Nidan Exam Prep – First Pretest

Tonight, December 14th, 2017, on the third anniversary of my shodan exam (first-level black belt), I did my first pretest for nidan (second-level black belt).

What a relief to have that behind me! It wasn’t good, but it is over.

It has been an intense and scattered couple of months. I’ve been training, and working regularly with senior students to prepare for my test, but I’ve lacked energy and focus. Between sporadic work and big personal projects, alarming political news, terrible firestorms, focusing on other people’s exams, prepping food for a potluck, dealing with a few minor injuries and illnesses of my own, and being concerned for a very sick friend, plus keeping up with all the usual chores, it’s been… Unsettling. Distracted. Hard. Whatever I was doing at any moment, it seemed I should be doing some other thing instead. I over committed in a few areas, got overwhelmed, and ground to a halt. My eating and workout habits went to hell, and just staying caught up on normal things was a struggle.

Then during the past week I was starting to feel like I was getting it together. I found some new jeans that actually fit, so replaced the old ones with the hems walked off and the threadbare seams. I started a fun, smart fitness support group online. I did some work I’d been putting off. Things were looking better.

Then yesterday I checked my calendar: “Acck! My pretest is tomorrow!” My gut tied itself into a knot. I thought I might actually throw up. Or cry. Or both at once. It was like one of those nightmares about finals week. I was not ready at all, and 24 hours was not enough time to get ready. I didn’t even have training partners lined up to be there! It’s not like it hasn’t been on the calendar for weeks – it has. I’ve just been paying attention to other things and the reality of the date being upon me hadn’t quite sunk in.

I dropped everything and got after it. I studied, which I haven’t done in ages. I watched my shodan exam video, and read my training notes. I deliberately took care to manipulate my physical, mental, and emotional states so I’d be on top of my game, such as it was. On the way to the dojo for classes yesterday I got my filthy car washed – the good $12 super wash, even. Everything feels easier when your car is clean. And I lucked out – the second instructor last night covered some of the techniques I most needed to work on.

Today I wrapped up work at noon, shut out the world (mostly), and studied some more. I organized in my mind (and in a Google Sheet) some techniques I could do in each section of the test. I refreshed my memory of a few techniques in detail, but had to entirely leave many for another day.

There were awful parts of tonight’s pretest, for sure. Mostly awful, really. Forgotten techniques, poor form, … I have no memory whatsoever for how the weapons partner practices go. They make sense when I work on them, and sometimes I can do them pretty well, but they don’t stick. (Sorry… stick pun not intended.) And kaeshi-waza (reversals)? Uggh! In that sense it was pretty disastrous. And I’m not just being humble. Seriously. As Mark Rashid might say, “Now you know how not to do it!” Indeed.

Thank goodness my exam isn’t for another two months. I’ll need every moment to get to where I need to be by February 18th, 2018. But now I have a much better idea of where I’m headed, and a road map for how to get there. While I’m mortified by tonight’s performance, I’m hopeful about being able to improve significantly on it.

The structure of the test – the order of things, how to approach each section – has been very fuzzy in my mind, which has made training in earnest challenging. My understanding of how it all should flow is very clear now, and I feel like the ground under my feet is more solid, so I can really dig in and get some good traction. I’m seeing the whole box-cover image for a jigsaw puzzle I’ve been working on in bits and pieces.

I know I’ve come a long way on a few qualities and habits I’ve been working on in training. I haven’t watched the video yet, but I had some specific goals for myself, and I think I improved quite a lot on those. Plenty more room for further improvement, of course.

And I’m very happy to have managed nearly everything around the pretest successfully. I often find myself floundering to get things done at the last minute, which puts me in a frazzled state of mind. Not this time. Here are some of the things I did right:

