PHOTO – We’re All On The Same Side

This month’s posts are part of a series of 26 posts, Aikido from A to Z, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag


Since the A-to-Z Challenge takes Sundays off, here’s a nice thought to keep you going until Monday.

A friend recently referred to Aikido as a “sport.” I don’t consider it a sport. There’s no competition, we don’t play against anyone, there’s no winning or losing – plus there’s a strong philosophical side to the art. But it does involve vigorous physical activity – getting sweaty and out of breath. It teaches us to use our bodies well, and to take care of them. So it’s kind of like a sport in some ways.  Then this idea came to mind: “Aikido – The team sport where everyone is on the same side.”

Aikido - The team sport where everyone is on the same side

History – How Aikido Came Into Being

This is the eighth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


H is for History.

There are many excellent books and web resources covering the history of Aikido in great detail. I will list several at the end of this post. Here I’m going to give a very brief overview, and a few special bits that I find particularly interesting.

A very (very) brief overview of Aikido’s history:

Morihei Ueshiba [more-ee-HEY oo-ay-SHE-bah] (1883-1969) founded the art of Aikido. We refer to him as O Sensei, meaning great teacher.

Ueshiba was descended from samurai, and his family was well off. He was a small, sickly kid who got picked on, so he took up sumo wrestling. At about 20 he joined the military, and served during the Russo-Japanese War. After his military service Ueshiba trained in several martial arts.

In 1912, Ueshiba led a group of settlers to Hokkaido, to begin a farming community there. It was on Hokkaido that he met the formidable martial artist Takeda Sokaku, and began training in the powerful art of daito-ryu aiki-jujutsu.

During this time he also begin studying under the spiritual teacher, Onisaburo Deguchi, a leader in the Omoto religion. Deguchi had a strong influence on Ueshiba’s development of Aikido. A central teaching of Oomoto-kyo is “harmonious alignment with all life and the universe,” and this is reflected in Aikido today.

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“… Aikido is different from all previous martial arts. Its sole purpose is to experience universal truth in one’s own body and spirit.
I ask all of you to explore the spiritual dimensions of Aikido.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba (O Sensei)
The Heart of Aikido – The Philosophy of Takemusu Aiki

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

During World War II, Ueshiba moved to Iwama, a small, rural town, to settle down as a farmer, and soon built his own dojo there. The Iwama dojo is still active.

O Sensei changed the name of his art several times, finally arriving at “Aikido” after World War II. He also changed the way of practicing the art to be safer, and accessible to more people. While some martial artists are secretive about their art, only passing it on to a select few, O Sensei purposefully promoted Aikido and encouraged teachers to spread it around the world. A few of these direct students are still teaching today, and many of their students are senior practitioners with their own dojo, continuing to pass the art along.

Some particularly interesting bits:

These are some random pieces of the story of O Sensei and the history of Aikido that I personally find intriguing.

  • Young Morihei did not care for school, and quit early. He has been described as restless. (I suspect that in our current culture he would have been diagnosed as having ADHD, and would have been medicated into compliance.) As a young man he tried his hand at a few business ventures, but that was not his thing either.
  • At several times during his life Ueshiba engaged in farming, and at one point headed a group of settlers who started an agricultural community on the island of Hokkaido. “O-Sensei’s move to Iwama was prompted by his long held belief that ‘the true martial path is like unto agriculture, both originate in the life giving power of Takemusu Aiki.'” (Source)
  • In 1902, he married his childhood friend, Hatsu. When Morihei died in 1969, Hatsu died two weeks later.
  • Ueshiba wanted to join the military, but was rejected because he was too short. To lengthen his body he hung from tree branches. It worked, and when he tried again he was accepted.
  • Omoto-kyo, the religion O Sensei practiced, was founded by a woman, Deguchi Nao. Onisaburo Deguchi, O Sensei’s spiritual teacher, was her son-in-law.
  • Deguchi’s grandmother may have been the one who taught him the kotodama chanting that some Aikido people practice. (I cannot recall the source for this, but will update this post when I find it.)
  • Omoto-kyo, has used and supported the language of Esperanto, which was created to help people around the world communicate more easily with each other.
  • Ueshiba, along with Deguchi and a few others went to Manchuria and Mongolia in 1924 to spread Omoto-kyo. There they were arrested and almost executed. Over 100 others were shot, but they were released and sent back to Japan.

