Tonight I was frustrated with myself, as usual, when I still couldn’t get a technique right on the 4th or 5th try. My partner, as he’s done several times before, just smiled and told me to be patient.

I was reminded of the above sign, which hangs on my office door. I originally bought it (at the local tack store, of course) because it so perfectly described how I felt most of the time. Obstacles be damned, let’s get things done! That’s a good thing, right?

And with most intellectual challenges I get right up to speed. I can become fluent in information, ideas, facts, concepts, and vocabulary really quickly. Throw me in a deep end, and I’ll swim. I do it all the time in my work. I think my proficiency with that kind of learning makes it all the more annoying that physical learning doesn’t work the same way.

Our bodies only “get” things just so fast. Rushing is counterproductive. If you play guitar, maybe you remember learning a barred F chord. You were never going to get it. It sounded awful, and felt awkward. You must not be doing it right. It was impossible, probably for months. And then one day it was just there, and it was easy. There were some tips to learn, of course, but hurrying, using more muscle, and getting mad at yourself didn’t help a bit. You just had to practice.

There are days when one Aikido technique or other is that barred F chord. I can see how it’s supposed to go. Everyone else is doing it gracefully and effectively, but I can’t do it to save my life. Hurrying, using more muscle, and getting mad at myself never help. I still try them all, of course, but I’m getting a little better at recognizing that mental state, letting those things go sooner, and getting back to patiently, slowly, calmly trying again, and trying again, and trying again.

Robert Nadeau Shihan said something* that really helped me understand the conflict between my expectations of myself (“the I-self”) vs. the reality of the way I learn physical skills (the functioning system), and to be more patient (when I remember). He said:

“The functioning system should be able to move along the way that it moves along, without being inflicted on negatively, or improperly, by an I-self system." 

”…it has great growth capability, the functioning system, but it has its own timing, and its own way of doing it. See, the self is kind of big and vast. I mean, in a split second I can imagine myself in Kauai, on the beach, having a fish dinner at my favorite restaurant. You know, in a split second, it’s like I’m there. But for my body to move, my body has to move the way that it moves. So I can’t get mad at myself if I can’t physically go…“ and the interviewer finishes, "to the beach and eat your fish dinner.” “Yeah," Nadeau continues, "They both have their own rules, if you would. …”

(*In his interview with Jeff Davidson for the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony Podcast,” available on iTunes.)

There’s also something Sensei said, when I was restless about getting back to training after an injury. Perhaps I should flip my sign over, and paint it on the blank side:

“There’s no rush.”

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I think I’ve noticed an interesting rhythm to what is covered in classes: As exams approach, about every 2 months, classes focus more on techniques that are required for the exams (thank goodness!). Just after exams, we get to try some more interesting things. Both of the classes I did today covered new (to me) ground. Fun stuff!

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Warm breeze, gentle mat.
Forms join, swirl as one, part,
Keeping connection.

Linda Eskin
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My 6th Kyu Aikido Exam

I did my exam for 6th kyu this morning.

[Update: Here is a page with videos of all my Aikido exams]

At our dojo, Aikido of San Diego, we start as unranked. The first test is for 6th kyu.

The exam covered:

  • Ukemi: forward & back roll
  • Katate-dori: tai no henko, shihonage (omote & ura)
  • Shomen-uchi: tenkan & irimi, ikkyo (omote & ura)
  • Jiyuwaza: grabs
  • Suwariwaza: kokyu dosa

What I’ve been telling my non-Aikidoka friends is that this test is a little like graduating from kindergarten. I had to show that I basically know my colors and can tie my own shoes. Simple stuff, but hard for a beginner to master.

Most of the feedback I got was very positive. There were a few hiccups:

  • I was mentally off-kilter from having just run back from the restroom (there had been a line). Everyone was already seated on the mat, and my exam was first. So it was run back, sit down, get up, go!
  • I was winded from rushing, and it took a few minutes to recover from that at the start.
  • I got dizzy/spaced from rolling, so blew my first hanmi (for the shomen-uchi tenkan), and then almost fell over. (D’oh!)
  • I was not expecting to have to do shikko (knee walking), so I had no idea why Sensei was asking me if my knees were injured. I think that was my only real deer-in-the-headlights, “duh” moment. I had never tried it on the mat (only once at home), but got through it OK.
  • Sensei pointed out afterward that my kokyu-dosa (suwariwaza) could be bigger, with better extension.

Overall I’m very happy. Naturally I wanted to nail every last detail, but I did OK, and didn’t embarrass my teachers. I’ll take it.

I had a great time preparing for the exam, and was lucky to work with a very capable mentor – Scott Bjerke. I have never felt so much on the receiving end of the “it takes a village” (to raise a child) concept. In addition to learning from Dave Goldberg Sensei and the other instructors, I have learned from nearly everyone in my dojo, and from others as well. Maybe I can start helping others along now and then (on simple stuff, for the moment).

Now that I have been through the testing process once, I’ll be paying attention in a slightly different way in class now (and likely taking notes after classes). And I’ll certainly be paying more attention to the names of each technique.

Having achieved this little first step, one of my next goals (in addition to working toward 5th kyu, and getting in better physical shape, of course) is to begin to explore applying what I’m learning in Aikido to my riding and other work with my horse. I’ll be posting those adventures here, too.

Many thanks for the ongoing encouragement.

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