  • Created a special playlist of positive, high-energy music over the past few months.
  • Listened to my playlist at home while getting ready, and on my way to the dojo.
  • Kept from distracting myself with social media, news, and podcasts, and instead stayed actively engaged with going through the test in my mind.
  • Reviewed videos and my notes, especially where I had any question about a technique.
  • Wrote down an outline of the test, and started to fill in some details. (Should’ve done more, sooner.)
  • Any time I caught myself anticipating a horrible performance I tried to turn that mental energy toward positive visualization.
  • Avoided injury as best I could, and took care of any little things (bandaging cuts and scrapes, supportive wraps for an ouchy wrist, SMR for muscle cramps, etc.) right away so they wouldn’t get worse.
  • Got fuel yesterday so I wouldn’t have to stop on the way in today to gas up the car.
  • Picked up Gatorade yesterday, and left it in my car so I couldn’t forget it.
  • Cut all my nails short yesterday during a brief break in the action.
  • Went to bed at a reasonable time and got a decent night’s sleep. Well, half-decent. I was reasonably well-rested.
  • Made coffee in the morning, and drank just enough throughout the day to be “on,” without being hyper or frantic.
  • Ate a hearty, easy-to-digest lunch of an omelette with gluten-free bagel and cheese, and a handful of grapes.
  • Drank lots of water for the past two days.
  • Breathing is an issue. Started taking Sudafed (a decongestant) the day before. Took a full dose before leaving home so I’d have a chance of being able to breathe through my nose. Yes, I can breathe through my mouth, but there’s a certain level of underlying panic in the body when one can’t breathe freely. It’s not good for anything, and it sure isn’t good for staying centered during an exam.
  • Charged my phone (and power brick) early in the day, and cleared off space for video well before I had to leave.
  • Remembered to pack up a small tripod with iPhone mount so I could get video to review later.
  • Did my laundry with time to spare so I’d be able to wear my most comfortable gi.
  • Got showered and dressed a couple of hours early, and arrived at the dojo on time without rushing.
  • During class I made sure to train with some senior students so I could be practicing at the level appropriate for my pretest.

I had more energy and felt stronger and more focused tonight than I have in a long time. There’s lots more I could do, but those things all made a big difference today. It may not have been apparent to anyone else, but I felt the best I’ve felt in a while, in spite of being stressed out. I’m sure I’ll be adding to the list for next time.

Meanwhile, I’m exhausted, but energized and encouraged. Ready to get to work on more nidan exam prep. Well, tomorrow anyway. Maybe in the morning I’ll even wash all the dishes I’ve been ignoring in the sink. For now, I’m going to bed.



After a Firestorm

After a Firestorm
By Linda Eskin

Flat gray rings of former trees dapple the black hills.
Angry chainsaw growls and purposeful shouting replace the stunned silence.
A charred oak sounds like a truckload of lumber when it falls.
Front loaders and roll-off bins gather out of nowhere like vultures around a carcass.

Your home was spared, or it wasn’t.
Dozens of friends lost theirs.
Whole neighborhoods are just gone.

You will rebuild, or you won’t.
You may live in a trailer on your land for years.
You’ll deal with insurance, your architect, building permits, contractors,
Or take the money and move on.

Your neighbors will stay, or they won’t.
You will cry and laugh together.
We are OK, and that’s all that matters.
It was just stuff.
But it was your stuff.
Share a take-out meal at a folding table and tell your stories.

Everyone will have a story.
Trauma hammers memories into our minds. Vivid, indelible.
Everyone will tell you their story. They will need to tell it.
You will need to tell yours, too. You will tell it a hundred times.

One day next week a friend will venture onto a familiar trail.
They will see still-smoldering stumps and the remains of animals trapped by the flames.
They will see a panoramic vista where dense Manzanita and Ceanothus once grew.
They will see an ending, and a beginning.

One day next month it will rain, just a little.
The air will smell like water on a dying campfire.
Cold, wet ashes.

Then it will be dry again.
A strong wind will blow and the air will turn gray.
Not brown like smoke. Not white like fog.
Something you have never seen before.
Fine gray ash swirled up into the air.

The holidays will come.
They will be an inconvenience. Celebrations will be simple and sincere.
Someone will put up lights out of sheer defiance.
“The fire will not ruin my holiday spirit!”
Those who can will host dinners for displaced friends.

One day this winter it will rain, a lot.
With nothing to hold the soil the mud will flow into stream beds blocked by debris.
There will be warning of mudslides and flash floods.
You will stay out of low-lying areas.

Communities will go dormant.
The annual parade, the horse club fun show, the scout troop outing.
No one will have the time or energy.
The mailing list on someone’s computer will be lost, along with their house.
Decades of history, club records, newsletters, group equipment, supplies – all erased.
Like the Manzanita and Ceanothus in the hills,
And the scorched hedge by your driveway,
Some of these will sprout again from their seemingly-dead roots.
Water them when you can – the rituals and the hedge – they may come back.

Soon the light green of new grasses will appear on the hills.
Fresh 2x4s will outline walls and roofs of new homes.

