About Ways of Learning

This is taken from my reply to a blog post on AikiWeb:

We all learn at different speeds, and in different ways. We are supposed to be doing our best, but beyond that there’s no set amount of progress that can be expected of anyone. People who have studied Aikido for many years still feel that they haven’t mastered many things. You’re very new at Aikido (as am I – I started in May). Keep looking for the best ways to learn and retain information and techniques, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

Have you talked to Sensei, and explained how you learn best? It can be frustrating for a teacher to try everything they can think of to “reach” a student, and still see the student struggling. It may look like you aren’t giving it your best, to someone who doesn’t understand the way you need to learn things.

I hear the name of one technique in class, and try to remember it, but when I hear the name of the next technique, the first one escapes me. I find it very hard to learn words and facts just by listening. If I don’t take notes in classes, I won’t be able to recall much of it at all. It’s like having to organize the information enough to write it down (outlined, bulleted, mind-mapped, whatever) helps me remember it. When I remember it, I don’t recall hearing it, I recall writing it – where it was on the page, or in an outline hierarchy.

At my dojo we are given a list of Japanese words that we will be hearing. This was a huge help, but just “studying” the list didn’t help me. It was in alphabetical order. What helped me to remember better was to rewrite the list with the words grouped together by meaning. So words about teachers and students all go together: Sensei, Shihan, Sempai, Kohai, and Deshi, for instance.

I work on remembering them in the same way I work on remembering song lyrics – I get a few in my head (like counting to 5: ichi, ni, san, yon, go), and then repeat those over and over while I’m doing other things, like cleaning the horse pen or getting dressed for work. Don’t try too many at once – maybe even just 2, like Uke and Nage.

Has anyone helped you with the pronunciation? Japanese could be easier for you than English, because (when it’s written in Roman letters) each letter has one sound, and only one sound. It’s not like English where the letter “i” might have several different sounds. Maybe someone at your dojo would be willing to spend a few minutes after each class working on a few words (not too many!)

Asperger’s, as I understand it, can make it difficult to figure out social rules, but once you know them, following them is easy, Right? The social rules in martial arts can be very consistent, but sometimes hard to figure out by observing subtle cues alone. I think I made a stupid mistake in a recent class, and I didn’t figure it out until a few days later. I thought someone was just “being moody” but realized that maybe I had been disrespectful, and was getting a kind of cold shoulder to clue me in that what I’d done was not OK. (I’m not good at subtle hints…) It might help if someone could directly tell you all the things that are expected. Once you know them, it should be (I think, if I understand Asperger’s) pretty easy to follow the rules.

Some resources that have been a huge help for me:

#1: A book about all the things in a dojo, and about the etiquette expected there: “In the Dojo – A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts” by Dave Lowry. This could be a good starting point for you to understand the social rules. It’s a very interesting book to read.

(By the way, there’s another book you might enjoy about regular social rules: “The Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships: Decoding Social Mysteries Through the Unique Perspectives of Autism” by Temple Grandin and Sean Barron.)

#2: A computer program that shows, in 3D motion-capture, a lot of the techniques we need to know. It’s called Aikido3D. You can buy and download it immediately at www.aikido3D.com. It’s about $55, but well worth it. Of course rely on your own Sensei for exactly how to do the techniques. What this program offers that might be a particular help to you (as it has been to me) is the ability to watch one technique over and over, from different points of view. You can listen to the explanation a hundred times in a row if you need to. There’s written information and spoken, including the name, and how to execute the technique. You can watch from the front, top, and one other point of view. You can slow it down, go frame by frame, and really figure out “OK, when my hand is reaching for Uke’s elbow, my feet are supposed to be this way.”

#3: Just go watch some classes. I have an injury, so I’ve been sitting out some classes, and just watching and taking notes. It’s very valuable, and you can pay attention in a different way than if you are trying to do the techniques. You can also study the social interactions by observing. Ask your Sensei if you can just observe some classes.