Want to learn more?

There are many very good books and web resources on O Sensei and the history of Aikido. Here are just a few I recommend:


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Grounded – Being Stable and Settled

This is the seventh in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


G is for Grounded.

Grounded. We toss the word around a lot. We say someone is really grounded, or that spending time in nature helps us feel grounded. But what is it, really? The dictionary will tell you it means emotionally stable, down-to-earth. That’s not a bad place to start.

One way to think about it is in terms of contrast. In my experience, the opposite of grounded is “in one’s head.” Flighty, scatterbrained, separate. Thinking about what’s going on with us instead of experiencing it. Head in the clouds, as opposed to feet on the ground.

We are generally happier, less reactive, and more effective, both on and off the mat, when we are present to our actual experience, feeling our way through, connected.

Grounded.

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“When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm. Take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on.”
~ LL Cool J

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Being grounded is a principle we embody in our Aikido training. We recently explored this in a workshop at the dojo. Some of the experiments that Sensei led us through demonstrated how we can be more powerful and stable, with less effort, when we are grounded. A basic exercise was physically easier when we simply brought our attention from our forehead to our lower belly – getting out of our head, and into our gut, moving from our center.

This is only one example of what grounding can do for us, and grounding is only one of the many embodied principles we focus on in Aikido. We train to be relaxed, confident, and direct, balanced, centered, and receptive, and we do so not by thinking about these as concepts, but through regularly training in their physical expressions. We build them into our bodies as qualities we naturally possess.

Want to try it out?

We’ve been rushing around, putting out fires and crashing toward deadlines all day. We find that we are chattering away in our minds, flitting from one worry to the next. We are wound up and uneasy. We can’t do our best work, or be present in the moment, in this state. We need to settle down.

Here is an easy sequence you can do to get grounded, anywhere, any time. Try it before returning a phone call to an angry customer, during a long, uncomfortable meeting, or after a stressful conversation. Allow at least one breath (in/out) per step:

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart.
  • Breathe steadily and naturally, without forcing or holding your breath.
  • Let your jaw and tongue be loose and soft.
  • Let your knees bend slightly, just so they are not locked.
  • Let your shoulders hang from your body without tension.
  • Visualize sand pouring down through your body, as it would in an hourglass.
  • Feel your feet connecting with the ground.

See if you find yourself feeling quieter and more relaxed now. You will likely be able to respond calmly and fluidly from this state. You may even find that those around you start to seem more settled, too.

Practice this regularly, and you may find yourself more often and more naturally settling into a powerfully calm, grounded way of being.

Want to learn more about embodied practice?

Paul Linden Sensei, of Being in Movement, does a lot of work in the area of embodiment. He has some great videos demonstrating how our mental or emotional state influences our effectiveness, both in our Aikido practice and out in the world. Here is an excellent playlist of videos on Aiki Somatics with Paul Linden:


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Fun – Vibrant and Joyful Training

This is the sixth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


F is for Fun.

What? Fun? Really?

Yes! Training in Aikido can be a blast!

Right from the beginning, even though the newness can be awkward and frustrating, you will start waking up to how your body works and responds. You’ll begin to feel a connection with others that we don’t often get to experience in normal, daily life. You’ll start to remember what it felt like to play and tumble as a kid, and wonder why you ever forgot about that.

Once you gain a little proficiency in basic techniques, and in falling and rolling things can get more exciting. You can throw people, and they can throw you. Do you remember what it was like to be picked up, and tossed in the air? Or “flown” in circles like an airplane? It’s that kind of fun. There’s something magical in playing with someone who’s physically capable of moving you, and who can be trusted not to hurt you.

Sure, there are uncomfortable, frustrating times. There will be days when you can’t seem to get anything right. The thing you could do pretty well last week is gone again. You keep falling back on the same old habits of movement. Muscles will remind you that you are using them in new ways, and you will acquire some bumps and bruises. You will ask yourself why you ever thought this was a good idea. Taking up a martial art a your age! And in such bad shape, too. Whatever were you thinking?

