, centering, breathing, etc.   They're truly identical in terms of everything that counts.   Yet, oddly enough, I feel much more in control when I'm Uke than when I'm Nage.  Honestly, much of the time I feel like there's a "reversal" just waiting for me when I attack -- the lesser the experience of my partner, the more that's true.   I think I'm more comfortable as Uke because, as Uke, I feel like I "turn off my brain" and just react -- which is the part of me that gets in the way, especially during Jiyu-waza.

A musicians' reference: Doing good jiyu-waza is like finding the "pocket" when performing a tune on stage.  It's when you really express yourself, rather than just play the notes and stay in time.

So, I says to myself... "Mike," I says, "what's it gonna take for you to tap into your Uke brain when you're Nage -- and especially during Randori?"

(Note: I might use them interchangeably, but jiyu-waza and randori are not the same.  Moreover, how they're different varies from style to style, and dojo to dojo.   Check out this conversation:

So here's the thing...  When it's my turn to do Jiyu-waza, I want to feel like I feel and think like think when I'm Uke.  I want to treat every attacker's energy as if it's coming from a Nage -- so that I can react like I'm an Uke -- except free myself up to execute those "reversals" that I feel are there.  They should be ripe for the picking, no?

So, if you're working with me, and I'm Uke, and you feel me playing with or hinting at reversals, or just offering a little resistance, it may be because I'm working on a "unified theory" for myself.

Domo Arigato

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Frank Doran Sensei

(Posting this late -- accidentally left it in "draft" state since I wrote it a couple of months ago.)

I was blessed to be able to attend all four days of the Frank Doran Sensei seminar at Aikido of Northern Virginia in Arlington, VA.  I'll be chewing on what I experienced for a long time.  For now though, here are a few comments.  I'll talk about what I took away overall, some things I remember technically (from my notes), and finally I'll share a little about how the seminar has affected me personally.  I don't know how organized this will be, so bear with me.

This is the third or fourth time I've trained with Doran Sensei.  The first was at the opening of one of the first California Aikido Association dojos.  I think it might have been in San Jose -- possibly San Franciso -- I don't remember.  All three primary CAA heads taught a session (Doran, Hendricks, Nadeau).  I remember that what stood out on that day was Hendricks Sensei's weapons, Nadeau Sensei's eccentricities, and Doran Sensei's teaching ability.   I attended Doran Sensei's seminar in Arlington a few years ago as well.  I think I trained with him one other time, at Nadeau Sensei's dojo.

This seminar reaffirmed my impression of Doran Sensei as a very accomplished teacher. He repeatedly stressed minute details.  He probably got hands-on with everyone in the dojo during his "rounds." He drilled "slow is good, slower is better."   He taught from the mundane to the metaphysical.  He consistently stressed control of the centerline, and made clear distinctions between the two essential ways to get out of harm's way (tenkan and irimi).  He led a gentle, consistent class that had me focusing, sweating, and feeling the burn, while showing a very warm sense of humor and keeping things very relaxed and friendly.

At Roanoke Budo Kai (which I'll call RBK or simply "the Kai" for short), we have spoken recently about the "bulls-eye."  Doran Sensei seemed to turn that around.  I don't know if he explicitly did this on Friday when the rest of the Kai attended or not (it all runs together), but definitely on Saturday he explicitly said we were going to "build a technique from the ground up."

He had a room of 60 people, most of them black belts, a dozen or so san-dan and up, practicing switching hanmi in place:  Right hanmi, feet together (very important), change in place to left hanmi.    Then, from kose-dori, he added a strong extension from the offered hand (at Uke's opposite shoulder -- as Tonya mentioned). Harder than it looks, as the angle is critical.  Then with the opposite hand, a sword-like tsuki to Uke's ribs.

First, I'm feeling physically great.  Yeah, my legs are a little sore -- big deal.   But emotionally, I'm drained.   I think the moments of clarity

The Eye

There have been times in my life when I've felt a real mastery of something.  This isn't one of them.

Consider sports.   When I played soccer as an undergraduate in college, I played sweeper.   I had the respect of all my opponents.  I played both ends of the field, yet never got out of position.  I was never a great offensive player individually, but racked up many "assists."  I was incomplete command of the defense, and formed the solid foundation to give our offense the freedom it needed to be creative. I played the game with a confidence that bordered on arrogance.   Were it not for an ill-timed injury, I would almost certainly have gone "pro" for at least a year or two.

