Back on the Mat!

This was class #7, I believe.

I had been figuring (based on what my PT had said a couple of weeks ago) that I’d be out for a few more weeks yet. But yesterday both he and my orthopedic Doc put me through the ringer with exercises and x-rays, and both agreed I was doing great, and could go back to class. No rolling or falling yet, but anything else that doesn’t hurt is fair game. I even showed Doc a video (on my iPod) from my dojo, to be sure he understood what Aikido was. He thought I was nuts to want to do that (he’s hilarious), but didn’t think my shoulder would be in danger. Woohoo!

I tried some gentle warm-ups from class at home last night, as a sanity check, and that went well. So tonight I joined in, instead of just watching.

I kinda figured I would make it partway through (a 90-minute class), and would start to get sore/ouchy, but noooo…. I did fine. Everyone was very considerate in their techniques, and really nothing hurt at all. I’m just giddy. Yay!

The exercises I’ve been able to do (both strengthening, and mental/awareness kind of things) have made a huge difference. (Many thanks to everyone who suggested things to do, and cautioned me about things to not do, in response to a question I asked on the Forums this past week!) I don’t feel any of the muscle pain I did in the first few classes, and felt more stable and solid during class.

I was especially encouraged right from the start (during a pre-class 15-minute meditation period), when my right knee did not hurt. It was chonically stiff. Seiza hurt, and sitting cross-legged hurt more. I’ve been doing lots of warming up, stretching, and massage, and it’s been getting better. Tonight, not even a twinge.

There were even a few moments when I felt glimmers of competency. I’m still a tangle of arms and legs, all going in the wrong directions (bless Sensei’s patient heart, and my fellow students), but every now and then I got them a little bit organized and did the right thing, more or less.

I’m not letting up on the ice packs, exercises, stretches, or PT, but meanwhile, I’m very encouraged, and looking forward to next Tuesday.

Poem: More Than Technique

A few days ago I was reading some of the past newsletter articles on the Aikido of San Diego website, and was in a writing kind of mood, so I rewrote Sensei’s “Subject of the Season” article from the Spring 2009 newsletter as a poem, just for fun. I thought you might enjoy it.

More Than Technique
by Linda Eskin
Derived from Dave Goldberg Sensei’s Spring 2009 Newsletter

Words are not the essence of poetry.
Techniques are not the expression of Aikido

Poetry evokes, conveys, inspires.
Aikido balances, grounds, frees.
Brushes and paint are not the artwork.

The toddler, barely walking, dances freely.
Express your Aikido fully, from the beginning.

Fun Class, Pleasant Evening

I am observing classes for another few weeks. My shoulder is feeling quite good now (yay!). I just need to let it heal completely, and strengthen/stabilize the joint to help prevent future injuries. So I’m still benched, and doing what my PT says I must. It’s easy to see now that it will be fine before long.

The class tonight was taught by one of the yudansha, as Sensei is out of town for the week. There was a lot of the same patient instruction, with complex techniques being built step-by-step of their component parts. And like Sensei, and the other teachers I’ve seen, this teacher has a mischievous and kind sense of humor. A few parts of the class were different from what I’ve seen before…

There was some jo work (which I had not seen yet at all). They went through a couple of techniques, and then did some interesting exercises in avoiding a very slow-moving jo by just changing body position (keeping feet mostly still). Imagine if the TSA were waving a metal-detecting wand all over you, but you were afraid it would tickle if it were to touch you (my visualization, not the instruction to the class).

Then there were some techniques that a 1st or 2nd kyu had requested, since she will be tested on them soon. The class started from very slow walk-throughs, and ended with very competent, quite fast techniques. I’m sure I won’t remember how to do them, but I saw individual parts (certain movements and postures) that I can work on at home.

At the end of the class they played several games, including a kind of keep-away to build rondori skills (moving around the mat with attackers in pursuit) without being concerned with actual attacks or techniques.

One would think I’d be used to it by now, but it still surprises (and delights) me to see the amount of play and fun and laughter that surrounds Aikido. There are serious aspects, of course, but everyone generally comes away feeling happy and confident, and having improved their skills.

Looking forward to getting back at it.
Linda

p.s. Aikido involves a lot of training of one’s spell checker. Mine just tried to correct “yudansha” to “unshapely”, and “kyu” to “yucky”.

