Enjoy Reading This Post.

“Breathe in, and enjoy breathing in." 
"Breathe out, and enjoy breathing out.”

Patrick Cassidy Sensei, from Aikido Montreux, was here teaching a seminar recently. While instructing us in an ukemi exercise he told us to do something (basically a way of rolling around smoothly on the mat), and then he added the instruction to “enjoy doing” what we were doing.

Huh…

Until that moment I had seen enjoyment as a passive thing that might or might not happen, depending on the circumstances.  But he presented enjoyment as a deliberate, volitional act. “Enjoy doing this.”

It’s something I’ve been exploring since: Enjoy driving to work. Enjoy washing your hair. Enjoy pulling weeds.

I was reminded of it this morning, when Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, was leading a meditation at the Plum Village Online Monastery, and gave the instruction above, about breathing.

Enjoy.

Every day we slaughter our finest impulses. That is why we get a heart-ache when we read those lines written by the hand of a master and recognize them as our own, as the tender shoots which we stifled because we lacked the faith to believe in our own powers, our own criterion of truth and beauty. Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, to discover what is already there.

~Henry Miller, Sexus

(via Roos View, on Facebook)

Ten Ways to Help Out at the Dojo

As a member of the dojo community we often want to make a contribution in some way. As a beginner there’s often precious little we can do. We can’t teach. We often don’t know enough to jump in and take on dojo projects. But there are little ways we can help out. Keeping the dojo nice is one way any of us can do a little something.

Sometimes we don’t notice the little details because we are looking at them all the time. And sometimes we just don’t know what do. Here are some ideas. They will of course vary between dojo. Check with your dojo cho, sensei, or sempai before taking on anything too risky (like painting the walls a new color!). These things are probably pretty safe ways to pitch in:

  1. Pick a small area that doesn’t get cleaned often, and take it on. Like a cabinet, or the strips along the walls that daily vacuuming doesn’t get.
  2. If you have a green thumb, pull weeds, deadhead the old flowers, prune what needs pruning, or maybe bring a few plants to fill in gaps in the landscaping.
  3. Wipe down the door jambs or baseboards.
  4. Wash the windows. Or just one window. Clean the mirrors.
  5. Seek and destroy all the cobwebs! Escort the spiders outdoors and turn them loose.
  6. Take the rags and towels home, wash and fold them, and return them.
  7. Take the rugs outside (far away from any open doors) and beat the dust out of them.
  8. Clean out the refrigerator, or the microwave.
  9. If you have dressing room curtains, vacuum the dust off them.
  10. Tidy up a closet or supply cabinet.

Taking care of your space is a small but meaningful way to support your dojo community. Make it a moving meditation, an act of gratitude, and enjoy.

Ten Tips for Your First Weapons Class

When I first started in Aikido weapons held no fascination for me at all. I never watched Samurai movies. I was not fascinated by Ninjas. OK, so yeah, I had a throwing star years ago, but that’s about as far as it went. I wasn’t planning on training with weapons at all, in fact. And then one time I had my days mixed up, and ended up in a weapons class by accident. And I loved it. Go figure.

Weapons training can help us understand open-hand techniques better, and helps develop better alignment and grounding. At our dojo we can start training in weapons right away. The classes are not reserved for advanced students. In fact one student recently did the weapons class as his very first-ever Aikido class, and he did fine.

Weapons work can seem mysterious There’s more confusing etiquette and tradition to figure out, and even more new words to learn. Plus there are people swinging sticks at you! It can be a little intimidating. So if you’re thinking about trying weapons classes, but are a little nervous about the whole thing, take heart, you will do just fine. Here are ten tips to help you jump in:

  1. In my experience at our dojo, just before class the instructor will announce which kind of weapon you will be using. The long straight ones are “jo” and the shorter curved ones are “bokken.” The little ones in the basket on the floor are “tanto.”
  2. Most dojo have some school weapons, that anyone may use. If you aren’t sure which are OK, ask. At Aikido of San Diego these are marked “ASD” on the end. The rest of the weapons belong to other students. At another local dojo there are separate racks for “public” and “private” weapons. In general, don’t mess with other people’s weapons. Another student will be happy to help you pick one out if you aren’t sure what to do.
  3. What I have seen people do most often is a standing bow toward the shomen, holding the weapon horizontally in front of them, when they step onto the mat, and when they step off the mat after class. At your dojo people may do seated bows. Keep your eyes open and follow the example of the senior students.
  4. Be very aware of what’s going on around you whenever anyone is training with weapons, and watch out behind you when you are training. It’s easy to hit the wall when you raise a weapon to strike. Watch out behind and around other people when you are on the mat! We aren’t used to people doing things behind themselves, or out to the side, but if you walk behind someone as they are coming around for a strike you could get clobbered.
  5. Notice where others place their weapons before and after bowing in (to their left or right), and how other students hand weapons back and forth with their partners (horizontally? vertically? with a bow?) and follow their example. I recently went to a weapons seminar where nearly everything was done the opposite of what I’m used to doing. When in Rome, and all that!
  6. Control your weapon during training. Don’t throw or drop it by accident! It should probably go without saying, but… No horseplay. Or Ninja/Samurai play, either. Be respectful and safe. These are real weapons and they can cause real damage.
  7. It’s OK to rest the end of your jo on the mat, but never use a jo or bokken to help you get up off the mat, and never lean on it for support. This puts permanent dents in the mat – especially with bokken that have a pointy end. Golfers won’t need to be told this. They know better than to use a club when getting up from the ground. Same idea, except in golf it’s the club that would be damaged. In Aikido it would be the mat.
  8. Never hit or touch someone with a weapon, even gently, when practicing. It’s rude. Always stop short of touching them.
  9. Stepping on or tripping over a weapon on the mat is an easy way to get injured. When we aren’t using our weapons for a few minutes during class (such as when only one partner needs to have a weapon), we put them down right up against the wall.
  10. Be alert to any local oddities, regardless of what you might have read or heard of as being “the correct way” of doing things. Some dojo have interesting little customs of their own. For instance, even though it’s not “normal weapons etiquette” to do this, when we are sitting and watching the instructor demonstrate a technique we often tuck our weapons around behind us, against the wall if there is in any danger that someone might step on them.

See? That’s not so bad. Pay attention, train safely, and have fun! 

In deciding who we are, we also decide who we are not. There are important parts of our selves that don’t fit the persona we try to show to the world. But like light and shadow, both make up the whole picture.

What qualities have we set aside? What is available there, that we’ve been afraid to bring out in the open? What gold is hiding in our shadows?

We’ll be using the context of Aikido to explore our shadows in one of Goldberg Sensei’s always intense and transformational Aikido In Focus workshops, “Aikido, Fear, and Freedom,” coming up on September 11, 2011.

I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with my shadow self.

These weapons are my 3rd kyu / 49th birthday gift to myself. They are from Kingfisher, where you have the option of having them inscribed with any of a zillion words or phrases. I can’t read them, but I hope the bokken, at the top, says spiritual forging, a primary focus in training. The tanto, at the bottom, says kindness, grace, or mercy, a reminder for dealing with attacks of all kinds. The jo, in the middle, says a dream that comes true, which is what Aikido is, for me.

p.s. The jo, the one in the middle, is upside down! Lucky for me Michael just gave me the book “Easy Kanji” for a birthday present. :-)