But there will be moments when it just clicks. That spiraling feeling you’ve been trying to get right suddenly falls into place. The technique that’s been impossible for months starts to flow naturally. On the hundredth try a throw is suddenly effortless and smooth, and your partner grins up at you from the mat, wondering how they got there. And you’ll wonder, too, as you grin back.

Yes, Aikido is a rigorous practice. We train in matters of life and death. We are not silly or careless on the mat. But the founder was clear that training should be spirited and enjoyable.

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“Always practice the Art of Peace in a vibrant and joyful manner.”
~ Morihei Ueshiba – O Sensei
The Founder of Aikido

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Playtime for grownups.

This may seem irreverent, but to me the dojo is, in this context, like a dog park for people. We get all excited about going there, then roughhouse and roll around, playing on the mat with our friends.

Play is something we don’t get enough of as adults. When was the last time you rassled with a friend? Played tag? Did a somersault or a cartwheel? Has it been a while? What’s with that? When did we get the message that we must quietly sit at our desks, in our cars, and on our couches, moving only in the purposeful pursuit of “exercise” (blecch), yard work, or maybe organized sports? What ever happened to moving freely, for fun, with our friends? Was it fear of injury? Of looking undignified? Or simply lack of space and opportunity? Whatever the reason, for many of us it has been years, possibly decades since we’ve engaged in any physical play, and that’s a shame.

The dojo isn’t like the rest of the world. Here we are encouraged to step out of our comfort zones. We can move in new ways, breaking out of habitual patterns. We can set aside the security of our usual limits, and try on new ways of being. Both the culture and the physical space support this playful freedom of movement and expression. There is room to stretch ourselves, and reach out. Like being in water, the mat lets us push our limits safely.

Fearless and free.

Our training, starting with our first classes, includes jiyu-waza [GEE-yoo-WAH-zah], or free technique. When we practice this, our partner comes at us, over and over, with new attacks (of a type and speed appropriate to our level, of course). We are not trying to execute specific techniques, but instead are feeling for what’s appropriate in the moment, and responding in a fluid, creative way. We may find ourselves doing things we’ve not learned or even seen before. Because we know how to move – in alignment with ourselves, our partners, and circumstances – things can unfold spontaneously.

At first it feels clumsy and maybe a little scary. As a writer I think in terms of analogies with language. To me it felt like taking the mic at a poetry jam in a foreign country where I only knew enough words to get by. How in the heck was I supposed to fire off an awesome poem or rap when I could barely ask where the restroom was?

We usually start by trying to figure out which technique to use for this or that kind of attack, and we find ourselves getting stuck because we don’t know what to do. Eventually we develop enough dexterity and confidence to let go of knowing and move into feeling.

I got to see this transformation happen recently with a friend at the dojo. Before, she would often try to think of a technique from her repertoire, a process that is too slow and cumbersome to be useful in this practice. But this day we were training together, playing with jiyuwaza, and she was doing brilliantly, moving without resistance, dealing with attack after attack, gaining confidence with each throw. At the end she said, with a big, breathless smile, eyes bright and wide, “I never knew that could be fun!”

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“The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be.”
~ H H Dalai Lama

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As you begin to let go of “trying to do stuff to your partner,” as Goldberg Sensei puts it, and instead settle into flowing and blending together, everything gets easier. You’ll connect with the ground, with your own structure, and with your partner, relaxing into the movement. Things will flow naturally. Your partner will attack, and you’ll just move, letting your body find the least-resistant response. The strikes will miss you, and your partner will go flying.

When you are the attacker, you’ll begin to trust in your ability to take care of yourself. As you gain experience with falling safely and rolling out of increasingly powerful throws you’ll become less hesitant, more bold. You’ll be able to attack with greater commitment because you know you can handle whatever your partner does in return.

These lessons seep into your life outside the dojo, too. You’ll learn to be direct without fear, and to respond powerfully without hostility, trusting yourself to handle any outcome. When we can approach life with this kind of freedom and courage, lots of things get to be more fun.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Elephants and Blind Men – Aikido Is An Elephant

This is the fifth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


E is for Elephant.

