I happened to stumble onto this video via iTunes today. It’s part of a video podcast series on culture in Spain. It simply and elegantly answers “what is Aikido?” in terms anyone (non-practitioners) can easily understand. Nicely done. I recommend Full Screen mode (click the little monitor icon).


Make your own OSensei!

I’ve never “reblogged” anything, but this is too much fun to pass up. It’s a very cool little project from the Argentinian Aikido Organization, aikidoargentina.org. It was posted on a very cool blog, Zanshin Art. I can’t believe I wasn’t already following her posts. You might also want to. Enjoy.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Howard Thurman (1900-1981) minister, educator, civil rights leader

Posted by Japanese Weapons on Facebook, and shared by Jeff Black.

“Were you nervous?”

“Your form was fine.” Sensei said when he came to discussing my 4th-kyu test. He was giving us each feedback in the post-exam circle of promotion candidates. “Were you nervous?” he asked.

Huh… Nervous? I had felt really well prepared. I hadn’t been afraid I would screw up any particular techniques (but of course I did anyway). I knew I was really focused. Intent on giving it my best. I had sort of half-assed my previous test (5th kyu), and had instantly wished I could’ve done it over – done it right. But there aren’t do-overs on tests. This time I was doing my darnedest to nail it.

“Yeah…” I allowed, as best I can recall saying, “not totally freaked out, but I was probably a little nervous.”


I was totally freaked out. The weird thing is that I didn’t recognize it. Sure, I made a couple of mistakes on jo suburi – the one thing I thought I really had down, and there was that one technique where my back heel came off the ground and I noticed my leg was shaking… I didn’t recognize that I was nervous. It’s not OK with me to be nervous. Nervous is fearful, uncertain, and weak. I don’t get nervous.

What I did recognize was a feeling, one I’d had after my first and only piano recital as a teenager. I had played “Come Sail Away” by Styx. I played it just fine. But when I was done and sat down I had to ask someone how I’d done. It was like I hadn’t even been there when I was playing. At the end of my test I’d had the same feeling. I thought I’d done basically OK, aside from a few dumb mistakes, but it was like I wasn’t quite in the same room with my body when I was doing it.

Not present.

I was almost surprised, when I watched the video afterward, to see how many people were there on the mat. For the most part I’d been unaware of them. I think the walls of the dojo could have fallen away and I would not have noticed.



I have learned that Sensei sees right through me. When he offers what seems like a casual observation, it’s worth taking a good look at it.

One of my reasons for practicing Aikido in the first place was to learn to stay present and relaxed in the face of overwhelming physical threat, and take effective action. Hmmm… Instead, in the face of a kind teacher, a supportive group of dojo mates and a limited set of techniques I had been reviewing and refining for weeks, I went away – out of my body and out of the room, was wound tight as a high E string, and screwed up things I knew like the back of my hand.

“Were you nervous?”  "Oh, wow… Yes, I really was!“

Sounds like I have something to work on.

My Aikido Timeline

I keep forgetting and remembering important events on my Aikido path, and our organization doesn’t use kyu books. So before I misplace any entirely I thought I should get them all written down in one place. What a chore! So here they are – or the ones I could think of this evening, at least, plus a few I’m planning on in the near future.

I will update this post regularly, and keep a permanent link to it in the sidebar, eventually. This has a sister post now, too: My Aikido Teachers.

— Someday —

Aikido Randori and Weapons 4-Day Intensive w/ George Ledyard Sensei
Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, WA 
[I am tentatively planning a 2-week train trip around this.] 

— 2012 —

Fall, 2012 
Aikido of San Diego Fall Retreat
Instructors Denise Barry Sensei (KumaKai Aikido) & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Local mountains of San Diego County (?)  

September 14-16, 2012
Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei
Facebook Event page for the Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard
Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, CA

August 4-5, 2012
Daitoryu Aikijujitsu Ginjukai Seminar with Howard Popkin
Facebook Event page for the seminar with Howard Popkin
Jiai Aikido, San Diego, CA

June, 2012 Unfortunately, the Retreat is not happening in 2012.
CAA Aiki Summer Retreat 
Aiki Retreat Fan Page
Bay Area, CA  

May 18-20, 2012
CAA Division 3 Retreat, Robert Nadeau Shihan & Others
Sabastopol, CA

March 30-April 1, 2012
Evolutionary Aikido Seminar, Patrick Cassidy Sensei & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Register for Evolutionary Aikido Seminar
Aikido of San Diego 

March 2-4, 2012
Dan Messisco Sensei
Facebook Event page for the seminar
Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, CA (Geoff Yudien’s and Adam Fong’s new dojo!)