Later, as a graduate student, I was heavily into Taekwon-do, spending 3-4 hours a day in the "combat room" at the gym.  I was quite good, progressed rapidly to a high rank, and won several tournaments in my short time during those two years.   When I entered a match, I felt invincible, and often was.

In my early twenties, I discovered ultimate frisbee.  I quickly developed exceptional skill as a "handler" (someone known to throw the disc extremely well).   I remember the day one of our veteran players told me that I had developed what he called "The Eye."   

The Eye is when you can see everything.  The whole field, every detail of your opponent, every opportunity. Time slows down.  You not only can make the play, but you have time to choose between several options at any given time.  You have time to do extra stuff like taunt your opponent, or add a little flair to the game.  You make miraculous plays look easy.

After 13 years at Aikido, I still don't have "The Eye."   My personal nemesis (well, there are many, actually) is Jiyu-Waza (or Randori).  No matter what I tell myself before we start, it always seems to leave me about 5-10 seconds later.   I figure I need to be able to maintain it for at least 15-30 seconds to be really in command.

I think my test date is 20 weeks away.  That's about 60 training sessions if I make them all, or about 120 hours.    I haven't got a chance.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Something a little whimsical tonight, to keep me from watching something worthless on TV instead...

I read Sci-Fi/Fantasy for fun. I especially like stories about different kinds of magic. I've often fantasized about writing a novel of my own.  

Today, whilst hiking (, I was thinking about Aikido and I was struck with an inspiration for a "twist" on magic that is related to the principles of Aikido.  I stopped on the trail, pulled out my phone, and typed a note.

Here's a possible clip from the story -- it's the magician explaining his art to a student.

"My magic doesn't affect things. It affects the spaces between things; the relationships that things have with one another.  This makes my magic difficult to detect, and difficult to defend against. Difficult to detect because the in-betweens are seldom noticed, let alone suspected. Difficult to defend against because one cannot easily enchant something that doesn't exist until other things combine, and that disappears when they part.  My spells are also difficult to learn and to cast, for all the same reasons.  I live between things; between lives; between worlds. I live off line; beside; behind. You see five fingers on a hand; I see four spaces between them.  You see a fist; I see something small and uninteresting, or nothing at all. You see combatants and conflict; I see a bond that can be manipulated.  You see objects; I see empty space."  

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Blowing Off Class

In the years I've been training, I've trained very intensely at times, and very sparsely at times.  From several hours a day, to once a month, or even less.  I can honestly say that I've never crossed the line in my mind where I'd "given up" on Aikido, but there were times when, with life and family and work and just plain attitude, it was hard to get to the Dojo and I effectively took some short "sabbaticals."  Despite knowing that I almost always felt better after training than before it, it still wasn't always easy to make myself get on the mat.   It's part of the training.

We talk about being fully present on the mat (and off).  Awareness and focus are a big part of why we do what we do.  However, if you've got a lot on your mind, or life has you scrambling to keep up, sometimes it's darned near impossible to be fully present, even for that hour or two on the mat.  You could argue that you shouldn't get on the mat at all on days like that -- either because your training would suffer, or that you could even injure yourself or someone else.  Quite so.

However, there's also something to be said for "going through the motions" sometimes, even if you're not at 100%.   Safety is a consideration, of course.  But you shouldn't let an "all or nothing" attitude keep you from being on the mat, either.   Nobody is at their top form all of the time.  I think that part of the training is to learn to forgive yourself, notice your state of mind, and train on.   It's a balancing act.

Here's something you may not have considered.   While training more frequently is almost always a better option than training less, it is, in fact, possible to learn things during sparse times that cannot be learned as easily when you're training frequently and regularly.   It's important to take advantage of those times -- they will happen.  

For instance, if you only come to the Dojo once a month or so, you're likely to always be rusty.  Fine.  You can let that get you down, or you can treat your rustiness as a form of "beginner's mind" and come to every session with an "empty cup."   In a way, training less often makes it easier to treat every training session as brand new, and you focus on the very basics.  I've even noticed that when I train sparsely, the subsequent "sloppiness" in my technique can also have a positive element of "fluidity" if I let it.   Hammond Sensei once remarked to me in class that I was "looking good," even though he didn't realize I hadn't been to class in weeks.  I was just feeling loose. So, even as we're striving for fluidity and precision simultaneously, you can at least use your circumstances to play with one or the other.