I have trained with many students and instructors from a variety of lineages, and read or listened to many more. Each one sees Aikido from a different perspective. For one, Aikido might be primarily a tool for defending one’s self from muggers and rapists. For another, the purpose of Aikido is to protect all beings  For yet another, Aikido is a moving form of meditation, cultivating our presence and attention.

Some appreciate the health benefits of strenuous physical activity, the challenge of rolling and falling gracefully, and the camaraderie of getting sweaty with friends. Others love the philosophical side, seeing that we all one human family, and learning that we really can be compassionate, even toward someone attacking us. Still others appreciate the worldwide community focused on peacemaking, non-violent communication, and conflict resolution.

Some love the never-ending pursuit of mastery that comes with continuously refining technical skills that have been passed down, unchanged, from teacher to student. Others see Aikido as an ever-changing art, expanding and evolving over time, and are excited to be part of creating this future direction.

The One True Way

Sometimes you’ll find that people can get stuck in one of these views, as sure as can be that theirs is the correct interpretation of Aikido. In my experience, each of these perspectives can be valid in its own way, and can contribute to a more complete understanding of the whole.

Although Aikido people generally are open-minded and accepting of a wide range of ideas, it’s surprising how testy these debates can get. One side is positive the other’s approach to teaching or training will destroy the art with their new ideas. The other equally certain that the first is misguided in their dedication to the preserving the past, as though Aikido were a museum piece.

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“As soon as you concern yourself with the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weaken and defeat you.” 
~ Morihei Ueshiba, O Sensei – the Founder of Aikido
The Art of Peace

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You will hear some claiming that another’s Aikido would not work in a street fight, while the other feels the first is totally missing the point of O Sensei’s spiritual intent for the art.

There are even schools that participate in competition, something the founder explicitly denounced, but their reasoning for it seems to be well intended. And of course there are many who condemn this competition as contrary to the central principles of Aikido.

Aikido is an Elephant.

Have you heard the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant? In this tale a group of blind men examines an elephant by feeling it with their hands. Each one is feeling a different part, and comes to a very different conclusion about what this thing called an “elephant” might be.

The man feeling the elephant’s sturdy, upright leg declares that an elephant is like a tree. The one at the tail end is sure an elephant is like a rope. Another, feeling the trunk, is convinced that an elephant must be something like a large snake.

One man, feeling a tusk, is certain the others have lost their minds, because an elephant is obviously nothing like a tree, rope, or snake, but is more like a spear, long and sharp. Still another, feeling the elephant’s broad, flat side can tell, plain as day, that an elephant is most definitely like a wall. The poor guy feeling the elephant’s thin, flat, gently flapping ear can’t understand what his friends must be thinking, because surely it should be obvious to anyone that an elephant is like a fan.

Their different experiences have lead them to apparently conflicting views on what an elephant is. They are each wrong, but together they are right. An elephant is indeed like all these things. The perceptions are not exclusive – together they make up a more complete impression of the whole elephant.

Aikido is like this. The different perspectives – seeing Aikido as anything from a fun, healthful physical activity, to a serious martial art with devastating power, to a practice of peace that can unite humanity – are all right.

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“Every perspective is true and partial. Everyone has a piece of the truth.” 
~ Ken Wilber

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More perspectives on Aikido 

Here are just a few more ways of looking at Aikido:

  • Aikido is an effective martial art for protecting one’s self and others – including the attacker.
  • Aikido is physically challenging – developing strength, balance, posture, flexibility, and endurance.
  • Aikido is moving meditation – a practice in being aware and awake.
  • Aikido is the continuous pursuit of mastery.
  • Aikido is a way to examine how we interact with others.
  • Aikido is a means of developing ourselves.
  • Aikido is fun, exciting, rough-and-tumble play.
  • Aikido is a worldwide community of friends and teachers.
  • Aikido is a healthful practice that promotes fitness, and mental well-being.
  • Aikido is learning how to fall safely, minimizing risk of injury throughout life.
  • Aikido is helpful in recovering from past trauma / PTSD.
  • Aikido is useful in law enforcement, health care, and mental health contexts.
  • Aikido is the embodiment of principles of non-competition, non-resistance, and compassion.
  • Aikido is learning to be comfortable with conflict, and to resolve it without violence.
  • Aikido is great for kids, seniors, young people, and middle-aged, tall or short, big or small, fit or not.

