Friday, October 22, 2021

The Science Behind Aikido

I just read a great article, sent to me by my long-time friend, Wayne. Wayne is really smart. I really value what Wayne says. And yet Wayne and I disagree a lot. So much so that, over the years, I don't even open most of his emails because the subject line seems so biased. 

I've been focusing my energy these days on trying to change the way we have conversations (see, so sometimes I crack my neck and remind myself that Wayne's thoughts are a rich source of training material. I mean, if I can't change the conversation with a long-time friend, what chance do I have with relative strangers?

So. Wayne sent me this article.

I've said it before. The reason I train in Aikido is because, if I took the way I see conflict (ideally) and put it into a dance, it would look like Aikido. Almost everything in the physical dance of Aikido is analogous to something in the verbal dance of a conversation -- particularly debate, or argument.

So. A line in the article hit me in the face: 

I loved this, because I've often taught that our relationship to our Uke in Aikido is a "frame" -- I usually use this language when working with dancers, because they immediately get it. 

It goes even deeper. The scientific study referenced in the article drew a conclusion:

To those of us who study Aikido, this sounds a lot like "blending" with an attack (as opposed to blocking it). 

Read the article.  In fact, check out for similar stuff.

See you on the mat.


Wednesday, June 30, 2021

The Obstacle is the Way

"While it's true that someone can impede our actions, they can't impede our intentions and our attitudes, which have the power of being conditional and adaptable. For the mind adapts and converts any obstacle to its action into a means of achieving it. That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way."  -- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.20

So, it seems that Marcus Aurelius was studying Aikido 2000 years before O'Sensei, and didn't even know it.  :-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Coronavirus -- what I'm seeing

I'm posting this on my Aikido blog because Covid-19 is keeping me off the mat.

People use numbers to tell the story they want to tell.  The President does it, and people who don't like the President do it.  The numbers "we" use are "the whole story," while the number the "other side" uses are "fake news" or "misleading."

I don't like the President.  Whatever. But whether a statistic about Coronavirus makes him look good or look bad is none of my concern.  Frankly, unless you're his campaign manager, it shouldn't be yours.

More Corona testing is good, because the more we know, the better.  The US seems to be doing reasonably well compared to other countries.

The President uses "more testing" to downplay when an increase in cases makes him look bad. The President's detractors tend to use it to indicate things are getting worse -- which, BTW, they are -- but not just because of "more cases."

The President likes to point out that we have a lower death rate than a lot of other countries -- which is true (~3.3%). 

But the death rate factors in the number of cases.  So, for this argument, more cases makes the President look better, not worse. This morning I saw the President talk about "comparatively fewer deaths" -- which is incorrect. We have comparatively more deaths (in part because we have a larger country). But he was implying a death rate.  "Number of deaths" and "death rate" are different statistics that are used interchangeably, which IS misleading.

The one statistic that is relatively unaffected by the number of tests is the number of deaths -- and of course this should be considered per capita when comparing with other countries.  So here's that number -- we are doing better than Belgium, the UK, Peru, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and Chile, but worse than everyone else: 

I can't find a graph that shows deaths-per-capita over time, to see if it's going up or down.  I did find this quote: "The increase of 10,000 deaths in 11 days is the fastest in the United States since early June."

For more information on coronavirus testing, here's how to find a coronavirus testing site near you and check wait timeswho qualifies for COVID-19 testing and what you need to know about a coronavirus home testing kit.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

I took a big fall

It's Thursday.  Last Monday, I took a big fall.  I had a pull-up bar installed in a doorway at home.  Paid about $40 for it. It was an expansion rod, but also set on top of two pegs that screwed into the door frame.  I'd been using it for a couple of weeks.

On this particular day, however, I was up at the top of a pull-up, with my feet held out in front of me (I'm tall, and that's the only way to get full arm extension at the bottom of the movement).  You guessed it -- the bar broke loose.

Specifically, the left side gave way.  In an instant, I fell from about six feet to the floor, which is tile on concrete slab.  I landed on my upper back -- almost flat, with a little cheat to the left.  I landed with a great thud.  There was no time to "slap out" even if I had not had a pull-up bar in my hands. This was NOT a feather fall.

