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.

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