It is important to remember that these perspectives are not exclusive. Aikido is a philosophical practice, and a fun way to stay fit. Aikido is an authentic martial art with deep roots, and a great way to meet nice people. Aikido is a mirror in which we can see ourselves more clearly, and a system of joint locks and pins.

Which Aikido is right for you?

If you are thinking of finding a dojo and training in Aikido, you will see that different teachers emphasize different perspectives. So how do you choose the right school or teacher for you?

I would not say that you should look for a teacher who focuses on what you think you want to learn. Frankly, as a new student you don’t know yet what is really available to you. What I have gotten out of my training so far is much broader than what brought me into the dojo at the beginning.

What is important is to find a teacher and a dojo community you can trust. One with solid technical proficiency, knowledge of the philosophical side of the art, an open mind, and a good heart. Train for a few years, at least, and then you will begin to see the bigger picture of what Aikido has to offer you.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Dojo -The Place of The Way

This is the fourth in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


D is for Dojo.

The place where we practice Aikido is called a dojo [DOH-joe]. Like the word “church,” “dojo” refers to a physical space, and also to a group of people who share important values, ethics, and commitments. Some dojo (plural is the same as singular) have permanent facilities, and some hold classes in community centers or other multi-purpose spaces.

An Aikido dojo is a transformational space.

The word “dojo” is usually translated as “the place of the way.” You could think of it as roughly being a school, although there’s more to it than that. It is a dedicated place for intensive training, study, and personal development. A place to not only learn the technical how-tos of techniques, but to practice a way of being. We treat the dojo with reverence.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“The dojo – because some things can’t be found on the Internet.”
~ Linda Eskin (me)

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The dojo is a place to discover and develop ourselves. We learn through physical training to be grounded and responsive, assertive and compassionate. We are rigorous and committed in our training, but not stern or grim. Aikido classes can be philosophical, vigorous, challenging, supportive, and fun, often all at the same time. We train with quiet, focused attention, but there’s also a lot of smiling and laughing at the dojo.

Take a look inside.

Our facility at Aikido of San Diego is a good representation of a typical Aikido dojo.

When we enter we pause and bow, taking a moment to recognize that we are stepping away from the outside world for a while to focus on our practice. There is a small area with wooden shelves just inside where we remove our shoes, both for the sake of not tracking in dirt, and out of respect for the space. You will see Sensei’s desk, two changing rooms, and a restroom. Near the mat there’s a small utility room for storing equipment and cleaning supplies. There is an area with chairs for people who come to watch class, and for parents to be comfortable during the children’s classes.

Then there’s the mat. A vast expanse of firm, smooth blue mat that stretches from wall to wall, and all the way to the back, where a roll-up door reveals a garden area. On the side walls there are weapons racks holding the wooden practice weapons we use in some classes.

At the edge of the mat we bow again, this time to the shomen [SHOW-men] – the front of the training area – a focal point of the space which includes a photo of O Sensei, the founder of Aikido. Then we step onto the mat to train. Before class we warm up, stretch, and greet our friends. When it’s time for class we sit together in a line facing the shomen, and Sensei or one of the other instructors begins the class with a bow to the shomen and to each other.

After training we bow out, seated in line again, and thank our partners. Then some of us grab brooms to sweep the mat. Others water the garden, put out fresh hand towels in the restroom, clean anything that needs cleaning, and vacuum the carpeted areas. Now the dojo is ready for the next day’s classes.

Differences and Commonalities 

In addition to the area for Aikido training, some dojo also have simple living quarters for students who come to live there and train, sometimes for weeks, months, or even years. A few have water features, areas for meditation and tea ceremony, private offices, additional training spaces, or even vegetable gardens and koi ponds.

Whatever the form – folding mats at a rec center, or an elaborate compound with student housing and gardens – the spirit is the same. The dojo is a place to leave distractions behind and pay attention – to our bodies, our minds, and our partners. It’s a place to practice mastery and presence.