I sat up, stunned, taking inventory.  I really thought I had broken something in my upper back.  Also, my left elbow was bleeding pretty badly, apparently from contacting the metal strip in the doorway. And my left butt cheek was sore, too -- clearly must've come down a little harder on that side.

Here's the thing.  I did NOT slam my head onto the tile.  My head did not touch.  Again -- tile on concrete slab. There was nobody home that could help me. I could have died in a pool of blood.

Did my Aikido training help? I have to believe it did.  There was NO time plan this fall -- I could do the math, but I won't. My body reacted instinctively, resulting in two things: 1) I my head off the floor, and 2)  I relaxed juuust enough to keep me from serious injury.

Coulda been dumb luck, too.  Probably a little of both.  

It's now about 19 days later.  My hip is still a little bruised, my elbow is still puffy and tender, and my neck is still stiff.  But I did no permanent damage.  

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Racism and Training

These days, racism is a hot topic. There’s a lot to say about it. I’m far from an expert on the subject. I was taught, like most I guess, to treat people the same, at least in the sense that ethnicity shouldn’t and doesn’t matter. Outwardly I was taught this. I, like most, also picked up thousands of subtle lessons that were not explicitly “taught.”  Movies, the media, they all steer us to certain stereotypes that provide us barriers that we have to consciously overcome. Even in my own family, if it became necessary to refer to someone as black or Jewish, it was always done in hushed tones.  Times have changed, I told myself.

So anyway, I found myself recently frustrated about having to pick apart and dissect every word coming out of my mouth for fear of being racist – or at least being called racist.

I was thinking about this while learning a new Jo Kata (actually, one I used to know a long time ago). I have to move in ways I’m not used to. Familiar things are wrong in this new context. Some movements are backwards. The flow is different. The counting is different. I have to focus on every little detail, and slow it way, way down (for now), to carve those new pathways in my brain. It's really uncomfortable.

So it occurred to me that maybe the process of picking things apart and dissecting every word coming out of my mouth is part of a learning process, too. Maybe having labels and boundaries and rules is all part of taking baby steps to a greater understanding – even if it is frustrating and sometimes almost debilitating. Not maybe. I know this. But sometimes I forget.

So maybe one way to think about the recent protests is to consider them a call for us – for society in general -- to take some refresher courses in treating people with equal respect, compassion, and trust, no matter their ethnicity. Refresher courses are where you slow everything waaaay down, focus on every stinkin’ little detail, and develop muscle memory that maybe we’ve forgotten (or never had in the first place).

Deep breath. Back to that kata.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Aikido is Communication

This came across my information feed today:

The course description say that, in this course, you'll learn:

  • How to speak consciously, clearly and concisely without anxiety.
  • The practice of responding instead of reacting.
  • To speak in a way that's kind, honest and helpful.
  • When to speak and when to stay quiet.
  • How to stay engaged when listening.
  • To express yourself so that others can hear you.
  • The best way to nip potential problems in the bud before they become meltdowns.
  • How to be comfortable in silence -- no longer needing to fill the space.
It occurs to me that this has a lot of similarities to our practice in Aikido. Aikido is, in fact, a form of communication. Consider the following... 

In Aikido, we learn:
  • How to act consciously, clearly and concisely without anxiety.
  • The practice of responding instead of reacting.
  • To act in a way that's kind, honest and helpful.
  • When to act assertively and when to stay quiet.
  • How to stay engaged in the midst of conflict.
  • To express yourself so that Uke is affected.
  • The best way to nip potential threats in the bud before they become more dangerous.
  • How to fill the space by comfortably doing less.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Six Practices

I follow a guy named Mark Lesser.  He has written several books from his perspective as a project manager, Zen Buddhist, and a meditation teacher.  He talks a lot about accomplishing more by doing less.

Here's a recent post from him.  It is targeted at business folks, but I think his words are equally relevant in the context of Aikido -- and, conversely, it illustrates why I think Aikido is so relevant off the mat, as well.  I think these words are especially relevant during Jiyu-Waza or Randori, when we're under stress, even though we're among friends and on padded surfaces.

