Tripping Over My Own Brain

First, the seminar with Nadeau Sensei was great. Enlightening, engaging, educational, and very entertaining. More on that another time.

Right now tonight’s class (training day 16), or rather how I did in tonight’s class, is the subject. Poorly would be a kind word for it. I couldn’t get anything right for the life of me. Things I’ve done OK before, I got backwards, inside out, and upside down. Things I finally did right just a second ago, were wrong all over again now.

It was like I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing or being told. I would swear the inside leg swept backward, but when I’d get to that point in the technique, my inside leg was already back, and what I thought I knew to do next didn’t make any sense at all. So then what do you do?

And when you don’t do it right the first n times, the n+1th time isn’t any better. It feels like rushing through learning a song. When you learn to play or sing a song, you have to learn what’s going to be coming next at each point. If you get to a point in the tune, and have to stop and check every time to see what follows, you never learn the tune. You learn to stop and check. You have to be able to think, during the line about the tree, that the next line is the one about a hawk, so you can continue right into that line.

Maybe the feeling I get in class is more like learning a song in front of an audience. Or trying to do a math problem in front of the class, when you have only the vaguest idea of how to go about it. “Panic” isn’t the right word. That suggests a sense of frenzied action. What I experience is more like freezing up. “Brain cramp” perhaps?

Whatever it is, I’ve experienced it before in other areas (including flying, and horseback riding). Freezing up, not acting, failing to even perceive… I don’t like it, and it’s one of the things I had hoped to address when I chose to practice Aikido: learn to relax, breathe, focus, and act deliberately, in the face of overwhelming stimuli. I just didn’t expect to run face-first into it doing simple techniques in a beginning class. I figured maybe some far-off day, doing randori or something.

It’s hard to imagine being overfaced by something so simple, in such a supportive environment. There is no critical audience, pointing and laughing. Of course I want to get it right… I think that’s normal – and how we are driven to improve. But where does this sort of terror come from?

George Leonard says to be grateful for the hit. We can learn a lot from the times life smacks us a good one. Well, I did say I wanted to work on this problem, and Aikido is the lab in which I chose to do it. Here’s a heaping batch of just what I needed. Goody.

Getting To the Nadeau Seminar

I will be participating in a seminar this weekend – “Aikido as an Art of Harmony” with Robert Nadeau Shihan, at Aikido of San Diego. Not a huge deal, but from the “Aikido as a laboratory for life” perspective, it’s a big deal for me. Having a goal with a deadline tends to focus one’s attention and efforts far better than simply “getting better at this, someday” would.

Before I ever stepped onto a mat I did a lot of reading and learning while healing from a minor hand injury. Once I was OK to do physical stuff I found a dojo. Then I spent several weeks recovering from the Very Long Cold From Hell. I finally started training in May. I expected a lot from Aikido, and it’s proving to be much more than that, even.

I’ve gotten through a few muscle injuries, a shoulder injury, and the stunning realizations that a) I was in no kind of good shape At All, and b) I really can be, if I just work at it. I’ve done PT, gotten massages (not the happy fun kind), and started working with a personal trainer to set up a personalized workout plan. I’ve made progress in leaps and bounds, compared to what I’d previously thought I could achieve.

One of my short-term goals has been to be in good enough shape to participate in this weekend’s seminar. I have been rolling and falling in Aikido classes, with no problems. I’ve been very careful not to injure/reinjure myself, and have been doing everything I can to heal well, and quickly. Since getting back on the mat. I’ve been doubling up on classes so the two two-hour sessions on Saturday don’t kill me. Last night I even dumped my 24 manure cans into the dumpster (requires lifting each one – twice), and lived to tell. Yesterday was my 4-week follow-up with my PT. He “couldn’t be any happier with my shoulder,” and I have his blessings to do the seminar.

My gi is washed, bottles of water are set out, camera is charged…

It’s amazing how much one can learn from a seminar before even showing up.

Getting Fit for Aikido

I am going for my first consultation with a personal trainer tomorrow. She’s going to help me come up with a “real world” workout program I can do on my own. The goal is to be in better shape for Aikido and horseback riding (and everything else, generally), and to prevent injuries by making sure I’m doing things correctly.

I’ve set up a kind of blog-thing about that, with photos of places and equipment I have for working out, my goals, etc. If you’re interested, you can find it here:

Triumph Over the Brain

Classes 9 & 10, Tuesday and tonight (Thursday).

Boy, what a contrast… If you’ve been keeping up (not that I would expect anyone to), you know that I injured my shoulder a while back. Through the miracle of PT, massage, ice, exercise, rest, ice, stretching, ice, and time, it is better. I got the OK on Monday of last week to go back to rolling/falling, with the admonition to not land on the top of my shoulder ever again.

Last Tuesday my brain was not ready to roll at all. I couldn’t even picture what a decent roll would look like. Stupid brain.

So this Tuesday I figure I’d manage to start back to rolling, which I was doing reasonably well before my injury (thank goodness for that, so I had some good mental point of reference). Alas, Tuesday’s class comes around, and I really couldn’t bring myself to get to do it. I also couldn’t seem to do anything else right in class. Very frustrating. And everyone I worked with was trying to be very helpful. And usually they are helpful. (I’m regularly amazed at how good everyone is at teaching, even 6th/5th kyu people.) But on Tuesday I couldn’t make heads nor tails of many of the techniques, so repeating them was just annoying, because I was repeating the wrong thing, or doing it differently each time. I was so disappointed with myself that I went home and by gosh practiced re-learning how to roll (very gently and slowly) in the living room floor.

That finally seemed to remind my brain a little that “See, we do so know how to do this!” I ended on a good note, and let that sink in for a couple of days.