January 21, 2012
My 2nd Kyu Exam
Video of my 2nd kyu exam, on YouTube
Aikido of San Diego, Dave Goldberg Sensei   

January 12-16, 2012
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan
Register for Aikido Bridge Seminar 
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego  

— 2011 —

October 7-9, 2011
Mary Heiny Sensei
Aikido of San Diego  

September, 2011
Mitsugu Saotome Shihan
Redlands Aikikai 

September 11, 2011
Aikido In Focus: Aikido, Fear, and Freedom, Dave Goldberg Sensei
Aikido of San Diego  

Summer, 2011
Jo (Staff) Seminar, Chetan Prakash Sensei
Redlands Aikikai  

July 15-17, 2011
Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego  

July 9, 2011
My 3rd Kyu Exam
Video of my 3rd kyu exam, on YouTube
Aikido of San Diego, Dave Goldberg Sensei  

June 12-18, 2011
CAA Aiki Summer Retreat (Nadeau, Doran, Ikeda, Heiny, & others)
Aiki Retreat Fan SiteMenlo College, Atherton, CA  

 Feb 18-21, 2011
Gasshuku, Patrick Cassidy Sensei
Aikido of San Diego 

January 13-17, 2011
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego  

January 3, 2011
Special New Year Training with Dave Goldberg Sensei,
and instructors Mike Coit, Megan Palm, and Lloyd McClellan 
Aikido of San Diego 

January 2011
Dojo Projects
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Service and Community 

— 2010 —

November 13, 2010
My 4th Kyu Exam
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuGsMi4MhOQ 
Post: To 4th Kyu & Beyond

October 24, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop, Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “How am I limiting myself / getting in my own way?”
[My focus: Over extending.]
Aikido of San Diego
Post: How am I Limiting Myself?  

September 24-26, 2010
Seminar with Mary Heiny Sensei
Aikido of San Diego
[Helped with seminar logistics. “Tetsudai.”]

July 12, 2010
First day of training at new location (6356 Riverdale St. 92120)

Month of July, 2010
Several Work parties at the new and old locations.

May 22, 2010
Spring picnic at Santee Lakes

May 3, 2010
154 total training days. Just interesting trivia. 

April 9-11, 2010
Seminar with Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego 
A Flickr slideshow of my seminar photos  

March 21, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “Putting the Free in Freestyle”
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Body, Border Collies, & Beer 

February 6, 2010
My 5th Kyu Exam
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bhlXh91Ksg 
Post: 5th Kyu Test Tomorrow
Post: Thoughts on My 5th Kyu Test
Post: More thoughts – What I Meant 

January 31, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “Ukemi”
Aikido of San Diego

January 23, 2010
Community service project with Aikido of San Diego
Fire clearance work day at the Unity Center Ranch (where our retreats are held)

January, 2010
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan 
Plus guest instructors: Wilko Vriesman, Francis Takahashi, Morihiko Murashige Shihan
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego
Post: How To Go To Your First Big Seminar
Post: Great Trip, Happy to be Home  
On AikidoBridge.com: Article, with photos, by Frank Richardson

— 2009 —

December 15, 2009
My first column for The Mirror, on AikiWeb.com
“Learning By Feel" 

September 11-13
Annual Fall Retreat, with Kayla Feder & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Unity Center Ranch, Descanso, CA
[Mostly weapons and meditation.] 

September 19, 2009
My 6th Kyu Test
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR4eKhpRXE
Post: Studying for 6th Kyu Exam
Post: Reflections at the 1st Milestone
Post: Comments After My Exam 

August 30 (?), 2009
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: "Relax, It’s Aikido”
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Don’t Push So Hard Against the World 

July 24-26, 2009
Seminar with Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Getting to the Nadeau Seminar

July 8, 2009
10th training day 

Mid-May through June, 2009
Of the mat with a shoulder injury (separated AC joint)
Watched classes 1-2x/week 

May 5, 2009
My first day of training
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Introduction 

Congratulations to everyone who tested today!

Here’s my 4th kyu exam. Plenty of hiccups and room for improvement, but I’ll take it. There’s always 3rd kyu, and 2nd, and … ;-)

Many thanks to Dodge and Jay for being my ukes, to Bill and R.A. for being such helpful and dedicated training partners, to Yuumi, for lots of jiyuwaza practice, to Jason Lim for being our mentor, and to Dave Goldberg Sensei. <rei>

Video, and generous moral support, by Michael Eskin. :-)

One of the aspects of Aikido we are constantly exploring is that if an attacker or body does not perceive a threat (such as a strong grab or hard block) they will naturally not react defensively (or at all). Staying relaxed and soft can help the other person become relaxed and soft, too.