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If you would like to learn more about the Japanese martial arts dojo (not specific to Aikido), both the physical space and traditions, get this excellent and interesting book by Dave Lowry: “In the Dojo: A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts.” I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in martial arts.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Community – Evolving Together

This is the third in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


C is for Community.

Aikido students generally belong to a dojo, or school. When we start training we join the dojo, and pay membership dues. An Aikido dojo is not a typical business. We are not consumers, we are members of a community. We belong. It is ours.

We don’t just pay our dues, take our classes, and go home. Belonging to a dojo means becoming part of a committed group of people walking the same path. The dues cover basic expenses, like rent, cleaning supplies, and sometimes a modest (very modest, usually) income for the chief instructor. As students we also contribute to the success of the dojo with our time and effort – cleaning, assisting in kids’ classes, posting flyers, and so on. Occasionally we make material contributions, too, like a new entry mat, potted plants for the garden, or creating weapons racks. The dues keep the dojo open, but the members of the community keep it running.

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“RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.”
~ Sister Corita Kent
Some Rules for Students and Teachers

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If you are thinking of joining a dojo, you will probably consider the commute from your work or home, the class schedule, the condition of the facilities, and the qualifications of the sensei (the teacher, and usually the owner) and the other instructors. When you visit, notice the people training, too. You will become friends. You will train together several times a week, possibly for decades. You will watch their young families grow, see each other through rough patches, and possibly grow old together. The dojo will be a second family, or for some, a first one. These people will have a powerful influence on who you will become.

On the mat you will trust your partners to not damage your body when you are vulnerable in pins or join locks. You will work together to safely practice striking and parrying with wooden weapons. Off the mat you will share meals, travel together to seminars, cry on each other’s shoulders, and celebrate milestones that have taken you years to achieve.

It takes a village.

We grow together. When preparing for tests, several members in our dojo have mentioned the saying “it takes a village to raise a child,” saying that they feel like they’ve been helped by everyone in the dojo as they refine their execution of techniques, discover new aspects of themselves, and step up to the next level in their training. Experienced students help newer students in class, and mentor them for exams. Senior students often lead classes, learning to teach and improving their technical knowledge along the way. Less experienced students come to open mat sessions to help others prepare for exams by giving their partners attacks (strikes, punches, or grabs) from which to practice techniques, or sometimes just to provide support. We offer feedback, work through the confusing bits, and encourage each other. There is no level where one is finished learning and developing. We watch our teachers grow as well, through their own practice and through teaching us.

We are all in this boat together, and all rowing in the same direction.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

PHOTO – Aikido is Active Fun for Kids

This month’s posts are part of a series of 26 posts, Aikido from A to Z, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag


Since the A-to-Z Challenge takes Sundays off, here’s something fun to keep you going until Monday.

Kids need to move, run, and play. In children’s Aikido classes they learn to work together, in and active, positive, fun and challenging environment. Here’s a spirited scene from one of our recent children’s Aikido classes.

Some active fun in the childrens Aikido program

Beginner’s Mind – The Power of the Empty Teacup

This is the second in this series of 26 posts, one for each letter of the alphabet, that I am writing during the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016. You can find all the posts, as they are published throughout the month, by following the A-to-Z April 2016 tag.   


B is for Beginner’s Mind.

There’s a long story that ultimately gets around to someone continuing to pour tea into an already-full teacup. The tea runs over the sides and is wasted. The lesson is that when we are hanging onto what we already know, there is no possibility of learning something new.

From this story you will hear the expression “Empty your teacup.” To learn, we must be willing to make room for new ideas. This open, inquisitive state is called “Beginner’s Mind,” or in Japanese, sho-shin.

There is no power in already knowing. In Aikido we practice the same techniques over and over, year after year. There is always something new to discover in them. I help in the children’s classes at the dojo (Aikido of San Diego), and it’s hilarious – although I’m careful not to laugh – to hear a new white-belt kid say, with an exasperated sigh, “I  already know this one! We did this last week.” Their teacup is full. They think the know all there is to know about the technique, so they mindlessly repeat it, hoping we’ll eventually get around to doing something more interesting. We all do this. We stop noticing, stop paying attention. We already know how things are, and that’s that.

So how can you empty your teacup?

