I don’t go out with the idea of seeing an elk, bear, mountain lion. If I go out and keep my expectations in check I always see something interesting … It’s a huge country. It’s just unimaginably rich with what you can see hear, smell and remember if you open yourself up to the adventure.

Michael Robbins 

Accepting Coaching

Thank you to Tara Marsh, who pointed out (in the comments on the AikiWeb version of this blog) something Randy Pausch said in his “Last Lecture” about accepting coaching:

“Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it. Anybody can get chewed out. It’s the rare person who says, oh my god, you were right. As opposed to, no wait, the real reason is… We’ve all heard that. When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.”

Humor & Humiliation

I have long suspected that that is an Instructors’ Course at Aikido Summer Camps or Association Meetings where teachers learn techniques for making us laugh at ourselves (and cringe a little), to improve our technique and awareness, or jar us out of habitual patterns of thinking.

Every Aikido teacher I’ve encountered – Sensei, the yudansha at our dojo, and visiting teachers alike – to the best of my recollection, has used pointed humor and sometimes pretty stern shaming in their teaching. Mostly it’s really funny, and often includes some very good physical comedy. And it drives the point home like a nail gun.

“This is what some of you look like. I’m exaggerating, but only a little." 

I have to laugh, and at the same time *facepalm* I see that once again I have let my arm trail behind my center in a tenkan, or completely forgotten to hold Uke’s shoulder down when setting up the pin for sankyo. D’oh!

One whap upside the head I received in a recent one-on-one session on suwariwaza was "They call it ‘knee walking’ not ‘duck walking’.” The teacher, whose natural, flowing, centered shikko is an inspiration, then proceeded to show me exactly what my “duck walking” looked liked. Oh no… It was both mortifying and very funny.

A teacher could very “politely and respectfully” explain the rationale, physics, and anatomy behind their instructions, and demonstrate again the “preferred” way we should be working toward, blah, blah, blah… But that’s explaining, not training.

By poking fun the message gets through loud and clear. Even though the “duck walking” correction was softened with gentle humor I was still very motivated to never get caught moving that way again. Ever. Yikes.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that Instructors’ Course some day. I’ll bet it’s hilarious.

Being seen, and seeing

There are many times when I am struck with gratitude for my teacher. Here is a man who has trained in Aikido for many years, who is a perceptual genius, and who has devoted himself to sharing the art with his students.

The physical experience of training with him is that of being enveloped – utterly controlled, and completely safe. The emotional sense is one of total freedom to try, fail, and learn, again completely safe, trusting.

That is not to say it’s all sweetness and nice, painless, or comfortable. Sensei sees through pretense, to the heart of the matter, and is willing to be direct and honest. Sometimes a seemingly off-hand comment cuts deep. My initial reflexive reaction is to defensively discount it as a moment of temper or frustration perhaps, or simply something misperceived. “That’s not so.” “I am not like that.” “He’s wrong.”

But it’s probably true that more it stings, the more accurate it is, and the harder I’ve been trying to hide it. 

I’ve learned to allow for the possibility, even in my initial denial (which I now recognize as automatic, and meaninless), that there may be some truth there. “What did I do, or how was I being, that created that perception?" Of course, there is no differentiation between how I am perceived and who I am really. There is no "real us” that the world never sees. There is only how we come across to others.

It’s a privilege to work with someone who sees so clearly. No one has ever had such faith in me to be open to straight, direct coaching, has been so unphased by honest communication, or so committed to helping me find my own way, with no expectations or obligations imposed. He helps me to see who I am.

How am I limiting myself?

I have posted about past Aikido In Focus workshops. They are held at our dojo, and led by Dave Goldberg Sensei. Each (as the name suggests) focuses on one aspect of Aikido. I’ve done all that have been offered since joining the dojo, and each its own way has been life changing.

My first, just over a year ago, was called “Relax, It’s Aikido.” You can read about my experience of that workshop here. The work we did in that short morning session let me see there was a whole way of being I had unconsciously walled myself off from, and allowed me to regain access to that way of experiencing life.

So here we are with another workshop coming up this weekend. I signed up for it weeks ago. I’m looking forward to it in the way one might normally reserve for going skydiving, or doing a ropes course: Excited, nervous, hopeful, maybe a little scared, giddy… I try to balance this against the reality that this is just a 2-½ hour one-time thing, with one very human sensei leading it, and a varied handful of students. Who knows how it might go. I try to not get my hopes up about what could be accomplished in so short a time. But then my past experiences tell me that significant insights and changes are possible.

Here is the subject of this workshop:

In what ways am I getting in my own way?
How am I limiting myself?
What should I be “looking at” in my own practice?

Interesting. I don’t feel frustrated or stuck. I haven’t been on a plateau. I’m preparing for my upcoming 4th kyu test. I’m enjoying training – especially working with the brand-new newbies. I feel like I’ve been making decent progress. I don’t feel limited, or like I’m getting in my own way. Of course, I don’t suppose I’d see it on my own, even if I were, now would I?

Past Aikido In Focus workshops have been recorded on video, which we review together at the end. This one will not be. Instead it is to be a very personal training process, requiring “an open-minded and mature approach from each participant.”

It’s possible I will learn that I’m pretty much on the right track, and I should just keep up the good work. It’s more likely, however, that I will get my ass handed to me in one way or another.

In any case, I’ve been living in the question, “How am I limiting myself?” At the same time, I’m not trying to figure out in advance what I might discover. My experience of these workshops is never what I expect, and what I’ve learned about myself has usually had little to do with the stated subject. So I’ll just go.

I have no idea what I will discover, or if I will share here what I learn about myself. Whatever’s there, I’m open to seeing it.