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.