Training Diary – The First 6 Classes

From my notes on my first six Aikido classes:

Physical Info – Starting Point

Health: Coming off 2 weeks or a horrendous cold. Feeling better.
Weight: 189 lbs., goal of 160 lbs. (And then “We’ll see.”)
Fitness: Sedentary work, semi-active fun (cleaning horse pen, gardening…). Few PT exercises for shoulder. No working out or stretching for many years.
Vertigo: Much better over past couple of months. Encouraged, but concerned that rolling and breakfalls could set it off again.

Activities

Tuesday evening, May 5, 2009
Class #1
Really fun, awesome people, great time, very excited about Aikido.
Very sore, tired quads later. Did lots of walking and stretching.

Started walking around park several times during the day at work.

Saturday morning, May 9, 2009
Class #2
An hour before class something “went out” a little in my hip. Figured it would loosen up with work. Ha! Wrong. On very first attempt at rolling hip went into spasm.
Limped through class. (Too stubborn to bow out.)
Did lots of walking and stretching for several days. Probably piriformis muscle. Learned trigger point technique using foam roller, which helped.

Tuesday evening, May 12, 2009
Class #3
Very comfortable. Feeling good. Halfway competent at where to stand, what to do…

Wednesday evening, May 13, 2009
Class #4
Forward rolls from standing/walking. Great fun. Lots of work on breathing, centering, flowing… Quiet blending exercises – nothing I had envisioned doing in a “martial art” – very cool!
Right at end of class landed hard on right shoulder.

Between classes
Major pain. Several days of Really Bad Muscle Spasms in shoulder. Lots of intensive work with icing, heat, and trigger points.

Breathing and centering exercises from class are tremendous for pain control. Open posture and attitude (?) reduce pain & discouragement, while closed posture and focusing on self make everything notably worse. Lots and lots of stopping, centering, breathing in the universe, focusing outward, extending.

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Observed class and tests! Dojo picnic at Santee lakes.
Lucky timing, that I should have the chance to meet so many people so soon.

Between classes
Shoulder much better, but not enough, by Monday. Off to Orthopedic guy who had done earlier bone spur removal surgery on that shoulder. Dx: Minor separation of the AC joint. Rest, ice, activity as tolerated. No Aikido. Next check in 2 weeks.

Tuesday evening, May 19, 2009
Observed class
Paid especially close attention to things I could do on my own, trying to be sure I understand them well enough to practice the right thing: Stretches, breathing, warm-up exercises, hanmi. Walking, grounding, aligning, settling. Many notes on names of techniques, and elements to remember.

Between classes
Holistic Health Practicioner (HHP) back from vacation. 90-minute massage. Many knots undone, bless her very skilled heart and hands.

Tuesday evening, May 26, 2009
Observed class
Similar notes and observations. Watching classes is time well-spent, but very much like “watching all the other kids play in the pool.” Very frustrating.

Saturday morning, May 30, 2009
Observed weapons class and open-hand class
Brought two friends who have been thinking about studying Aikido. One, Sue, with whom I used to work, and had not seen in years, and a new friend, Edgar, from Twitter who I was just meeting for the first time.
Had not really considered weapons work, but am now thinking it would be a very good idea to be doing this too.

Between classes
To Doc for shoulder check on Monday. Happy with progress. OK to do classes, but no falling or rolling. Yay! Next check in 3 weeks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Class #5
Back on the mat! Was able to do quite a lot. Finally remembered to say “onegai shimasu” at the right time. Progress! Sensei very kind about alerting me to upcoming techniques I would not be able to do. Some ouchy experiences, but mostly good.

Between classes
Still icing shoulder 3-5x/day. Some heat, too.
90-minute massage with HHP. Many more nasty knots.
On Monday not happy with progress. Feeling worse, not better. Other shoulder starting to hurt almost as bad. Made PT appt.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Class #6
Participated, but a bit more cautiously. Could not lift hands over head without pain. Sat out about half the class. Should’ve just observed.