So today I got to do another class (I’m on vacation this week). I got there 45 minutes early, and very slowly started working on rolling. Like, from on your hand and knees, sliding your hand under and behind, until you just tip over. Easy peasy, right?

It’s amazing what our brains can do to us after a “life threatening” experience. When I was a kid I was fearless on horseback. (Still am, pretty much.) You know the deal about getting back on the horse? Well it’s true. I used to come off all the time. No biggie. But one day I tumbled off right near the gate to the pen, at the end of the day. I wasn’t hurt at all, and it wasn’t traumatic or scary. I was probably laughing. But I didn’t get back on. Didn’t think anything of it. I just turned the horse loose and went home. The next time I came out to ride I caught the horse, groomed her, and never even thought about that “fall.” But when it came time to get on, I was shaking. Thankfully, I am too stubborn to give that input much weight, but it’s interesting (and unsettling). Our brains don’t take kindly to repeating situations where we “almost got ourselves killed.”

That same thing happened to me tonight. I had a huge area to myself, with all the time in the world, and was feeling great. I’d do a simple, easy, slow roll, and my heart would be pounding. I’d stop and sit, and let myself feel happy for having done it right, and notice that I wasn’t hurt, and visualize myself doing it again, correctly. And then I’d do it again. More heart-pounding. “Thank you for sharing, Brain. Let’s go…” And then from squatting down, but on my feet… Have you ever jumped off the start of a zipline? You know you’re safe, you know it’ll be fun, but your brain is panicking? Yeah, like that. Walked around and shook it off, breathed, walked, squatted down and rolled. Got up, walked and breathed. And rolled again. Each time I’d wait until I was as relaxed as I could get, and just let myself tumble into a roll. And let myself experience that I did it, and that I was fine. Brain started to let my heart slow down a little.

Sensei reminded me that there is no rush. Maybe I should replace the “Patience My A**” sign on my office door with “There is no rush.” Great reminder, and one I need regularly.

And then class started. I’d never been to the Thursday night class, but whatever. They’re all Aikido classes, right? Uh… If I’d paid attention to what it said on the schedule, and not just the time, I might’ve noticed that it was a weapons class. I’ve been meaning to try that, but yikes… “Everybody go grab a jo.” What? Acck! OK… LOL It went really well. All the helpful people were magically helpful once again. I ended with doing techniques better than when I started, and was not confused about them (not good at them, but at least I understood what the heck I was trying to do). I even managed to very comfortably and confidently roll out of some jo techniques.

Aikido is fun again.

Darned Brain…

Class 8, I believe, was last Tuesday evening.

I’ve been a bit slow putting together enough connected thoughts about it to make a proper blog post. Now I’m just giving up and blurting out some unconnected things.

First, I got a surprise at my PT appt on Monday. My PT was very happy, told me to cancel my upcoming appointment, and gave me the go-ahead to roll, fall, and whatever else I want to do. “But if you land on that shoulder again, don’t come crying to me.”

Class was on Tuesday. I figured it would be best to start with rolling practice (solo only, I mean), and just do back rocking-falls (not all the way over) as uke. I wasn’t quite confident enough to do forward rolls out of techniques. That seemed like a conservative and rational plan.

Strange though, how our brains are not rational. I say “easy, soft rolls that I was doing quite happily and with confidence before I got injured, so no problem.” Brain, on the other hand, says “Uh, no way. We’re gonna die.” So I was thinking too much, and being too cautious and tense, and nothing worked well (except the sitting-backwards-and-rocking-back kinds of falls). I couldn’t do a simple slow back roll to save my life. Have you seen that Garfield (the cat) cartoon where John (the owner) asks Garfield how he manages all 4 feet when he walks, and Garfield gets to thinking about it, and then can’t walk because he’s so confused? It felt like that.

Well, OK, I did *one* back roll very nicely after class, but when I tried to do it again, it was gone. I rolled on my spine, and thunked my head on the mat, and rolled with my shoulders stiff. The more I tried to get it right, the more I got it wrong. No injuries – I didn’t do any damage – but my brain got to say “See, I was right! I told you it was going to hurt.” This could be an interesting downward spiral if I don’t get it stopped, pronto.

I didn’t do much better with anything else in class, either. Thank goodness there were a few brand new students, so we went slowly over some really simple stuff. Over, and over, and over. Which I really needed. There were a couple of things that finally started to click.

Strangely, I could not grasp irimi. The simplest thing ever. I kept stepping too far, turning too much, turning the wrong way. I wonder if we get any better at learning as we age? Something got me thinking this morning about learning to write letters as a little kid. Do you remember doing drills, following examples, tracing letters, and practicing, practicing, practicing? One would think you could hear “Look, it’s like a pointy teepee, with a bar across the middle,” and that would be it. But it took ages, and it wasn’t easy. Aikido feels like that. A lot of it is simple, but for some reason it’s hard to remember “oh yeah, I step *this* way…”

Another thing this class pointed out (strongly) is that I’m pathetically out of shape aerobically-speaking. We did the same throw many times near the end of class, in a pretty good rhythm. I grab left, I go down, I grab right, I go down, you grab left, I throw you, you grab right I throw you, repeat. That was great, because it finally started to really flow, without thinking. But dangit I need to spend a lot more time on the elliptical trainer.

Speaking of which, I asked my PT about setting up an ongoing exercise program I can do at home (correctly), for strength and flexibilty, so my muscles are supporting my joints, so I can hold myself in proper posture for more than 2 minutes, etc. He referred me to a trainer who is a PT herself (and so won’t have me doing stupid things that will just get me injured). I’ve got two sessions with her the week after next. Very excited about that.

Next week I’m off work, so I might get to do a few extra classes. I’m hoping I can convince my brain that it can shut up and just let the body relax and roll. “Thank you for sharing, brain. You can sit down now.”