I challenge the kids to consider that there might still be some hidden thing they haven’t noticed yet about the technique, and ask them to see if they can find it.

Keeping an open Beginner’s Mind is a good practice both on the mat and out in the world. Whenever you catch yourself thinking “Oh, this again,” pause and take a fresh look. Stay actively engaged with what you are doing. Ask yourself what about this situation could I be missing? What could I see in a different way? What does this teacher have to say that I have not heard from other teachers? What have I been assuming about this person that might not actually be so?

When something conflicts with your existing understanding, ask yourself if there is a common theme, a deeper layer, and overarching principle. Could there be some truth in both points of view?

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“The purpose of today’s training is to defeat yesterday’s understanding.”
~ Miyamoto Musashi
16th-17th century swordsman and author of “The Book of Five Rings”

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Beginner’s Mind is a sense of wonder, about skills, places, things, people, and even about ourselves. Practice it in all you do, whether learning Aikido techniques or talking to a friend, and you will find more depth and richness in your experience.

Want to learn more?

If you’d like to read more about Beginner’s  Mind, here is one of my early posts, Your Teacher is Always Right. The page I referenced above, about the teacup story, also has a lot to say about it.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”

Aikido – Practicing Harmony – A Good Idea for Bad Times

This is the first in a series of posts about Aikido that will continue right through the month of April – twenty-six posts, one for each letter of the alphabet. Most posts will be more concise; this introductory post won’t be typical. This series is meant to be an introduction to the art, and an exploration of some of the ideas that surround it. My intent is that anyone with even a casual curiosity will enjoy and benefit from these posts. Serious students are likely to find something of interest, too, of course!  


A is for Aikido.

What is Aikido [eye-KEE-doh]? This basic question seems like the most appropriate place to begin.

Aikido is a unique Japanese martial art. Instead of fighting, resisting, or blocking an attacker’s energy, we join with the attack and redirect it, often sending our attacker into a harmless fall or roll, or restraining them safely on the ground with a joint lock or pin. Aikido can be soft and flowing, or sharp and decisive. No matter the style, it is not an aggressive art. Fighting is never the goal of Aikido.

The result of training in this non-oppositional way is not only that we learn how to handle a physical attack, but we also come to see how we are in relation to others, and we learn how to handle conflict in other life situations. Aikido people around the world are involved in conflict resolution, non-violent communication, and peacemaking efforts.

In Aikido we train with our partners, not against them.

We train in a dojo [DOH-joe], or school, on firm mats. We practice together in pairs. One partner, uke [OOH-kay], acts as the attacker. The other, nage [NAH-gay] does the technique. Both partners, uke and nage, contribute to the successful outcome of the technique, uke by providing a meaningful, committed attack, and nage by responding to the attack with one of hundreds of possible techniques.

Aikido is meant to unite humanity.

Aikido was founded in about the 1940s by Morihei Ueshiba, often referred to as O Sensei, or Great Teacher. O Sensei combined his extensive experience in traditional arts with spiritual beliefs that humanity could be united and live in harmony. O Sensei died in 1969, but he taught many students. A few who trained with him for years are still with us, and are still passing his teachings on to their own students.

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“Aiki is not a technique to fight with or defeat an enemy.
It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.”
Morihei Ueshiba,  O Sensei

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We practice working harmoniously with others, and with circumstances.

The name Ai-Ki-Do means roughly “way or path of harmonizing or joining with universal energy.” People often refer to Aikido as “The Art of Harmony.” In our training we learn to be direct and clear, focused and relaxed, present and responsive to what’s actually happening in the moment, rather than reacting to our ideas about it, adding tension and fear to an already dangerous situation.

One goal of Aikido is to protect the attacker, too. This may sound ludicrous at first. If someone attacks you, why on earth would you try to protect them? Beat them to a pulp! They deserve it! But… What if it is someone who has lost control? What if it’s your friend being combative while having a bad reaction to a new medication? An elderly relative who has forgotten who you are and is coming at you with a frying pan? In the broader picture, anyone who is initiating an attack has lost control. While we have the ability to seriously injure a determined attacker if that’s the only thing that will stop them, we train so that we also have the ability to choose not to.

Things seem pretty bad right now.

