On Being Someone Else

A bunch of random-but-related thoughts have been swarming around my head lately like so many butterflies that won’t alight long enough to permit a decent photograph. So I’ll try doing what I’ve done before here when I can’t herd ideas into coherence – I’ll just blurt them all out and see if there’s anything useful among the lot.

Thought #1: When I was preparing for my first exam (6th kyu) one of the things I had to work on was basic jiyuwaza (dealing with free-form attacks by Uke – all simple grabs at this level).

Jiyuwaza was really intimidating for me. It wasn’t fear of getting hit or grabbed – I’ve done sparring before (and besides, I knew my mentor/uke wasn’t out to get me, really). It was fear of looking stupid, not being able to think of what to do. Brain cramps, basically. It felt to me like being asked to sing a song I didn’t know. I didn’t know what to do. Deer in the headlights time. Hated it. My mentor, Scott, would suggest practicing jiyuwaza, and I’d melt into a heap of whining about how I hated it, and wasn’t any good at it. “Oh no, not that.”

Luckily I recognized that for what it was. In addition to Scott’s very capable coaching about what to actually do during jiyuwaza, one thing that really helped me was dressage coach Jane Savoie’s advice to say to myself “I love doing jiyuwaza! It’s my favorite thing! This is my chance to have fun and play!” Yes, I actually said that stuff every time – in a convincing enough way that my brain started to buy into it. (Bless Scott’s heart for not falling over laughing.)

Another thing (finally, we get to the point…) that helped me tremendously was that I’d recently done jiyuwaza in class with one of the yudansha who has a particularly fun and self-assured presence. You fall or roll, and he’s Right There when you come up, hand outstretched, with a look like “well, what are you doing goofing around on the mat – let’s go!” Scott cited him as an example to follow. That was great, because while I didn’t know quite what he did, exactly, I did know how it felt. So rather than trying to do the things he was doing, I just tried being him. It worked beautifully. The “doing” came along with the “being” without thinking about it.

Thought #2: Robert Nadeau Shihan, in his interview for the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony Podcast” (also available on iTunes) discusses the futility of trying to do something one cannot do. One example from the podcast is learning to deal better with pressure. Rather than trying to handle pressure as our current self (which we’ve already determined has a problem with pressure), we can instead grow into someone who can deal with pressure better. I’m starting to see, I think, that one can make that jump to a new “someone who” very quickly in some situations.

Being too aggressive: A few classes ago I “got caught” being too… forceful? aggressive? I was frustrated, and trying to make a technique work by muscle and speed (as if I had any chance of that working). Eyes hard. Breath short. Not controlled. Not cool. No aiki happening. Sensei of course saw that and called me on it. (Thank you, Sensei.) (Grrr, Self.) Not what I’m training for.

Being too floppy: In a seminar on Connection earlier this month (see my post about that) we used video. Aside from all the usual “I look like a goof” stuff one notices in video, I saw that what I was doing was not consistent with how I felt, or what my intention was. I looked floppy, uncentered, unbalanced… Acck! I don’t feel like a floppy, uncentered, unbalanced person, but there you go. And really, what I saw on the video was consistent with some ongoing problems I’ve been having in my technique, like failing to grab solidly, not wrapping my thumb around to hold on. Wimpy, weak, unsure. Yuck.

Noticing a way of being: Recently I noticed something about the way Sensei was working with ukes. (See my earlier post “Vet Tech Analogy”) From that post:  "There was no rushing, no anger, no malicious intent. What I saw was calm, composed compassion, along with undeniable power and absolute control. It suddenly reminded me of watching a veterinary technician (vet tech) control an animal patient.“ It was exactly what I was not doing. It’s exactly what I want to be doing. Soft, controlled, effective Aikido. But until I thought of "vet tech” I didn’t really have an image for that. It seemed to be a huge collection of behaviors to be learned (and it is that, too, I know), rather than a unified way of being.

Thought #3: Wendy Palmer Sensei, in her book “The Intuitive Body – Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment and Aikido,” suggests ways of letting our bodies teach our minds. One of the things we can learn from out bodies is about having certain qualities. Rather than complaining “I wish I weren’t so scattered,” or even making the more affirmative statement “I have great focus,” Palmer Sensei suggests asking of our bodies “What would it be like if I had more focus?” and feeling what our bodies have to tell us. We can do this with any quality we want to embody.

Palmer Sensei suggests picking one quality at a time, but I have two that sort of grabbed me. The first is tenderness. “What would it be like if I had more tenderness?” That’s kind of missing for me, so I’m trying on that question. But that didn’t feel quite complete. Something else was missing. Firmness. “What would it be like if I had more firmness.” Hmmm…

Putting things together: So for the past few classes (and everywhere else) I’ve been playing with these ideas. "How would it feel to handle Uke like a vet tech would handle a big, strong, scared puppy?“ "What would it be like if I had more tenderness?” “What would it be like if I had more firmness?” It’s definitely a different way of thinking than trying to remember to do things differently: grab more solidly, stay soft and quiet, etc. but it seems to be helping with those things. I’m starting to see the possibilities in “being someone who” does things the way I’d like to be doing them. It’s an idea I’ll be playing with more.

“Don’t do something different, be someone different.”