Next year, in the fall, you will see a quality of light,
You will hear a siren or a shout, feel a dry, warm breeze.
Your gut will tighten and your breath will catch in your throat.
At first you won’t know why.
The year after that when it happens, you’ll know.

A decade from now the mountains will be green,
Alive again with meadows, deer, and tall trees.
Black Halloween skeletons of oaks will stand guard over the new growth,
As if to remind the exuberant youngsters of their mortality.

Many years from now, when you are old, mention the fires,
and someone will tell you their story.

Linda Eskin is a writer in San Diego County. She normally writes about the non-violent, non-competitive Japanese martial art of Aikido. Her blog, Grab My Wrist, is about connection, mindfulness, and the pursuit of mastery. She has been affected by several major wildfires, starting with the Kitchen Creek/Laguna Fire in 1970, and has assisted in large animal rescue operations.  You can read Linda’s story about the 2003 Cedar Fire here.

Fridays are for Writing

Fridays are for Writing

By Linda Eskin

Fridays are for writing!
Lay in snacks and coffee.
Clear the decks.
Lock the office door.
None shall pass!

Fridays are for writing.
But the cats are meowing,
And mustn’t starve.
Feed the cats.

Fridays are for writing.
But there’s that thing tonight,
And one mustn’t go naked.
Real quick, before you begin,
Start the laundry.

Fridays are only for writing, damn it.
But it’s hot as blazes,
And the yard is withering.
The trees mustn’t die.
Start the sprinklers.

Are you through yet?
Top off your cold coffee.
Close. The. Damned. Door.
Take a breath.
Fridays are for writing.

Mailboxes Versus Firestorms

Mailboxes Versus Firestorms
By Linda Eskin

After the flames are out,
You can go back and see.

Let yourself breathe again.
There’s no hurry now.

Your home may be standing
Or you may be standing in ashes.
Either way, it’s over.

If your home is gone,
If your neighborhood is gone,
If your mailbox is gone,
You have a job to do.

Go get a new mailbox,
And a sack of posthole cement.
Install it by the road,
Where your flowers were.

Do this first.

You’ll need your mail.
So much mail.
Insurance papers, government papers,
Official papers, important papers.

No mailbox, no mail delivery.
So put up a mailbox.

This is your stake in the ground.
I exist.
This is my place.
I will go on.

If you are able,
Get an extra one.
Put it up, too,
for your neighbor.

I’ve started a new weekly habit – Fridays are for writing. I was going to jot down a few notes tonight, to be ready to dive into my planned work for the morning: sharing my experience of what to expect in the weeks and months following a firestorm. Advice for my friends and others affected by the North Bay fires in Northern California. Instead, this tumbled out. It’s serious advice, actually, based on the experiences of many friends after the Cedar Fire in 2003. Please feel free to share.

How Is It Already August? (or, On Turning 55)

Last Tuesday we flipped the dojo calendar to the new month, and I or someone said something to the effect of “How is it already August?” That line has been rattling around in my brain for a week, gathering energy and ideas. Today is my 55th birthday.  Yesterday morning I woke up to all these random lines coalescing into a country/rock song, of all things. So I wrote it down. It doesn’t have much of a tune yet, except bits in my head. Maybe I’ll write it down one of these days. On reading it, it seems a bit depressing. But it’s more an urgent call to action. Hurry! There’s no time to waste.


How Is It Already August?
(or, On Turning 55)

By Linda Eskin

The calendar up on the kitchen wall
Shows it’s time to turn another page.

We wonder how the time can seem to crawl
Yet suddenly we reach a certain age!


I started the year
With big visions and goals.
And now those ideas all seem
Shot full of holes.

Months ahead seemed to be
Limitless and wide open.
Filled with potential,
As though I’d just woken.

We’d go camping and swimming,
Hang out with our friends.
Every week we’d go hiking.
The fun never ends!

But whatever happened to April and June?
We haven’t see rainfall in many a moon.
Solstice is past and the nights’ getting longer.
And I’d hardly noticed the heat getting stronger.

How is it already August?


I thought that by now
I’d be farther along.
I thought I’d be smarter,
I thought I’d be strong.

Meant to go for a hike,
Meant to go the beach.
And writing my books
Always seems out of reach.

Trading hours for money
Things get in the way.
If I want to get moving
Guess I’d best start today!