- Onagaishimasu  :-)

It’s not difficult to notice the amount of fear that is arising during these most unusual and challenging times. Fear can be a useful ally. It can focus us, keep us safe, even at times keep us alive. Fear of illness or injury can motivate us to stop smoking, to exercise, and to eat healthier food. In our communities, it can motivate us to make our air and water cleaner, our bridges and levees stronger, our workplaces safer.

Fear can also be an enormous hindrance. Fear can color our world so that a stick can appear as a dangerous snake or an offer of friendship can be perceived as an imposition or even an attack. We can fear not getting promoted or losing our jobs; fear what people think about us, or fear that people aren’t thinking at all about us. We can fear the loss of a loved one, fear getting older, fear dying. The list of possible fears is almost endless, so it is not surprising that, sometimes without being aware of it, our actions and decisions can become ruled by fear. Living with fear can become an accepted and habitual way of being, leading to thoughts and actions that create more fear in a difficult-to-stop chain reaction — in ourselves, in relationships, in businesses and organizations, and in the world.

When we are afraid, our first impulse is to tighten our bodies and shut down our minds. We become the opposite of receptive and playful, and this is an enormous hindrance to learning new skills in the workplace, to collaborating, and to making interpersonal connections. The impulse to tighten can become so deeply ingrained that we may not even be aware of the ways that we keep ourselves back, or of the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that we communicate our fears to others.

Reducing fear (and its physical manifestation, anxiety) and opening oneself to new possibilities — surprises, even — is the first step, I believe, toward a more lasting sense of meaning and equanimity. Reducing fear can be the first action that frees us to achieve a goal (even when, in losing our fear, our goal becomes something very different than previously imagined).

To reduce fear, however, it’s important to acknowledge and become aware of our fears. I’ve noticed that this process of increasing awareness of fear is strangely freeing. This can allow wholly new approaches or solutions to appear.

Fear is like the “gunk” or rust that clogs our minds and our bodies, the perfect and beautiful engines we were born with. In our current world of more-faster-better, it can be difficult to see and feel the pervasive influences of fear. Transforming fear is not a one-time thing, either; we must develop ongoing strategies and habits to continually lessen it.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to take time at the beginning of each day to simply appreciate being alive — time with no expectations, time with absolutely nothing to accomplish, time outside of your judgments? Imagine just appreciating your breath and your body, being open and aware of the magnificence and mystery of your human existence. Imagine just observing and being curious about the thoughts, problems, emotions, and complex stories that make up your “I.” Isn’t this an experience of the opposite of fear?

Some practices that can help us transform fear:

1.       Change the pace: Slow down. Structure a day, or part of a day, where the focus is on paying attention to yourself and your surroundings when you have nothing to accomplish. Leave your cell phone behind.  Get a new perspective.  If possible, go on a retreat away from your office space and home space. Be in a place that is less familiar and where you are less apt to feel the pull of everyday tasks and usual routines. Quiet and spaciousness are a beautiful thing.

2.       Get to know your monkey mind: Don’t be surprised or discouraged if you notice how busy and noisy your mind is when you remove distractions. Use your meditation and mindfulness practices; come back to your breath and body.

3.       Find your center: Notice that you are more than your stories. In the busyness of life, you can easily become fooled into believing that the stories you tell about yourself are you, and that they absolutely define you. As your mind becomes more quiet, you gain access to your still, undefinable center. You glimpse the ways you create these stories about yourself, about others, and about the world.

4.       Refresh and renew: Allow yourself to step (or more accurately, drop) into a place of not knowing, of uncertainty, of joy and refreshment. See if you can just appreciate everything you are, even your doubts and discomfort; just appreciate being alive.

5.       Blend the mundane and the sacred: See and appreciate the immensity and sacredness of all existence and at the same time see the mundane need to eat, wash the dishes, sweep the floors, and clean the counters.

6.       Let go of expectations: Just stop. Sit. Let go of the routines and activities of your life. Don’t expect anything. Be curious. Be open. Let yourself be surprised. As with meditation, you can’t do a retreat “right” or “wrong.” Don’t get caught in comparing your experience to anyone else’s. Of course, you will judge; you will compare. Pay attention to this. “Ah, isn’t this judging and comparing interesting?”