That’s probably enough rambling from me. Main points: Tell Sensei about your challenges, and ask for specific help you need. Find additional resources that support the way you learn. Go easy on yourself – you’ll get there when you get there, there’s no set schedule for learning.

Getting Up To Date

My first post was a bit of background. This one is a quick summary of my first few weeks of studying Aikido. The wide-angle view, for now. I’ll elaborate on many of these details in future posts.

First, you will recall I was sidelined by a shoulder injury. I landed smack on the top of my right shoulder in my 5th class. I sat out classes for a few weeks, coming to watch and take notes. I’ve even brought a few friends who have been thinking of studying Aikido. Observing is a very valuable, if frustrating, experience. I highly recommend the watching and taking notes part, but you might prefer to do it without getting injured first.

My orthopedic doc thought I was healing well, and told me at the 3 week point to take it easy – no falling or rolling for several more weeks – but I could go back to class. Joy!

I took it easy, both in class (twice), and everywhere else, but it seemed to not be improving as much as I’d hope, and in fact things I could do OK last week were now more painful. I sat out probably 50% of Tuesday’s class, and even at that I probably overdid it.

So off to physical therapy. Physical therapists are miracle workers, and I’ve worked with this one before. He’s good, and I trust him. I figured I’d get some coaching on exercises I could do at home to help strengthen the right things, and avoid injuring the wrong things. Instead he found that the injury was worse than first thought. So now it’s ultrasound, TENS unit type work, supervised light exercises at his office, more ice, less independent exercise and activity and, you guessed it, no Aikido for at least a few more weeks, if things go well.

I’ll definitely be skipping an upcoming workshop that Sensei is giving later this month. (Rats!) Still hoping, hoping, hoping I’ll be OK by late July to participate in a workshop with Robert Nadeau Shihan, who will be visiting our dojo. (See Events on www.aikidosd.com, if you’re interested in participating in either workshop.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing what training I can – endurance, stretching and strengthening, and practicing (to the best of my understanding) moving from my center, using good posture, and so on, as I do normal daily things.

I’ve read several books, with several more on deck, listened to podcasts over and over, read everything I can find online, and watched videos on YouTube. Last night I bought and downloaded the Aikido3D application, which looks very useful. And of course there’s participating here and talking with aikidoka on Twitter (I’m @LindaEskin, if you’re there).

Right now I’m feeling unbalanced. Not in a bad way, just uneven. Lots of book learning, including history, philosophy, teaching methods, experiences of others’ study of Aikido, and plenty of general culture and humor. But I can hardly put together the names and rudimentary motions of even a few basic techniques, for lack of any consistent practice. I know that stuff will come with time…

I’m so grateful for all the encouragement I’ve gotten from fellow aikidoka, in person, online, and from writers I may never meet directly. This injury is a speed bump of sorts. It has forced me to slow down, observe, and think. I have a painted wooden sign, hanging by a charming gingham ribbon, on my office door, which says: PATIENCE MY A**. (Except my sign isn’t shy about spelling it out.) Maybe an early injury is the universe’s dope slap to snap me out of that rushed attitude. Wake up, be careful, go slow, work for mastery not speed.

I am even more grateful to have found, in good part due to luck and convenience, an extraordinary school. Sensei and the other students are very patient and understanding, and all are good teachers. The facility is very nice – an oasis of sorts. More importantly, the depth and quality of what’s available there is impressive. I’m sure I’m only able to see the tip of the iceberg from my perspective as an utter beginner, but the more I discover, the more fortunate I realize I am,.

Thank you for walking my path with me a little ways. I was going to say I’m not normally this long-winded, but maybe I am. I’m sure there will be more long posts, and lots of short ones. We’ll see.

Introduction

I am reposting my introduction (from the AikiWeb.com Forums) here, with a few edits, just to have everything in one place. In the next post I will bring things up to date.

After that this will be a more normal blog, with semi-regular training notes, random observations, and thoughts on Aikido, and applying it to horsemanship, riding, and everything else.

Please join me as I walk this path.