Good times in life don’t stand still ’til were ready
And while we’re distracted time’s progress is steady
At the beginning the year seemed so long.
I was just getting started, now it’s more than half gone.

And how is it August already?


I breathe in and it’s March
Let it out, it’s July
The months disappear
In the blink of an eye

The days fly by quickly
Like miles on a long drive;
We’re at 221
Out of 365.


We’re all getting old,
Living under the gun.
Now’s the time to be bold,
And start getting things done

Soon we’ll see pumpkins,
Then turkeys and elves.
But when the ball finally drops
We’re alone with our selves.

Whatever happened to the rest of the year?
Can you believe that we’re already here?
The high sun is bright and the hot days are long
But I’ve hardly found time just to write down this song

How is it already August?


The calendar up on the kitchen wall
Shows it’s time to turn another page.

Copyright © 2017, Linda Eskin. Please share freely by linking to this post. All other uses by written permission only.

Had enough? Join a dojo.

Find an Aikido dojo near you.

Have you finally had enough?

Do you need a break from the constant stream of contentious, terrifying news?
A refuge from the usual win/lose, zero-sum, us-versus-them thinking?

There’s a place to practice peaceful resolution of conflict,
to learn to keep your center while opening your heart.

A place to challenge your body, your mind, and your limiting beliefs,
to look inside, and see yourself in a whole new way.

A martial art – an embodied practice – where we train to evolve beyond fighting.
Beyond fighting each other.
Beyond fighting our circumstances.
Beyond fighting ourselves.

The inclusive, compassionate, and supportive community
of Aikido practitioners around the world
is waiting to welcome you.

Find an Aikido dojo near you today.

Please share this post or image freely, without modification/cropping. You may use it to promote your dojo or Aikido programs. This is entirely my own work, and I retain copyright.

Fitness, Food, Feet, and Frustration

Gaah. Back on track with fitness and eating habits. And off track. And on again. And off, and on… D’oh.

I’ve decided (again) to finally lose some extra pounds. I was at 179. My goal is to get to 159 by early November (a pound a week). I’ll be testing for nidan (second degree black belt) in late February if all goes according to plan, and it would be great to spend those last 4 months of intensive training in better shape, and with 20 fewer pounds to haul around. I’ve been logging everything for a week now and have dropped a few pounds already. I should do a “before” body composition DEXA scan, so I can see how much progress I’ve made later.

At the same time, my right foot has been bothering me. Hurting under the ball of the foot if I walk barefoot on a hard floor (the mat at the dojo is fine, thank goodness). It’s been going on at a low level for at least a year, but now my toes are going numb if I stand still for more than a couple of minutes, and I’m feeling buzzing/twitching in the surrounding muscles and skin. I do have peripheral neuropathy, but this isn’t that. I think I’ve got some nerve pinching going on.

Because of the PN I hate wearing closed shoes. They are so painful that I didn’t even make it out of the parking lot when we went to our big local fair last week before I turned around and went back to the car to switch to my flip-flops. Way better from the PN perspective – ahhh – but walking in them for 8 hours was probably not the best thing for the structural issue. So that’s been annoying. I’ve been limping, holding tension, and compensating, and that makes everything else hurt, too. I’m seeing my chiropractor today (anyway) and will ask his advice, and am searching for a good sports podiatrist.

Empire and Aces Kettlebell Strength Tee Shirt

Meanwhile, I signed up for a one-day StrongFirst Kettlebell Course! It’s on July 15, so I need to get a little bit warmed up for it by then. It’s appropriate for “beginners” but I think their idea of a beginner is someone at a pretty high level of fitness. I’m really looking forward to it. This is the only course in the area all year. The only other one on the west coast is in Santa Maria in December. I would like to go on to do their SFG I Kettlebell Certification course in March 2018, too, so the July one-day thing is a must-do.

The only uh-oh there is that I realized I train barefoot on a mat at home, but in the class I’ll have to wear shoes on a hard floor. Shit. So over the next few days I’ll be trying out my collection of unused walking/running shoes to see which might be tolerable.

And yesterday I was having a really discouraged day, ’cause my foot hurt, even sitting with it up much of the day, and icing it. But I went to class (which usually helps everything), counting on having a pleasant evening, training with friends, and getting 2 hours of exercise (which already entered in MyNetDiary). Managed to drop a partner’s knee smack on the outside edge of my right foot. &#$@. No real damage done, just bruising, but painful enough that I sat out both classes icing it. So no exercise for the day. Then I went home even more discouraged and ate too much. *headdesk*

Today is another day. The side of my foot feels better – only tender if I touch it. I will survive a day of wearing shoes in two weeks. (Funny how I’m more concerned about that than about 8 hours of playing with kettlebells.) I will eat better today (even though tonight is date night). Get off track seven times? Get back on track eight, dammit.

