In tonight’s class we played with being relaxed, staying unified, and flowing. It was a wonderfully focused and pleasant class, actually very relaxed, unified, and flowing in its own right. What was particularly nice was the effect it had on my energy.

I’ve been in a sort of mysterious “energetic funk” for the past few days. Not tired, not sick, but feeling sort of physically and energetically closed and guarded about something, the way one’s muscles can be tight to guard a painful joint. In class on Friday I was really stiff, nothing felt smooth, and simple movements eluded me. I felt ungrounded, off balance… I found myself holding my breath and scrunching my eyebrows. It was evident enough that I got feedback twice in class (as Uke) about relaxing into the technique instead of fighting it. Saturday was a little more fun, but still with something “stuck” that I could not identify. I sort of lived in the question over the weekend, of what “it” might be that was keeping my gut and my energy in knots, but I never happened upon an answer.

Whatever the cause, tonight’s class was the cure. I found myself breathing freely, standing solidly, moving smoothly, and smiling easily again. What a relief! And when I find myself feeling off balance next time, now I have some things I can play with to try to get back in sync with myself. :)

“Learning by Feel” – My first column on AikiWeb

“Learning by Feel” – My first column on AikiWeb

Taking Aikido with Us

I love going to the dojo. It’s a centered, focused, bullshit-free experience. The etiquette, aesthetic, and whole feel of of the place make being there a real pleasure. The people are friendly, supportive, committed, and working toward shared goals. There is structure, but there is constant discovery and newness, too. At the end of a trying day it’s wonderful to walk through that door, take a deep breath, and put everything else aside for a while. I love being there, and I miss it when I can’t go and train.

The obvious solution is to go and train more. And that’s not a bad idea. But it’s not possible to train all the time. There are also family, work, home, animals, community, and other interests. Oh yeah, and sleep.

More important, the point of training is not to escape from the world, it’s to make the world a better place. I’ve been thinking lately about what I can take from Aikido training and apply to other areas of life.

I’m not talking about what people typically mean by “off-the-mat Aikido,” which is more (as I understand it) about using Aikido principles to resolve conflicts in other areas of life. Blending with someone’s point of view in a business meeting, for example.

I’m thinking more of what it is about training that makes that such a compelling and rewarding experience. What works – practically, logistically, spiritually, personally – about doing Aikido that makes being at the dojo such a joy? What practices can be applied to work? To horsemanship and riding? To relationships and community? Even to daily chores? Everything from the mundane, like doing stretching exercises before engaging in strenuous activities like riding, to the bigger pictures, like creating and nurturing a sense of community.

I’ll be posting some thoughts on this from time to time, and would love to hear yours, too.

Enjoying Weapons Classes

I’ve been doing more weapons classes, and really enjoying them. There’s something that feels more centered and focused about working with weapons. Well… most of the time, anyway.

We practiced tonight with the jo,
and some things were starting to flow.
But grace was not to be,
‘cause I fell like a tree
when I caught my foot on Nage’s toe.

I’m fine, thank you. ;) Just got my feet tangled up and fell plumb over sideways. Thud.

I demonstrated just a little bit more competence during the rest of the class, at least. I don’t know what it is about weapons that makes techniques involving them seem so much simpler – or at least more comprehensible. Maybe it’s just that introducing a single straight line into the equation adds a hint of order or a point of reference to the usual wiggly confusion of arms and wrists. In any case, I find weapons classes to be quite a lot of fun, and very rewarding.

I couldn’t resist adding this, which I’m also posting to the AikiWeb thread “Limerick Challenge”:

Though I love Thursday night’s weapons class,
my techniques with the jo barely pass
for aikido. It’s true,
and it makes me quite blue,
that I tripped up and fell on my side.

Haha… I crack myself up. :-)

Love, Seduction, and Aikido

Have I got your attention? Good. ;-) It’s not a trick. This really is about love and seduction. And Aikido.

I walk at lunchtime. One day while I was walking, I was writing a haiku in my head. I went through a dozen or so versions, from various perspectives. It was shortly after an experience in class where Sensei demonstrated being connected with one’s partner. It was very disconcerting, but in a very pleasant way. It got me thinking “this must be what it means to look into someone’s eyes and steal their spirit.” It was disarming enough that poetry was rattling around in my head long after the class ended.

You look in my eyes.
Breath leaves me, balance is gone.
You steal my spirit.

It wasn’t (only) that my ability to resist the technique had been overcome. More like my will to resist it just crumbled. Or maybe even the desire to resist. I wanted to go with it. And then was left wondering what on earth that was that he had done.

Maybe everyone above 5th kyu and up is having a good snicker that I’m just figuring this out. ;-) Snicker away. I’m always happy to create a little merriment. Is this the whole point, of all the blending, and joining, and getting inside the technique?

Look into his eyes.
Take away his breath… balance…
And steal his spirit.

It started to gel a little for me tonight, when Sensei was coaching my partner, kind of jokingly taking him aside, saying that the blending we were working on could feel like seduction. And that people like that, and are more willing to go with your energy, and resist less. It was a brilliant point, of course, well illustrated. It was also kind of embarrassing. Essentially, “Here, try doing this technique as though you are trying to seduce her. Go.” Now seriously, I hang out with lots of older horsewomen – a raucous and earthy bunch. There’s not much you can say or do to embarrass me. But I think I might’ve blushed a little.

It’s funny, culturally, that we are comfortable bringing forth aggression, fury, conflict, and hatred. We think that’s normal. We wouldn’t think twice about producing a loud and fearsome kiai or well-placed atemi to evoke terror and throw our partner’s concentration off, if that were called for in a class. But somehow it’s terribly awkward, and a little unacceptable, to project gentleness, longing, warmth, and love, and to evoke the same in others – even when the end result is still to unbalance them, to our advantage. That’s a kind of weird dichotomy, and it’s kind of a shame.

When I finally arrived at a version of the haiku I was satisfied with, I realized it wasn’t about kokyu ho anymore. I ended up sending it to friend who was intellectually determined not to fall in love with a woman he’d met, but his heart was telling him otherwise. I was cheering the heart on, of course:

This time I won’t fall.
I take your hand, brace myself.
I fall anyway.

Coming Back After a Holiday

Our dojo is closed over major holiday weekends. Over the Thanksgiving break there were no classes Thursday through Sunday.

I went to class Wednesday night (unusual, for me), and tonight (I would normally have waited until Tuesday). Still, 4 days away seems like an awfully long time.

I noticed something interesting in both of the classes tonight, I think. We were having fun, and laughing like we always do, but there seemed to be a little different intensity and concentration. It was quieter than usual. During some exercises it sounded like a library (with soft falling, of course).

It reminded me of the silence one hears just after a group of hungry friends sets down to dinner.