Between classes
PT appt. Turns out there’s also an injury to the brachial plexus – a bunch of nerves. Numbness & tingling in fingers. Not a good thing. I am not to do anything that causes any pain in shoulders. Now 2x/week PT for 4 weeks. Must get injured tendon calmed down so it does not irritate nerve. Benched for at least 4 more weeks, if I’m lucky, and then will have to be careful to not reinjure shoulder.

Physical Info – Current

Health: Felt like cold was coming back. Doc says allergies. Treating that, and feeling 80% better.
Weight: 181 lbs. Down 8 lbs. Goal of 160 lbs.
Fitness: Walking breaks at work. Taking stairs. Lots of stretching & exercises on my own (stepping on/off straw bale 20 reps, 2x/day).
Vertigo: No problems so far w/rolling or falls. Survived 4-hour sailing adventure, even.

Finally – up to date. Whew. Hmm… I was thinking I had done 7 classes, but it’s only 6.

About Ways of Learning

This is taken from my reply to a blog post on AikiWeb:

We all learn at different speeds, and in different ways. We are supposed to be doing our best, but beyond that there’s no set amount of progress that can be expected of anyone. People who have studied Aikido for many years still feel that they haven’t mastered many things. You’re very new at Aikido (as am I – I started in May). Keep looking for the best ways to learn and retain information and techniques, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

Have you talked to Sensei, and explained how you learn best? It can be frustrating for a teacher to try everything they can think of to “reach” a student, and still see the student struggling. It may look like you aren’t giving it your best, to someone who doesn’t understand the way you need to learn things.

I hear the name of one technique in class, and try to remember it, but when I hear the name of the next technique, the first one escapes me. I find it very hard to learn words and facts just by listening. If I don’t take notes in classes, I won’t be able to recall much of it at all. It’s like having to organize the information enough to write it down (outlined, bulleted, mind-mapped, whatever) helps me remember it. When I remember it, I don’t recall hearing it, I recall writing it – where it was on the page, or in an outline hierarchy.

At my dojo we are given a list of Japanese words that we will be hearing. This was a huge help, but just “studying” the list didn’t help me. It was in alphabetical order. What helped me to remember better was to rewrite the list with the words grouped together by meaning. So words about teachers and students all go together: Sensei, Shihan, Sempai, Kohai, and Deshi, for instance.

I work on remembering them in the same way I work on remembering song lyrics – I get a few in my head (like counting to 5: ichi, ni, san, yon, go), and then repeat those over and over while I’m doing other things, like cleaning the horse pen or getting dressed for work. Don’t try too many at once – maybe even just 2, like Uke and Nage.

Has anyone helped you with the pronunciation? Japanese could be easier for you than English, because (when it’s written in Roman letters) each letter has one sound, and only one sound. It’s not like English where the letter “i” might have several different sounds. Maybe someone at your dojo would be willing to spend a few minutes after each class working on a few words (not too many!)

Asperger’s, as I understand it, can make it difficult to figure out social rules, but once you know them, following them is easy, Right? The social rules in martial arts can be very consistent, but sometimes hard to figure out by observing subtle cues alone. I think I made a stupid mistake in a recent class, and I didn’t figure it out until a few days later. I thought someone was just “being moody” but realized that maybe I had been disrespectful, and was getting a kind of cold shoulder to clue me in that what I’d done was not OK. (I’m not good at subtle hints…) It might help if someone could directly tell you all the things that are expected. Once you know them, it should be (I think, if I understand Asperger’s) pretty easy to follow the rules.

Some resources that have been a huge help for me:

#1: A book about all the things in a dojo, and about the etiquette expected there: “In the Dojo – A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts” by Dave Lowry. This could be a good starting point for you to understand the social rules. It’s a very interesting book to read.

(By the way, there’s another book you might enjoy about regular social rules: “The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism” by Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.)

#2: A computer program that shows, in 3D motion-capture, a lot of the techniques we need to know. It’s called Aikido3D. You can buy and download it immediately at www.aikido3D.com. It’s about $55, but well worth it. Of course rely on your own Sensei for exactly how to do the techniques. What this program offers that might be a particular help to you (as it has been to me) is the ability to watch one technique over and over, from different points of view. You can listen to the explanation a hundred times in a row if you need to. There’s written information and spoken, including the name, and how to execute the technique. You can watch from the front, top, and one other point of view. You can slow it down, go frame by frame, and really figure out “OK, when my hand is reaching for Uke’s elbow, my feet are supposed to be this way.”