Photo: This is of one of my favorite tee shirts, by my Aikido-and-fitness friend Victoria Pitt of Empire & Aces. Victoria is a Personal Coach and Trainer/Manager of combat sport athletes in the Chicago area.

All That Time! Planning the Path to Nidan.

Ahh, free time! I’ve known for days that I’d have a few hours on my own this evening. Michael was to be off at a pub playing traditional Irish music with his friends and wouldn’t be back until late. A whole, spacious evening to myself. Imagine what I could get done!

Here’s what’s been going on in my mind: That will be the perfect, uninterrupted block of time to catch up on work. And I can finally plant the basil, oregano, and sage that are waiting in their pots out front. I should refinish my new jo (wooden staff) so I can start using it at the dojo. I’ll pick up groceries after open mat, get my laundry going, and make a big salad. When it cools off maybe I’ll take a walk-jog around the neighborhood. And I have to deposit a check, pay a few bills, and get the dishwasher going. I could write for a while, practice guitar, or watch some Aikido videos.

If that sounds like enough to keep me busy for a week, you’re right. The me who writes to-do lists and manages my calendar is an ambitious optimist. Task triage is an everyday occurrence. And even with modest plans there are all kinds of little things that interfere. Shopping took longer than I imagined. It’s too hot for a walk, and it’s staying that way. Michael’s plans changed, too. He’ll be home hours earlier than usual.

In the end I’ve managed to buy groceries and make my salad. It looks like I may have a enough time to finish this post – if I hurry – and feed the cats. I’ll have to catch up on work during the week. Laundry can wait until morning.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There is something about having a discrete amount of free time in my sites that lends itself to overcommitting. Or over-planning, I suppose. I imagine that left to my own devices for an entire day I will be able to finally clean out the garage, go for a hike, train with my friends, shop for groceries, make myself a healthy dinner, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. A whole week on my own? Maybe I could go for invigorating walks every morning, then spend a solid chunk of time writing before focusing for hours on client work. I could complete all those unfinished projects, declutter my life, write in my training journal, get in touch with old friends, and develop better life habits I’ll carry with me for years.

In the same way that one can spend gift or bonus money several times over, I find it all too easy to dream up multiple conflicting uses for a single block of time.

I forget to allow for the mundane details of life — hours spent updating software, the time it takes to shower, dress, unload the dishwasher, make coffee, and eat breakfast, the unplanned hour of effort required for cleaning up the from an ant invasion in the kitchen or unclogging the drain in the bathroom sink. Add an important long talk with a friend or an urgent trip to the store for cat food, and before I know it, my day or week is coming to a close. I may have only gotten a few of the things on my list done. If I’m lucky. Add to the mix one minor disaster – a computer issue, unexpected household maintenance chore, or a tight muscle or mild head cold, and things fall apart even more quickly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This isn’t a new pattern. In the late 1990s Michael and I went to Ireland for a vacation. Two whole weeks with nothing to get in our way! We figured we would drive for a few hours each morning, arriving in the next small town with plenty of time to settle into our B&B, enjoy the afternoon, and see the local sites. I would find a hack stable and go horseback riding, then we would have dinner together before Michael joined in playing music at the local pub.

That was the plan, anyway. The reality was that travel between each town was slow. We were late getting out after breakfast. The roads were small and winding, and there were things to see along the way. For the first couple of days we skidded into town after the shops had closed, just in time for a quick bite before hitting a pub for some tunes.

We quickly realized we were attempting too much. We cut out every other stop to allow a full day in each town. Even at that, our trip was rushed and hectic. During my probably once-in-a-lifetime visit to the best horseback riding country in the world, I only managed to arrange two hour-long hacks. On top of it all, we both got brutally ill with some kind of respiratory ailment the last few days, coughing so badly we feared we must have kept the whole house awake. So much for fitting everything into just two weeks.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, 20 years later, here I am looking forward to my nidan exam – the test for second-degree black belt. It was originally scheduled for early December 2017, which seemed like time enough to prepare. I’ve known for a couple of months that I would be testing around the end of the year. I have been giving myself time to pause, looking inward, considering what I want to demonstrate, and what I want to get from this period of intensive training.