Infrequent training can also shine a spotlight on changes in your fellow Aikidoka more easily.   It's like not seeing your young niece or nephew for half a year or so.  When you do see them, you remark "my, how you've grown!" For example, I've mentioned to Evil Todd before that there was a point in his training when I noticed that, while he's always been really, really strong, he had, to my eyes "suddenly" learned to turn!  

Noticing these kinds of step-changes in your mat-mates can be discouraging if you let your ego get involved and start comparing yourself with others around you too much, but it can also be enlightening.  If you tell your friends that you're seeing improvements in them, at the very least you can act as a motivator for them!  We all need "atta-boys" (or girls) from time to time.

Finally, a note about injuries...   I, personally, find it very difficult to justify coming to class if I'm not physically able to train near top form, because I tend to train a little beyond my capabilities at times like that, and I make things worse.   As one teacher once told me: "the #1 objective is to be able to train the next day."  Also, I usually hate to just watch.

However, a minor injury can be a good teacher.  A weak knee can help you watch your footwork more closely.  Bumps and bruises will tend to round out your Ukeme (quickly!).  A sore back can remind you slow down and pay extra attention to your balance.  Sore arms can remind you to not use your arms so much!

So.  Here's what I tell myself about "blowing off class."

Don't let yourself get into the habit of blowing off class for no good reason.  It's a very easy habit to get into, and a slippery slope.  But on the other hand, don't let a missed class now and then interrupt your overall training, either.  It's a marathon, not a sprint.  Stay present in the bigger moment, just as you do in the immediate one.

BTW, when you see me tap myself on the shoulder before bowing in, that's my little "atta boy" to myself for just getting there.   :-)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Take Sensei

I stumbled across this video tonight.  I think I might have shared it before -- or at least pieces of it.  This one is almost an hour long.

There's a lot of great stuff, but I've always been mesmerized by watching Take Sensei's randori.  So I started taking notes near the end...

36:36: The whole section on "Black Belt Test" is pretty near and dear to my heart right now.

38:00: "15 seconds"

38:48: Unbelievably smooth Jiyu Waza like demonstration.

40:20: Randori

45:55: Randori made easy

In that last one, I struggled to hear what he was saying when he was talking about the three guys grabbing him.  I listened over and over again.  Paraphrasing, I think he simply said "if they grab me, I try not to let them get me on the inside -- I keep that for myself."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fall For Me

Here's another cartoon strip from an old training journal.  This one is about two of the key members of the Dojo -- Daisy and Travis.  I still see Daisy on the "instructors" site at the Dojo, but I don't see Travis.

Daisy was "My Uke" for my 2nd Kyu test.  The tradition at this Dojo was that you would choose an Uke to help you train for your test.  Someone a rank or two above you.   They would take falls for you during the test, for at least part of the time.

Stronger, Weaker, Less Experienced

I was cleaning out my basement and came across an old journal I used to keep for Aikido.   One of my lifetime fantasies is to be a cartoonist.  Ha.   But anyway, here's a piece of an entry inspired by something that Jim Friedman Sensei said once in class (with a wink).

Saturday, February 9, 2013

You have no idea

I was talking with "Evil" Todd in the parking lot after class today.  Out of that discussion, I realized something that I'd like to share.

New students often have very little idea how strong they are -- especially big guys. I was working with Kassim today (apologies if I got the spelling wrong).   He's a big strong guy.  He has previous martial arts experience, but he's new to Aikido.  We were doing Katate Dori Nikkyo.  He really had it "locked in," and was applying a LOT of pressure to my wrist.  He had no idea.

OK, so I'm experienced enough to know how to move to take some of the pressure off (and to tap!).  But not everybody is.  If Kassim were working with a new student, I fear that either somebody might get hurt, or somebody might at least get discouraged and eventually quit.

So anyway, that's not what I wanted to share -- it's just how I got there.  Here's my share:  Because of the way we do "Kohai rotate" during class, it usually splits the class right down the middle, such that the upper-rank half of the class is always working with the lower-rank half. This means less experienced folks are almost always practicing with someone with some experience -- this is a good thing in general.  But it does mean that new students seldom get to work with new students, and upper ranks seldom get to work with other upper ranks.