– – – – –
Greetings, and thank you for reading my introduction.

Some basic basics: I’m a 46 y/o woman in the San Diego area. Horseperson for fun. User experience analyst for a living. 30 lbs overweight. Sturdy and strong, but out of shape. Did a little Tang Soo Do in high school (through the 1st test). Loved it, but went off to college and left it behind.

I recently came to Aikido via a book by Mark Rashid, a gifted horse trainer and author. I had been aware of Aikido before, but his book “Horsemanship Through Life” is what prompted me to begin studying it. I was originally hoping to improve my balance, fitness, awareness, relaxation, and breathing, all of which apply nicely to working with and riding horses.

The universe has been making me work very hard to get started in Aikido! After I decided to check into studying it I hurt my hand. Weeks later got cleared to do stuff. Checked out a dojo, was very impressed, and promptly cought the Worst Cold Ever. 3 weeks later, on May 5th, 2009, feeling good but still unable to speak above a hoarse whisper, I started classes.

Lesson one: Persistance. Rrrr…

I got off to a bit of a rough start, with some muscle spasms after my first class. (Tip, don’t start with the longest class your dojo offers, esp. after weeks of being sick. Duh.) I got that cleared up with lots of gentle exercise and was back 4 days later, having a blast, and trying to slurp up information as fast as my brain could absorb it. Things went well for classes 2 and 3, and then in my 4th class I demonstrated some particularly horrid ukemi by landing smack on the top of my right shoulder. Much ice and pain later it seems I have a level 1 (minor) separation of the AC joint, so I’m down for a couple of weeks, at least. I can do whatever doesn’t hurt, but am not to push it.

Lesson two: Humility. D’oh!

I am grateful to fellow AikiWeb citizens Mary Eastland, who posted about being annoyed with a broken wrist, and Darryl Bronson, who posted about having Aikido withdrawal after knee surgery. Aside from feeling less alone and sorry for myself, for being benched before the end of my 2nd week, I now have lots of ideas for productive ways to use the time. I will be continuing to go to class, watching, taking notes, and learning everything I can. As my shoulder improves I’ll join in one-sided or somehow just work on those things I can do. I’ve had a shoulder problem before. With proper care and PT it healed fine. This will too.

Lesson three: Patience. Sigh…

Aikido in general, and my dojo in particular (Aikido of San Diego), felt like the right choices from the first moment, and everything since has confirmed that. Yes, the simple things I had hoped to address in my life and riding are there, but there’s so much more depth to the art than I had considered. The more I learn, the more I find that Aikido applies to every aspect of living, in a way that harmonizes with my temperament. The people I’ve met through Aikido (both in the dojo, and online) have been universally smart, thoughtful, kind, patient, and a lot of fun.

I am looking forward to a very long and interesting journey, and to getting to know people here. And I promise to try to not be so long-winded every time I post.

[And later, from my comments in that introduction thread…]

The similarities between Aikido and horsemanship are really stunning. I’m working (slowly) toward doing dressage, which is basically a martial art in which harmony with the horse is the goal. Dressage tests are very much like kata – demonstrations of a set of skills at each level. Nervousness, confusion, or annoyance on the part of the horse are counted against your score. Training a horse is a little like teaching it ukemi – to follow the feel you are offering.

It’s funny, I have pretty good “eyes in the back of my head” for sensing what my horse might be up to next, but when we try to anticipate an attack in class (respond as soon at uke moves toward us) I’m pathetically slow. It’ll come with time, I suppose.

By the way, I also have donkeys. They will teach one patience. And they respond so much better to trust and polite requests than to authority and force. Besides, they are smart, and cute.

I have found, with my 5 y/o draft-cross greenie, who can buck like a rodeo horse, that tensing up, hanging on, and holding my breath isn’t a very good strategy for staying with him. It’s easier to throw someone who’s not relaxed, I hear. Hoping Aikido helps in that respect…

I’ve not played with weapons yet, but I’m guessing years of forking manure has got to help with jo work. We’ll see.