Then circumstances changed. The date was pushed out to late February 2018 – coincident with a big seminar. Almost three additional months to train. All that time! Eight months from this weekend. Eight long, glorious, spacious months, filled with potential. All the time in the world.

Just think of it! I’ll be able to really polish my empty-hand techniques. Kaeshi-waza (reversals) will feel natural and smooth.  I’ll spend weeks refining my weapons work, even the partner practices. I’ll demonstrate responses to some attacks we don’t do as often, just to spice things up. And meditation – of course I’ll be doing that regularly. I’ll even get the sleeves of my gi hemmed, and well before my test, too, not at the last minute.

Uh-oh. Where I have seen this before?

Maybe this is the real challenge. Maybe that’s a breakthrough this phase of my training holds for me. To envision a reasonable amount of work. Of course I’ll train diligently. Of course I’ll aspired to do my absolute best. But maybe I can devise a plan that allows for the intrusions of reality, one that supports me in calmly accomplishing exactly what I set out to do. That would be a real achievement.

Event announcement: “Aikido at the Leading Edge” FREE tele-summit

There is a significant international 10-day event in the Aikido world, happening from Friday, May 12th, and happening daily through Sunday, May 21st: “Aikido at the Leading Edge.” It’s open to anyone – Aikido practitioners, or folks just curious about the art and its applications in the world. I’m part of the street team helping to spread the word*, and I hope you’ll participate in some (or all!) of the sessions. I’m pulling together a bunch in info here, so it’s all in one place.

“Aikido at the Leading Edge” is an online video conference event with two to five  (mostly four) 90-minute sessions each day. It features over 40 teachers in keynotes, interviews, panel discussions, and workshops. You can see the complete schedule about halfway down the event page. Don’t worry if you’ve missed some of it – once you sign up you can go back and watch those sessions at any time during the 10-day event, so it’s not too late!

You can pick and choose.

If there are just a couple of subjects of interest, that’s fine. It’s FREE, for heaven’s sake! And if you can’t make the session times you can still watch them afterward, also FREE, during the 10 days of the event. Nothing like this – of this scope – has never happened before, and who knows if it ever will again. There will be Q&A opportunities with the speakers, and breakouts where you’ll discuss and explore in small groups of people from around the world. It’s a natural and fun way to meet with others around the globe.

The 40+ teachers – a who’s who of Aikido:

The tele-summit is being led by Miles Kessler Sensei, a leader in the Aikido community who many of us at Aikido of San Diego have trained with in various seminars, including our Evolutionary Aikido retreats at Joshua Tree. The 40+ teachers are an international who’s who of Aikido from a variety of lineages and perspectives. The line-up includes my own teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei, plus a few teachers in other arts. There are authors, people who bring Aikido principles into business, education, and other areas, some who specialize in embodiment, psychiatrists and psychologists, video and documentary producers, etc. Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Wendy Palmer, Christian Tissier, Robert Frager, Mark Walsh, John Stevens (yes, the one who translated “The Art of Peace,” that little book everyone has), Kayla Feder, Richard Moon, Roy Dean, Teja Bell… You can see the complete list of presenters at the event page, and click each of their photos to see their own websites and bios. (I just discovered that cool feature a moment ago!)

Many of the sessions cover topics of interest to anyone – not just Aikido practitioners – about work, community, relationship, etc., plus some interesting philosophical explorations. I think the workshop on “Stress and Peacemaking” with Paul Linden Sensei could be valuable to anyone.  There will be keynotes, panel discussions, interviews, and workshops. I hope people of all persuasions – not just martial arts people – will join in.

Here’s the list of sessions as of Thursday:

Each session is about 90-minutes long, including the speakers, breakout sessions, and Q&A. I’ve intentionally left off the times, as things may change. Please refer to the event website for the up-to-date schedule.