If we were to somehow orchestrate class such that, at least some of the time there was a more random pairing off, I think new students could benefit from working with other new students by experiencing their partner's inexperience (albeit with all the down-sides that come with that), and upper ranks could train together once in a while, too.

Just a thought...

Friday, February 8, 2013

Choking and Panicking

Earlier this week, I was reading part of "What the Dog Saw" by Malcolm Gladwell.  If you haven't read any of his other books, like "The Tipping Point" or "Blink,"  they're worth a look.   The chapter I was reading was called "The Art of Failure" -- Why some people Choke, and others Panic.

Wouldn't cha know it, In last night's class, I choked bigtime -- twice.

Once, I was asked to lead the 22-step jo kata, and drew a blank after "san."   This is a classic problem when people try to do the 22-step right after the 13-step, but that's no excuse.  Anyway, I recovered just before TG got started, but by that time I was already feeling my disgrace.

Later in class, I inexplicably found myself blending to Nicole's open side on kosatori nikkyo.   Her OPEN side.  I mean, I don't think I've EVER done that before.  I knew something was wrong, but didn't figure it out until just before Tonya had already come over to point it out.  Damn!   Again, 20 demerits for Mike.

So.  What's the difference between  "choking" and "panicking?"   According to Gladwell, it's like this:
- choking is when you think too much
- panicking is when you think too little

An example he gives for "choking" is a tennis player falling apart at match point, only to lose a big lead and eventually the match.  An example of "panicking" is a SCUBA diver grabbing her buddy's regulator when hers fails, even though she has a spare of her own.

Choking is about losing your "flow," and resorting back to that left-side part of your brain where the very basic steps you first learned are stored.   Panic is about resorting to your reptilian brain and forgetting all you've been taught.

Throughout my life, I've always tested pretty well -- in most things.  Aikido too, until I left my first Dojo.  I've tested in Aikido a total of 10 times so far, earning the respective ranks of 7th Kyu, 6th Kyu, 5th, 4th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st (all those in San Francisco), 1st again (at Asheville Aikikai), and finally 2nd and 1st again (the Kai).  I never had a "choke" or a "panic" moment during a test at my first dojo, and have consistently had rather poor test performances since then. And the tests in San Franciso were brutal!  Age, perhaps?  I don't know.  But I want to get a handle on this between now and October.

See, I think choking and panicking go together -- at least for me.   Last night, first I lost my flow (lost my instinct).  Then, in the case of the jo kata incident, I could feel myself starting to panic (reverting to an even more base instinct).   BTW, I think I do much better kata when I don't have to count (counting requires thinking).

I think choking/panicking is what happens to people in Jiyu waza.   Most of us have felt it.  Let's say Chas gets a lock on you (hypothetically, that is).  First, you neglect to blend and flow because Chas intimidates you (even though this should be a clue to blend and flow even more!).  Second, you panic and start wrestling with him (despite the mocking that you know will ensue!).   Or, as happened to me the other day, I instantly reverted to a version of that blend that came from 10 years ago (sorry, Chas).  Choke, then Panic -- or something like that.

I have yet another issue during tests.  Because I've trained at two other Dojos (three, actually, but I don't usually count the "zeroeth" one), I still feel like I don't speak the language of our Dojo fluently.  I still feel like I find myself translating to other training a lot of the time.  When I catch that happening, I panic -- THEN I choke.  Man, I need therapy.

Ugh.  I wish I had an insightful way to finish this post that would make me feel better about it and possibly offer some advice to anyone in the same boat.  But I don't.  Suffice it to say that this is why I like being Uke -- because, as Uke, I don't think.  I can choke sometimes, but I seldom panic.

But that's another post.

Sunday, February 3, 2013


After about 13 years and three or four dojos, my Sensei has encouraged me to test for Shodan, and, after waffling for some time (sorry, everyone), I've officially asked to test in October -- and we're on.

I've started this blog to write about my journey (thanks, Tonya).  

There are a ton of things to talk about, and I hope to get to all of them.  Right now, though, I want to watch the rest of the Superbowl.  I'll just say a big thanks to everyone all along the way who's gotten me this far, and give a special "shout out" to those I know are in my corner from here 'till October and beyond.   I will try not to disappoint.

I'll take any requests for blog posts, BTW.