#3: Just go watch some classes. I have an injury, so I’ve been sitting out some classes, and just watching and taking notes. It’s very valuable, and you can pay attention in a different way than if you are trying to do the techniques. You can also study the social interactions by observing. Ask your Sensei if you can just observe some classes.

That’s probably enough rambling from me. Main points: Tell Sensei about your challenges, and ask for specific help you need. Find additional resources that support the way you learn. Go easy on yourself – you’ll get there when you get there, there’s no set schedule for learning.

Getting Up To Date

My first post was a bit of background. This one is a quick summary of my first few weeks of studying Aikido. The wide-angle view, for now. I’ll elaborate on many of these details in future posts.

First, you will recall I was sidelined by a shoulder injury. I landed smack on the top of my right shoulder in my 5th class. I sat out classes for a few weeks, coming to watch and take notes. I’ve even brought a few friends who have been thinking of studying Aikido. Observing is a very valuable, if frustrating, experience. I highly recommend the watching and taking notes part, but you might prefer to do it without getting injured first.

My orthopedic doc thought I was healing well, and told me at the 3 week point to take it easy – no falling or rolling for several more weeks – but I could go back to class. Joy!

I took it easy, both in class (twice), and everywhere else, but it seemed to not be improving as much as I’d hope, and in fact things I could do OK last week were now more painful. I sat out probably 50% of Tuesday’s class, and even at that I probably overdid it.

So off to physical therapy. Physical therapists are miracle workers, and I’ve worked with this one before. He’s good, and I trust him. I figured I’d get some coaching on exercises I could do at home to help strengthen the right things, and avoid injuring the wrong things. Instead he found that the injury was worse than first thought. So now it’s ultrasound, TENS unit type work, supervised light exercises at his office, more ice, less independent exercise and activity and, you guessed it, no Aikido for at least a few more weeks, if things go well.

I’ll definitely be skipping an upcoming workshop that Sensei is giving later this month. (Rats!) Still hoping, hoping, hoping I’ll be OK by late July to participate in a workshop with Robert Nadeau Shihan, who will be visiting our dojo. (See Events on www.aikidosd.com, if you’re interested in participating in either workshop.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing what training I can – endurance, stretching and strengthening, and practicing (to the best of my understanding) moving from my center, using good posture, and so on, as I do normal daily things.

I’ve read several books, with several more on deck, listened to podcasts over and over, read everything I can find online, and watched videos on YouTube. Last night I bought and downloaded the Aikido3D application, which looks very useful. And of course there’s participating here and talking with aikidoka on Twitter (I’m @LindaEskin, if you’re there).

Right now I’m feeling unbalanced. Not in a bad way, just uneven. Lots of book learning, including history, philosophy, teaching methods, experiences of others’ study of Aikido, and plenty of general culture and humor. But I can hardly put together the names and rudimentary motions of even a few basic techniques, for lack of any consistent practice. I know that stuff will come with time…

I’m so grateful for all the encouragement I’ve gotten from fellow aikidoka, in person, online, and from writers I may never meet directly. This injury is a speed bump of sorts. It has forced me to slow down, observe, and think. I have a painted wooden sign, hanging by a charming gingham ribbon, on my office door, which says: PATIENCE MY A**. (Except my sign isn’t shy about spelling it out.) Maybe an early injury is the universe’s dope slap to snap me out of that rushed attitude. Wake up, be careful, go slow, work for mastery not speed.

I am even more grateful to have found, in good part due to luck and convenience, an extraordinary school. Sensei and the other students are very patient and understanding, and all are good teachers. The facility is very nice – an oasis of sorts. More importantly, the depth and quality of what’s available there is impressive. I’m sure I’m only able to see the tip of the iceberg from my perspective as an utter beginner, but the more I discover, the more fortunate I realize I am,.

Thank you for walking my path with me a little ways. I was going to say I’m not normally this long-winded, but maybe I am. I’m sure there will be more long posts, and lots of short ones. We’ll see.

Introduction

I am reposting my introduction (from the AikiWeb.com Forums) here, with a few edits, just to have everything in one place. In the next post I will bring things up to date.

