Contemplating What Stops People

Sensei is offering a new program at the dojo where I train (Aikido of San Diego) called Aikido 101. It’s a 5-week series of ten 90-minute classes, and the first session starts next week. I’m looking forward to playing with some brand new people just starting out. What a great opportunity to revisit the fundamentals with a fresh listening, not to mention the chance to work on improving my ukemi!

The course will provide a well thought-out curriculum of principles and techniques so participants get a broad overview that’s designed to introduce the basics. If it’s all they ever do, they’ll at least have a good beginner’s understanding of what Aikido is, and some fundamental skills. If they decide to continue, they’ll have a good foundation to build on.

A friend of mine asked me this morning “Looking for new experiences to enrich my life… Aikido 101 looks intriguing. Any input you’d like to share??” I was struck by her openness and curiosity. She’s understandably cautious, since she has some physical issues she’s concerned about, but she asked. She wondered. She allowed for the possibility that there might be value in it, and that she might be able to do it. Whatever she chooses, I appreciate and admire that about her.

Since I started training I’ve regularly invited friends to visit the dojo or participate in introductory programs we’ve offered. I’ve heard two kinds of responses from almost all of the people who decline – either they think they wouldn’t be capable of doing it, or they have a incorrect picture in mind of what Aikido is, and they aren’t interested in that. Both are so frustrating!

In the first group, I keep hearing folks say things like “I’m not very athletic,” “I’d need to get in shape first,” “I’m afraid I’d look stupid,” or “I’ve always wanted to try a martial art, but…” I hate to hear people limit themselves like that! I want to ask them what else they miss out on in life because of that kind of thinking. Getting past those voices telling them they can’t (or aren’t ready, or probably shouldn’t, or wish they could, someday, when the stars align just so…) might be the most important part of the course for these people. They might discover they have more potential than they thought. 

Something this new program offers that might nudge them off the fence is that it’s specifically intended for brand new beginners. Out of shape, uncoordinated, clueless, whatever… If they were afraid of looking stupid or not knowing what to do, or holding more advanced students back, they will be in exactly the right place. No more excuses. They don’t even have to wear a gi, and don’t have to join the dojo – just sign up and show up. 

From the second group I hear comments like “I’m not interested in learning how to fight,” “I took karate when I was 8, and I didn’t like it,” or “I wouldn’t like all that punching and kicking.” Aauuuggh! Frankly, I find this really annoying – a stubborn insistence on maintaining one’s ignorance. I’ve never heard anyone offering one of these reasons temper it with any hint of curiosity or glimmer of the possibility that they might not have all the information. Never “Isn’t that just like karate? I took karate as a kid and didn’t like it,” or “Is there fighting involved? I don’t think I’d like it if there’s fighting.” It’s like inviting a friend to try your favorite Thai restaurant with you, and they say “Oh no, I wouldn’t like that. Thai food is all really spicy, and I don’t like spicy food.” There’s no opening for learning more.

Like the first group, I wonder what else these folks miss out on in life because of this “cover-my-ears and ‘LALALALAALAA – I can’t hear you!!!’ refuse-to-listen” approach to the unfamiliar? They aren’t stupid people… I think they might actually be interested in participating if they knew what was available to them. I think it must be a subconscious defense, coming back to the same fear – that they might fail somehow, or embarrass themselves. They are afraid they don’t have what it takes, and rather than confront that possibility they turn their backs on opportunities that don’t feel comfortable. What else have they rejected with this reflexive, automatic “No, that’s not for me” reaction?  

In both cases, It saddens me to see people afraid to even give themselves a chance. I hope they eventually do something that puts a crack in that shell. Whether it’s trying Aikido, taking a painting class, learning to play a musical instrument, going backpacking… I hope they take a leap eventually, and do something that shatters their own perception of their limitations. 


Info and registration for the Aikido 101 course, if you know anyone in the San Diego area who might enjoy it, can be found here:


Moving Into 2014

2013 was a year of beginnings. Changing directions and laying foundations. It has been an exciting time. I started a lot of things, but I got stopped a lot, too.