DAY ONE: Friday, May 12th

Opening Keynote Address – Miles Kessler | “Aikido’s Emerging Paradigm”
Workshop w/ Patrick Cassidy & Miles Kessler | “Evolutionary Aikido”

DAY 2: Saturday, May 13th

Interview – Robert Frager Sensei | “The Ego’s Journey Towards Wholeness Through Aikido”
Interview – John Stevens Sensei | “O Sensei’s Vision For Aikido”

DAY 3: Sunday, May 14th

Panel Discussion: “Spitting Out The Bones – On A Post-Japanese Aikido Culture” | w/ Teja “Fudomyo” Bell, Richard Moon, Patrick Cassidy, & Miles Kessler
Panel Discussion: “The Uke/Nage Relationship: Why We Need Each Other To Evolve” – Dr. Dirk Muller, Judith Elza, Sonja Sauer, Miles Kessler
Interview – Linda Holiday Sensei | “Journey To The Heart Of Aikido”
Workshop: Paul Linden – “Stress and Peacemaking” << If you don’t want to do everything, at least do this one!

DAY 4: Monday, May 15th

Workshop w/ Dominique Cassidy – “Aikido & Meditation”
Interview – Kimberly Richardson Sensei
Panel Discussion: “Aikido And Peace Making” | w/ Aiki Extensions teachers Paul Linden, Question Cooke, Robert Kent, and Bill Leicht
Panel Discussion: “Old School vs. New School: Learning Methods In Aikido” | Josh Gold, Charles Colten, Dr. Fred Phillips, Paul Linden

DAY 5: Tuesday, May 16th

Panel Discussion: “Aikido As A Healing Art” – Susan Chandler, Dr. Dirk Muller, Dr. Dominique Cassidy, Moderated by Paul Linden
Panel Discussion – “The Soul’s Journey In Aikido” | w/ Rev. Koichi Barrish, Patrick Cassidy, Miles Kessler
Panel Discussion – “Why We Need A Dharma Of Aikido” | w/ Teja “Fudomyo” Bell, Eran “Junryu” Vardi, Paula “Rei Kiku” Femenias, & Miles Kessler

DAY 6: Wednesday, May 17th

Workshop w/ Mark Walsh | “Aikido As A Tool For Personal Growth”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido As A Life Path” | Kayla Feder, Mouliko Halen, & Miranda Saarentaus, Vince Salvatore
Interview – Wendy Palmer Sensei | “Self-Reflection Through Aikido”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido And Non-Duality” | Dan Messisco, Bjorn Saw, Patrick Cassidy, Dave Goldberg
Panel Discussion – “Is Aikido A Martial Art?” | Lenny Sly, Roy Dean, Vince Salvatore, Corky Quakenbush

DAY 7: Thursday, May 18th

Interview w/ Christian Tissier Sensei | “An Aikido Life”
Interview – David Shaner Sensei | “The Unlikely Story”
Aiki-Discussion – Blaine Feyen & Miles Kessler | “Is the Uchi Deshi System Still Relevant In Today’s World?”

DAY 8: Friday, May 19th

Workshop w/ Anita Paalvast | “Organizational Change Through Aikido Principles”
Interview – Jan Nevelius Sensei | “Finding Your Own Aikido”
Panel Discussion – “Aikido and Media” | w/ Josh Gold, Roy Dean, Rokas Leonavičius, Bogdan Heretoiu
Interview – Joe Thambu Sensei | “Aikido Past, Present, And Future”

DAY 9: Saturday, May 20th

World Cafe – Miles Kessler & Anita Paalvast | “What Is The Future Of Aikido”
Sensei Round Table | Teachers TBA

DAY 10: Sunday, May 20th

Keynote Address – Richard Strozzi Heckler Sensei | “Aikido in the 21st Century: Self, Society, and Nature”
Tele-Summit Close – Your Turn & Community Sharing | w/ Miles Kessler

How to participate:

The event uses the Zoom teleconference system, which is available (FREE) for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android. It’s easy and works very smoothly. Kessler Sensei and his team have led many international workshops and seminars, and have it down to an art. If you don’t want to be on camera that’s OK. Either shut your camera off or aim it at a bouquet of flowers or something. :-)

You can sign up for “Aikido at the Leading Edge here, FREE. It only requires your first name and email address

I will be participating in as many sessions as I can. Hope I’ll see you there!

*Full disclosure: The links in the article are affiliate links. I may receive some benefit for my helping to get the word out. But that’s not why I’m sharing about this. A similar, but much more modest, effort was a big part of my decision to start practicing Aikido, and continues to influence my understanding of the art today. If you dislike affiliate programs, please use this direct link to Aikido at the Leading Edge, and I won’t get credit. I’d rather you just participate, no matter how you get there.