The news presents us with terrible stories daily. Contentious talk shows and horrifying crime dramas, both of which feature the worst of humanity, have been airing successfully for decades. Much of the government is bought and paid for. The high cost of health care robs some of their future, ability to work, or even life. Education expenses chain students to decades of debt, and a degree doesn’t guarantee even an entry-level position. Jobs are shipped overseas, or cheaper workers are imported. Many people have given up on the vision of enjoying even a modest retirement. Foreclosed homes sit vacant while the homeless camp along sidewalks and under bridges. The poor are vilified. Politicians try to divide us, rile us up, and encourage us to blame each other for the situations we are in, while working to dismantle protections for workers, the environment, and the less fortunate. We cannot trust even our national or local government to be on our side. Incivility abounds, and contentiousness seems to be ratcheting up instead of deescalating.

Yes, there are also some great things going on now. There’s reason for hope and optimism. We have better access to information than ever before. New scientific breakthroughs are announced almost every day. People have an unprecedented ability to connect around the world. But we can’t overlook how bad some things are at the moment.

People feel powerless and angry.

In recent decades, something in our culture has shifted. We used to default to optimism and hope. We thought if we were honest, worked hard, and treated people fairly, things would turn out OK.

Now we are at a point where ordinary people – people who have been going about their ordinary business, attending school, working, raising kids, doing the laundry or raking the yard – are looking out at what’s happening around them and starting to notice that something has gone very wrong.

Positive, inclusive values are dismissed as “political correctness.” In some ways, we have become mean-spirited, with a rabid appetite for violence. Fighting, bullying, rude behavior, and fearful, hateful attitudes are common, celebrated as somehow being more “real.” It’s enough to make you want to hit something.

Fighting seems to make a lot of sense.

From the perspective that we are in constant danger, that no one is looking out for us, and that others are trying to take advantage of us, it makes some sense to learn to fight, to be tough, to beat others, and to win. It’s a way to regain some feeling of being safe and in control.

But in reality, that approach is like a child taking a stick from the yard with them to bed for protection. With their trusty stick they imagine they will rescue their parents from the rubble after an earthquake, fend off intruders intent on robbing the family, and scare away the monster that’s lurking in the closet. Their stick lets them feel safe and powerful, but in reality it won’t do much good, and might get them hurt.

Like keeping a stick at hand, becoming better fighters, being more aggressive, and using force more efficiently doesn’t help us. It keeps us locked in a dysfunctional system. We become stronger, shinier cogs in a fundamentally broken machine.

Aikido is a better alternative.

The skills we practice in Aikido, on the mat, help us learn to work with others when we are in conflict. We learn to settle down and listen, to see from another’s perspective, to feel what’s going on inside ourselves. We learn to perceive situations more clearly, less influenced by our thoughts or expectations, and to respond fluidly. We learn that we can care for others without sacrificing ourselves, and we learn that when we take a fall, we can pop back to our feet, still engaged with our partner. We learn to be trustworthy, and to trust, to work together for a good outcome. We also learn to laugh and play together, and support each other along the way. We learn that we succeed together, teachers and students alike. Indeed, we learn that even when attacked there is no enemy. We are not separate.

These things translate into who we are off the mat. Aikido makes us happier, more compassionate, more effective people, which in turn makes this a better world. Just as a few violent people can affect the life of a whole community for the worse, even a few enlivened, awake people living in harmony brings positive transformation to the culture as a whole.

Aikido is a path—a way to physically practice being in harmony and developing the inner qualities and outer behaviors necessary to move forward together. It is a good idea for these bad times.

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I hope you will come along as we explore some fundamental aspects of Aikido throughout the month, with topics from A to Z. Subscribe to the RSS feed, or find all the posts by clicking the tag #A-to-Z April 2016. If you are interested in training, you can find an Aikido dojo in your area on AikiWeb. If you are in the San Diego area, come visit! I train with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego.


Linda Eskin is a writer, Aikido student, personal trainer, horse person (with a pet donkey), and former software/web industry professional (tech comm and UX). She is currently completing two books for students of Aikido, one for children and one for adult beginners. Linda trains with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego, in California, and holds the first black belt rank, sho-dan. Sho-dan literally means “beginning rank.”