This football play is a great example of this idea in action. The guy with the ball doesn’t tuck his head and charge through the line, instead he walks through like he has no place special to be. It’s so soft, relaxed, and casual the whole opposing team fails to perceive the threat – until he starts to run, and then it’s too late. Freaking brilliant. (And legal, too.)

To 4th Kyu & Beyond!

My exam for 4th kyu is one week from today. I’m excited, and starting to feel almost ready. I have gotten so much from my practice these past few months, and have been having a blast training.

Several of us who will be testing have been on the mat 4 to 5 days a week lately, staying late to train together after class, helping each other and working with our mentor, who has his hands full between me and two 3rd-kyu candidates. I’ve got a jump on the 3rd kyu test, at least, when I eventually get there! I’ve being doing ukemi for them when I can, and going through all the jo and bokken suburi that are on their test (mine are a subset of theirs). We’ve all learned and grown a lot together, and gotten closer as friends, too.

I am mentoring someone for the first time, too. She will be testing for 6th kyu, and I will be her uke. She is a joy to work with, and I’m looking forward to her test!

Since my 5th kyu exam in February I have trained 143 days (so far), helped with moving the dojo to our really nice new location, trained in two seminars – Robert Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei – and assisted with the logistics of the latter. I’ve participated in two Aikido In Focus workshops with Sensei, watched a lot of exams, and enjoyed several dojo parties. I’ve gotten more comfortable with working with brand-new beginners, doing my best to provide ukemi that lets them get the feel of techniques – or at least doesn’t get in their way. I’ve been having way too much fun practicing my first breakfalls. Woohoo-whoosh-thump!

Because it’s a question a lot of people ask, yes, there is a colored belt associated with 4th kyu: Blue. There is no universal meaning to belt colors in Aikido. At our dojo 6th-5th are white, 4th-3rd are blue, and 2nd-1st at brown. Until just a couple of years ago our dojo went with the more traditional white for every rank until you get to shodan (first black belt). But it’s helpful, especially for brand new students who don’t know everyone yet, to have some indication of the level of proficiency of the person they are working with. 

Rank for its own sake is not important to me. I will be the same person, doing my best (and screwing up, too), no matter what. But rank sometimes does have its privileges; 4th-kyu students and up can participate in the advanced classes on Monday and Thursday nights. I’ve been watching them lately, sometimes glad I have the luxury of just observing, but more often itching to get out there and play, too. Soon… :-) On Monday, November 15, actually. Not that I’m counting. ;-)

The months ahead are full of even more exciting things!

In December we will have a student doing his shodan demonstration. I always enjoy training with him, and benefit from his feedback. He’s a lot of fun, doesn’t let me get away with ineffective technique, and he’s strong as an ox. He’s also 73. He has a few limitations, but does not let them stop him or ruin his fun. He has been training his butt off lately. I wanna be like him when I grow up!

In January I will be training in the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar for the second time. It’s 5 days with Ikeda, Tissier, and Doran Shihan, plus several guest instructors. I really enjoyed it last time, and met a lot of very nice people – many of whom I’ve keep in touch with on Facebook throughout the year. I am looking forward to seeing then again, and meeting others, too.

In February Patrick Cassidy Sensei from Aikido Montreux in Switzerland will be coming to Aikido of San Diego over the Presidents Day weekend. I’ve heard only great things about his teaching! He comes to our dojo about once every other year, and I just missed him when I started training 18 months ago. So this will be my first time getting to train with him.

March through May are blessedly quiet. Time to just train. Get into a steady rhythm and let it all settle in. Play with Rainy the horse more as the days get longer, and maybe build those raised veggie and herb gardens I keep promising myself.

In June I am planning to go to the 35th Annual Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo Park for the first time. It is a week-long live-in camp at a college – Sunday evening through Saturday morning! The dates & instructors aren’t up yet, but last year it was in mid-June, with Ikeda, Doran, and Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei as a guest teacher. If you’re going to be there, drop me a note, although I’m sure we’ll meet each other in any case. If you’re from Aikido of San Diego, think about going! People from our dojo, including Sensei, have gone before, and I’d love to get a group together for this year. It’s a cheap vacation, and a heck of an opportunity.

Whew… That’s what’s on the horizon. Fun times ahead. Lucky me. :-)

If I don’t post again before my test it’s because I’m busy training. Or icing things. Or stretching. Or sleeping. Or drilling myself on the names of the weapons techniques so I don’t forget them under pressure. And trying to remember to go to the wrist, the wrist, the wrist, not the elbow, in nikyo ura. Oh yeah, and breathing. In other words, having entirely too much fun.