The Dreaded Dojo Whiteboard

I have been fairly comfortably going along, slowly, as an Aikido newbie. Working diligently and mindfully, but in no hurry. Plodding. No deadlines. Well, I recently passed our association’s minimum of 20 training days to test for the lowest rank, 6th Kyu. So I’ve been glancing with some trepidation at the dojo whiteboard, where names are posted of those who will be testing. Our next tests are on September 19th. I never thought I’d be in that batch. I thought maybe November (we have tests every 2 months, I believe). But I kept checking the board, just in case.

On Thursday I stopped by the dojo, just to drop something off, and a friend in the class turned and pointed at the board. Yikes!

I’m about as calm and even-tempered as a person could be, but I was really stunned/delighted. I actually ran to my car, grabbed my iPhone, and tweeted a photo of the board. (Yes, I am a geek.)

Here’s what I said on Facebook, and I stand by it:
“I am here to tell you that the thoughts "It’s not *that* big a deal, and nobody expects you to be perfect at this level,” and “Squeeee!!! OMG, OMG, OMG!!!” Can coexist perfectly well in one mind.“

It’s the damnedest thing. My (very) rational mind knows that everyone who shows up long enough, and who can roll without killing themselves, tests for 6th Kyu. It’s like "graduating” from kindergarten. What’s interesting though, in the “watching my mind blabbering on” sense, is that I am really excited about it. Giddy. Honored. Kind of silly, but there it is.

I guess it’s been a very long road even getting to this point (including some challenges well before I ever set foot in the dojo). It feels just like I’ve been preparing for a wilderness adventure. I’ve heard stories and read books, learned some basics, gathered my equipment and supplies, gotten myself to base camp, met some of my fellow adventurers, and set up my tent. Now I’ve been casually invited to join up with the group at the trailhead in the morning.

I’m excited about what lies ahead, and determined to be up to it.

Four Aikido Limericks

Four limericks I posted in this AikiWeb thread: “Limerick Challenge”

There once was a sensei named Dave
Who would practice all day with a glaive.
He mastered the kata
Of the naginata
‘Til his motion was just like a wave.

I have no idea if Sensei practices naginata, it was just that glaive/Dave is a convenient rhyme. The rest are all taken from real life:

There was a yudansha named Karen
Whose waza was flashy and darin’.
Her hakama flew
As her uke she slew.
And all of the white belts were starin’.

No one does ukemi like Jay,
Who rolls in his own special way.
He melds with the mat,
With nary a splat,
And pops up on the preceding day.

In his three DVDs about Entries,
Ledyard shares what’s been passed on for centuries:
If you’re already in
The attacker can’t win
Just drop, and he’ll be on his knees.

Four Aikido Limericks

Four limericks I posted in this AikiWeb thread: “Limerick Challenge”

There once was a sensei named Dave
Who would practice all day with a glaive.
He mastered the kata
Of the naginata
‘Til his motion was just like a wave.

I have no idea if Sensei practices naginata, it was just that glaive/Dave is a convenient rhyme. The rest are all taken from real life:

There was a yudansha named Karen
Whose waza was flashy and darin’.
Her hakama flew
As her uke she slew.
And all of the white belts were starin’.

No one does ukemi like Jay,
Who rolls in his own special way.
He melds with the mat,
With nary a splat,
And pops up on the preceding day.

In his three DVDs about Entries,
Ledyard shares what’s been passed on for centuries:
If you’re already in
The attacker can’t win
Just drop, and he’ll be on his knees.

Skipping Class, Missing Class

A quick one today…

Yesterday I skipped participating in class, in favor of getting some video (potentially for the dojo’s Web site). It was our new shodan’s last day training with us (he’s off to college), and the light was beautiful. Sensei led the class through a lot of techniques. Also I was really tired (little sleep) and dizzy (vertigo acting up), so I kind “didn’t feel like” working very hard anyway. So it was a great opportunity to do the video, and it was fun doing that, but dang… I really miss having participated! In a sort of visceral “missing someone” sense. I’ve felt kind of off-balance since then.