Before I started training, when I was exploring whether I actually wanted to do Aikido or not, I listened to a podcast by Jeff Davidson where he interviewed Robert Nadeau, David Shaner, Ellis Amdur, George Ledyard, Kevin Blok, Jon Cameron, and I think a couple of others, A pretty wide range of perspectives. I learned of Systema from Ledyard Sensei, and considered going with that instead. I listened to each of the episodes at least a dozen times. They collectively helped me better understand the range of Aikido in the world, and in fact that there is a broader Aikido world. What Nadeau said, especially, really connected with me. When I went to check out dojos the first one I visited, Aikido of San Diego, had a flyer, a seminar with Nadeau coming up, and I stopped looking right then. I’d found my dojo home, and my teacher, and my whole life changed for the better.

So I’m really looking forward to this. There were only 9 episodes of that podcast years ago, and they aren’t available any more. I feel like this project will be like 25-30 new episodes, but more in-depth, on video, and with active participation. I’m gonna be like a kid in a candy store!

8 Years In, and Still Loving Every Minute

Wow. Here we are again. Another year. Time seems to fly. I must be having fun.

I have been training consistently, as always. On the mat 6 days a week, most weeks, and participating in as many seminars as I can manage.

Teaching has been coming up more and more. I enjoy it, and always learn a lot. Teaching will keep you humble about your skills and knowledge, for sure! I am in the rotation for Saturday morning’s class. Sometimes I lead an evening class if a regular instructor can’t be there, too. Saturday is 90 minutes, so we can develop a theme or progression more fully. I start out with long, slow warm-ups. I don’t know about you, but my body is not ready to move first thing in the morning. We usually do some weapons work, too. Saturdays are especially interesting because the mix of students usually includes yudansha who are senior to me, some of whom come from different lineages, a mix of ages from children to seniors, and often a new student or two. A class that keeps them all engaged is challenging! Now I have a little girl regularly asking me to help her with her 31 jo kata. How cool is that?

Last month a dojo mate organized a trip across the border to train with friends there, and the Sensei asked me to teach next time we visit. I’m looking forward to that. Such a nice group of students! During my road trip to the “O Sensei Revisited” retreat two weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit another dojo (more on that later), where they handed the class off to me for the last 30 minutes. Acck! Note to self: Always have a few lesson plans in the back of your head. You never know when you’ll be asked to lead a class!

Teaching the children’s classes when Sensei is away now feels natural and comfortable. I even had one class recently where the kids were so into the training that they forgot to ask if we could play a game. Kids were smiling and laughing, and parents were taking videos. I rate the success of my kids classes starting out with “no injuries and no tears” as a baseline. Smiling, laughing, forgetting to ask to play a game, and parents taking videos is my highest success score so far.

It’s interesting feeling like a beginner with two left feet, always questioning what I know and refining my understanding, and at the same time standing in front of a class and owning what I say and show. There’s something yin-yang about that, I suppose. A couple of years ago I could claim newly-minted shodan status, and excuse myself for blundering a bit. Now I’m more comfortable leading, while at the same time being more curious than ever about discovering new details and depth in the art.

I (obviously) haven’t been writing as much as I’d like, or doing much fitness coaching either. In a stroke of random luck I fell into the perfect paying gig. It’s good work for a great organization, but it does keep me busy. Doing some thinking on prioritizing things to make room for writing and coaching again, as those things are really important to me, and are my longer-term career. But income is important, too. Alas.

Sensei is offering mindfulness training at the dojo, and I’ve been taking advantage of that. It’s a new exploration, and I’m just seeing where it leads. I have also been making time for some strength and mobility training, at least. That’s fun, and makes everything else go better, too.

Sensei let me know that I should expect to test for nidan (second-degree black belt) later this year. Right now I’m “living in the question” about that. Thinking about what that means, what I want to demonstrate, and how I hope to grow in the process of preparing – both in my technique as as a person. Meanwhile, we have a group of high-level exams coming up next month, so training has been getting more intense. Ukemi is a big area of development for me, and there will be plenty of opportunities to work on that!

Off now to meet a writing friend for a late lunch, then to the dojo for Sensei’s monthly-ish Exam Technique Workshop, and dinner with dojo friends who are visiting from out of town. Tomorrow is class in the morning (I’m not teaching that one), more training with dojo friends, and then assisting in two children’s classes run by a dojo-mate for kids from his church and other local churches. Sunday is working with a friend/fitness client, and then two hours of open mat.  And that’s pretty much how things go. Loving every minute.