I switched to working (very) part time for my employer, and launched my own publishing company. I wrote and published my first book. I meant to get a lot further with the next book I have planned, but writing got delayed by a few projects coming in from the day job, and then I lost momentum.

I started to put in a large vegetable garden area with raised beds. That was going well until two local cats chose to unexpectedly grace me with their litters of kittens within days of each other. For a few months entirely too much of my time (and money) was taken up with caring for them and trying to find them homes. Besides, I could not get the tractor out of the garage because we had one litter trapped in there while we tried to socialize them. By the time that adventure was over the ground was dry and hard, and hot summer weather had arrived. I accomplished nothing further on the garden, and it has been overtaken by weeds.

In the late summer I aggravated an existing problem with my left knee. Getting it back in good working order required minor surgery and a couple of months’ rest and rehab at the end of the year. So there were several weeks of discomfort, icing, physical therapy, and of course sitting out and watching classes.

It’s easy to look back on the past year and feel like I didn’t really get much done — like I was floundering a bit. Too many incompletions, too many distractions, and a few thwarted intentions.

But when I started thinking about it over the past few days I started to feel better about it. I did get a lot done, and setting things in motion is a kind of progress in itself.

I really enjoyed training through most of 2013. I tested for first kyu early in the year, and got to participate in several really special retreats and seminars. I feel like I have settled into training, like it’s not about the next test or the next seminar. Not that those things aren’t fun and worthwhile — they are — but every class is special, too. I don’t feel like I am striving or struggling… I guess how a marathon runner feels when they have gotten into a good rhythm they can keep up mile after mile.

I’m just starting back on the mat after my knee surgery. I am doing well, and thrilled to be able to participate again. I plan to be diligent about continuing the exercises my physical therapist gave me for my shoulders, neck, hip, and knee. Barring any new problems, I should be in good shape to get back to full training now.

Sensei has launched several new programs at the dojo, so this will be a full year with a lot going on. I am also planning to participate in a few outside programs. There won’t be any potential for boredom in 2014!

Assuming all goes well, I may be testing for shodan at some point later this year. Since my first kyu exam I have already been training with that in mind, and am glad to have the opportunity to train more intensively in preparation. I am looking forward to it, but don’t feel in any hurry.

One thing I completed in 2013 was a major revision of our dojo website. That was a valuable learning experience. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope it serves the dojo well for a long time. We have some new things planned throughout the year, but it should be easy going.

At home, I am starting the year with a half-completed garden area ready to finish over the winter. I have all the supplies on hand. And last year’s mother cats have both been spayed, so no kittens this spring! The garden should be ready for planting in time for summer crops.

I have all the knowledge, tools, and infrastructure that I need to write, format, and publish my next book. I already have a lot of the material written. I need to get it pulled together, write the remaining portions, and get it done.

In the past year I did not do as much blogging as I had wanted to. It was not for lack of material or inspiration — just the opposite. I was so often hit with so many ideas that I found it difficult to sit down and get started writing about any one of them at times. Now I plan to give myself permission to be more concise, and perhaps a bit more raw. I will try to err on the side of the blurting out a half finished but important observation, rather than keeping it on the shelf until I can express it exactly so.

Just a few weeks ago I started studying to be certified as a Group Fitness Instructor through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). It’s a self-paced program. I eased up on studies over the holidays, and am looking forward to getting back to it in earnest now. Movement, strength, and improved health have made such tremendous difference in my life over the past few years that I hope to be able to support others in experiencing similar transformations of their own.

In the background of all this, I am working to eliminate as many distractions and unfinished things hanging over my head as I can. In 2013 I began culling ruthlessly. I still have entirely too many things I do not use or need, so will be selling or giving away everything I can. We will be taking on some long-neglected home repairs and projects.

I feel the need for quiet, open space, with freedom to move and create. This year will be about focusing, simplifying, and completing. So far, so good.