Interesting how much Aikido becomes part of us (and how quickly).

One of my favorite sempai, Johnathon Purcell, tested for shodan yesterday. Here is slo-mo video of his first throw in his new hakama.
He started at Aikido of San Diego when he was 11 years old. He’s off to college at UC Berkeley on Wednesday. He’s a perceptive and thoughtful student and teacher, kind and highly competent. I’ve been very fortunate to train with him since I started practicing Aikido in May. I and our whole dojo are going to miss him something awful. If you’re up that way, perhaps he’ll turn up at your dojo.

A Whole Lot of Things

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to put together a coherent set of ideas for a post. So once again, here are some random bits:

Still digesting everything Nadeau Sensei said when he was here for a seminar. One way he suggests looking at things is that you (your body, hips, and hara) are “the vaccuum cleaner” and the techniques (what your arms and hands are doing) are just attachments. It’s the horsepower/amperage that make the machine powerful, not which kind of brush you snap onto the hose.

I’m beginning to see some of the layers of the onion that Aikido is. One that seems to keep coming up in the past couple of weeks is misdirection, as in magic. Using atemi to draw uke’s focus, appearing to be rooted on the line of attack while actually preparing to rotate off of it, etc. Playing with people’s perceptions is fascinating stuff.

I’ve discovered that, in spite of trying to stay relaxed, I’m doing something during bokken work that’s really hurting my neck muscles – the little ones on the front and sides. I think it’s a combination of weakness there, and of using the wrong muscles to compensate for others that are weak. So I have some new strengthening and stretching exercises to do.

I’ve been slowly losing weight and getting into better shape. In part that’s because of actual Aikido practice, but also because of all the other work I’m doing so that I can do the Aikido practice better, and without hurting myself.

I’ve been reading books and watching DVDs like there’s no tomorrow. I’ve been really enjoying George Ledyard Sensei’s 3 DVD set on Entries. Frankly, I was initially very interested to see how someone could fill 3 DVDs with “just” irimi. It’s great material. clearly presented. Ledyard Sensei is a great teacher and really very funny sometimes. I also got the Ukemi DVD by Ellis Amdur. I’ve only watched a bit of it so far – planning to watch the whole thing this evening.

Classes have been a lot of fun, and we’ve been doing some interesting exercises, like discovering where your balance-breaking point actually is, and what you can do to recover and continue once you’ve hit it. I’m still exploring (as I expect I may be for years) my propensity to mentally seize up when I’m overwhelmed. I’ve been doing less of that lately, but only because I haven’t been overwhelmed.

My Sensei (Dave Goldberg Sensei, at Aikido of San Diego) does a 2-hour workshop every couple of months, on a Sunday. I couldn’t do the last one because my shoulder was still a mess, but I’m looking forward to the next one, “Relax, it’s Aikido – Discovering and developing deeper relaxation with integrity for better results,” on the 23rd.

Also coming up, in September, our dojo’s annual Aikido retreat: http://www.aikidosd.com/camp.htm. It’s held in the Cuyamaca Mountains (east of San Diego). Everyone who’s gone before is very excited about doing it again. I’m signed up, and now wrestling with the decision to camp in my tent (private, quiet, comfortable…) or in one of the shared yurts (fun, up half the night, bonding…).

Off to groom the critters and clean their pen. Picking up manure has got to be good jo practice, right?

Tripping Over My Own Brain

First, the seminar with Nadeau Sensei was great. Enlightening, engaging, educational, and very entertaining. More on that another time.

Right now tonight’s class (training day 16), or rather how I did in tonight’s class, is the subject. Poorly would be a kind word for it. I couldn’t get anything right for the life of me. Things I’ve done OK before, I got backwards, inside out, and upside down. Things I finally did right just a second ago, were wrong all over again now.