After that this will be a more normal blog, with semi-regular training notes, random observations, and thoughts on Aikido, and applying it to horsemanship, riding, and everything else.

Please join me as I walk this path.

– – – – –
Greetings, and thank you for reading my introduction.

Some basic basics: I’m a 46 y/o woman in the San Diego area. Horseperson for fun. User experience analyst for a living. 30 lbs overweight. Sturdy and strong, but out of shape. Did a little Tang Soo Do in high school (through the 1st test). Loved it, but went off to college and left it behind.

I recently came to Aikido via a book by Mark Rashid, a gifted horse trainer and author. I had been aware of Aikido before, but his book “Horsemanship Through Life” is what prompted me to begin studying it. I was originally hoping to improve my balance, fitness, awareness, relaxation, and breathing, all of which apply nicely to working with and riding horses.

The universe has been making me work very hard to get started in Aikido! After I decided to check into studying it I hurt my hand. Weeks later got cleared to do stuff. Checked out a dojo, was very impressed, and promptly cought the Worst Cold Ever. 3 weeks later, on May 5th, 2009, feeling good but still unable to speak above a hoarse whisper, I started classes.

Lesson one: Persistance. Rrrr…

I got off to a bit of a rough start, with some muscle spasms after my first class. (Tip, don’t start with the longest class your dojo offers, esp. after weeks of being sick. Duh.) I got that cleared up with lots of gentle exercise and was back 4 days later, having a blast, and trying to slurp up information as fast as my brain could absorb it. Things went well for classes 2 and 3, and then in my 4th class I demonstrated some particularly horrid ukemi by landing smack on the top of my right shoulder. Much ice and pain later it seems I have a level 1 (minor) separation of the AC joint, so I’m down for a couple of weeks, at least. I can do whatever doesn’t hurt, but am not to push it.

Lesson two: Humility. D’oh!

I am grateful to fellow AikiWeb citizens Mary Eastland, who posted about being annoyed with a broken wrist, and Darryl Bronson, who posted about having Aikido withdrawal after knee surgery. Aside from feeling less alone and sorry for myself, for being benched before the end of my 2nd week, I now have lots of ideas for productive ways to use the time. I will be continuing to go to class, watching, taking notes, and learning everything I can. As my shoulder improves I’ll join in one-sided or somehow just work on those things I can do. I’ve had a shoulder problem before. With proper care and PT it healed fine. This will too.

Lesson three: Patience. Sigh…

Aikido in general, and my dojo in particular (Aikido of San Diego), felt like the right choices from the first moment, and everything since has confirmed that. Yes, the simple things I had hoped to address in my life and riding are there, but there’s so much more depth to the art than I had considered. The more I learn, the more I find that Aikido applies to every aspect of living, in a way that harmonizes with my temperament. The people I’ve met through Aikido (both in the dojo, and online) have been universally smart, thoughtful, kind, patient, and a lot of fun.

I am looking forward to a very long and interesting journey, and to getting to know people here. And I promise to try to not be so long-winded every time I post.

[And later, from my comments in that introduction thread…]

The similarities between Aikido and horsemanship are really stunning. I’m working (slowly) toward doing dressage, which is basically a martial art in which harmony with the horse is the goal. Dressage tests are very much like kata – demonstrations of a set of skills at each level. Nervousness, confusion, or annoyance on the part of the horse are counted against your score. Training a horse is a little like teaching it ukemi – to follow the feel you are offering.

It’s funny, I have pretty good “eyes in the back of my head” for sensing what my horse might be up to next, but when we try to anticipate an attack in class (respond as soon at uke moves toward us) I’m pathetically slow. It’ll come with time, I suppose.

By the way, I also have donkeys. They will teach one patience. And they respond so much better to trust and polite requests than to authority and force. Besides, they are smart, and cute.

I have found, with my 5 y/o draft-cross greenie, who can buck like a rodeo horse, that tensing up, hanging on, and holding my breath isn’t a very good strategy for staying with him. It’s easier to throw someone who’s not relaxed, I hear. Hoping Aikido helps in that respect…

I’ve not played with weapons yet, but I’m guessing years of forking manure has got to help with jo work. We’ll see.