It was like I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing or being told. I would swear the inside leg swept backward, but when I’d get to that point in the technique, my inside leg was already back, and what I thought I knew to do next didn’t make any sense at all. So then what do you do?

And when you don’t do it right the first n times, the n+1th time isn’t any better. It feels like rushing through learning a song. When you learn to play or sing a song, you have to learn what’s going to be coming next at each point. If you get to a point in the tune, and have to stop and check every time to see what follows, you never learn the tune. You learn to stop and check. You have to be able to think, during the line about the tree, that the next line is the one about a hawk, so you can continue right into that line.

Maybe the feeling I get in class is more like learning a song in front of an audience. Or trying to do a math problem in front of the class, when you have only the vaguest idea of how to go about it. “Panic” isn’t the right word. That suggests a sense of frenzied action. What I experience is more like freezing up. “Brain cramp” perhaps?

Whatever it is, I’ve experienced it before in other areas (including flying, and horseback riding). Freezing up, not acting, failing to even perceive… I don’t like it, and it’s one of the things I had hoped to address when I chose to practice Aikido: learn to relax, breathe, focus, and act deliberately, in the face of overwhelming stimuli. I just didn’t expect to run face-first into it doing simple techniques in a beginning class. I figured maybe some far-off day, doing randori or something.

It’s hard to imagine being overfaced by something so simple, in such a supportive environment. There is no critical audience, pointing and laughing. Of course I want to get it right… I think that’s normal – and how we are driven to improve. But where does this sort of terror come from?

George Leonard says to be grateful for the hit. We can learn a lot from the times life smacks us a good one. Well, I did say I wanted to work on this problem, and Aikido is the lab in which I chose to do it. Here’s a heaping batch of just what I needed. Goody.

Getting To the Nadeau Seminar

I will be participating in a seminar this weekend – “Aikido as an Art of Harmony” with Robert Nadeau Shihan, at Aikido of San Diego. Not a huge deal, but from the “Aikido as a laboratory for life” perspective, it’s a big deal for me. Having a goal with a deadline tends to focus one’s attention and efforts far better than simply “getting better at this, someday” would.

Before I ever stepped onto a mat I did a lot of reading and learning while healing from a minor hand injury. Once I was OK to do physical stuff I found a dojo. Then I spent several weeks recovering from the Very Long Cold From Hell. I finally started training in May. I expected a lot from Aikido, and it’s proving to be much more than that, even.

I’ve gotten through a few muscle injuries, a shoulder injury, and the stunning realizations that a) I was in no kind of good shape At All, and b) I really can be, if I just work at it. I’ve done PT, gotten massages (not the happy fun kind), and started working with a personal trainer to set up a personalized workout plan. I’ve made progress in leaps and bounds, compared to what I’d previously thought I could achieve.

One of my short-term goals has been to be in good enough shape to participate in this weekend’s seminar. I have been rolling and falling in Aikido classes, with no problems. I’ve been very careful not to injure/reinjure myself, and have been doing everything I can to heal well, and quickly. Since getting back on the mat. I’ve been doubling up on classes so the two two-hour sessions on Saturday don’t kill me. Last night I even dumped my 24 manure cans into the dumpster (requires lifting each one – twice), and lived to tell. Yesterday was my 4-week follow-up with my PT. He “couldn’t be any happier with my shoulder,” and I have his blessings to do the seminar.

My gi is washed, bottles of water are set out, camera is charged…

It’s amazing how much one can learn from a seminar before even showing up.

Getting Fit for Aikido

I am going for my first consultation with a personal trainer tomorrow. www.fitnesswithoutwalls.com She’s going to help me come up with a “real world” workout program I can do on my own. The goal is to be in better shape for Aikido and horseback riding (and everything else, generally), and to prevent injuries by making sure I’m doing things correctly.

I’ve set up a kind of blog-thing about that, with photos of places and equipment I have for working out, my goals, etc. If you’re interested, you can find it here: http://fitforfun.tumblr.com