Liebster Award – Nomination and Interview!

Grab My Wrist -- Liebster Award Nominee, 2016!

I’m delighted to share that Grab My Wrist was nominated for a Liebster Award by Laura Roberts of Buttontapper Press. Laura is a prolific author, editor, and a leader in the community of San Diego writers. This month (May, 2016) she is writing a story a day. Go check it out. Thank you for your nomination, Laura. I’m honored. I accept!

As part of the Liebster Award tradition, Laura posed some questions for me. After the Q&A, here, I will nominate others, and ask them a few questions of my own.

Virtual Interview – Laura’s Questions, Linda’s Answers

Q: What most inspires you to write?

A: Connecting with individual readers. When I write I think in terms of speaking directly to the person holding the book. There are a few writers who, through their writing, have profoundly influenced the course of my life. I may not have many thousands of readers, but when I hear directly from a reader saying that something I shared made a difference with them, that’s better than any analytics data telling me whether a post, article, or book is popular.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about writing?

A: The admonition you always hear to write first and edit later has never worked for me. The two are like breathing in and out – you can’t just breathe in today, and then worry about breathing out later. I do both at once. I *also* go back to rewrite and edit, but I can’t “just write” without editing as I go.

As for what does work – what good advice I’ve received? Not one piece of advice, exactly, but I’d say it was everything I learned in my career as a technical writer and user experience analyst. My priority is always to communicate clearly, in a meaningful, evocative way that gets people into action. I don’t want people to read my work and think “Gosh, what a beautifully-written piece about Aikido,” and put the book down, waiting for my next release. I mean, that’s nice too, but I’d rather they come away thinking “Hey, I think I could do that! I’m going to check it out!”

Q: If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why?

A: I am so rooted to where I am it’s hard to imagine being anywhere else. I guess it’s a good thing to have a life that doesn’t leave you longing for vacations! I’ve seen some spectacular photos of friends’ trips abroad, and some tempting stories of week-long meditation retreats. Travel is fun, but also uncomfortable and a lot of hassle. Tent camping in the local mountains sounds much more pleasant than traveling the world in style.

Michael and I do have a lot of fun together on long road trips. He plays traditional Irish music in sessions with friends. Someday I’d like to do a big trip with dojo- and session-hopping along the way. And there’s a dojo I’d like to visit, to train with that teacher for more than just a weekend seminar here and there, I just have to work out how to make that happen.

Q: What’s your favorite book, and why?

A: Oh… That’s a tough one. I’m going to call it a three-way tie.

First, Wishcraft, by Barbara Sher. (You can download the whole thing in PDF format from her website now!) It was recommended to me in about 1990, and was the first book I’d read that was actively helpful. It was an excellent tool for helping discover what was important to me and what I wanted. I’ve recommended it to dozens of people since then. Don’t just read it – do the exercises. For anyone at a turning point, this is the book you should have.

Second, Horsemanship Through Life, by Mark Rashid. Mark, directly and through and his book, introduced me to Aikido. You can read more about Mark’s book (one of many excellent books he’s written) in other posts here – just search for his last name.

Third, The Way of Aikido, by George Leonard. I regret never having had the chance to meet Leonard Sensei in person, but at least through this and other books he became a powerful role model to me. He started training at the same age I did, in the same lineage, and ran into some of the same difficulties, and went on to be a 5th dan (pretty high black-belt rank) with his own dojo. His writing really helped me through my first few years, when I found it easy to doubt myself.

Q: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you’re not writing?

A: Well, Aikido, of course. Training, helping in the children’s programs, occasionally teaching. Traveling to seminars and retreats and training with friends from all over the world is great fun.

I also love playing with photography, especially at the dojo and out in nature. I love getting candids that really capture people. One of the highest compliments I can get about a photo is when a friend uses it as their profile image. That tells me they think it shows something about who they really are.

Q: If you had to pick one song that best represents your life, what would it be?

A: Finally, an easy question! “Glorious” by Karisha Longaker of MaMuse. It’s a beautiful song expressing gratitude for day-to-day wonders like friends, rain, and baby birds, and about the cycles of life. When I arrived early at the dojo for my sho-dan (black belt) exam I put this song on to get settled and in the right frame of mind. “I’ve got good friends to the left of me and good friends to my right” – perfect for that experience. It had rained that morning, so it was especially appropriate. The lyrics even include visiting raccoons, who are a regular thing at our house. I’ve linked the title to the lyrics, but they don’t do it justice. Go buy it.

Oh what a day! Glorious!
The smell of rain has hitched a ride upon the wind
I’ve got good friends to the left of me and good friends to my right
Got the open sky above me and the earth beneath my feet
Got a feeling in my heart that’s singin’ all in life is sweet
Oh what a day!

Q: Do you have any good luck charms, and if so, what are they?

A: Not that I can think of…

Q: Which fictional character best represents you?

A: I don’t read a lot of fiction, so I don’t know many to choose from. One that really stuck with me since childhood was Karana, the girl from the book Island of the Blue Dolphins. She lived alone for years, stranded on an island off the coast of California, living off the land and sea. No magic or fairies were involved. She relied on her own skills and her ability to observe and work with animals and nature. I didn’t know until a few years ago that it was based on a true story.

Q: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

A: I’ve done some pretty cool things, but I don’t know that I’d call any of them crazy. They were too well thought-out. But here are a few anyway: Completed the est training (twice), and did The Six Day (twice). Did some aerobatic flying. Moved to a semi-rural area and kept horses for many years. Started training in Aikido – a vigorous, physical martial art – at 46. Launched two new careers in my early 50s – writer and Certified Personal Trainer. And most recently wrote about 1,000+ words a day for a month as part of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge.

Q: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in life (so far)?

A: Wow… That’s a big question. I’d have to say reaching the rank of sho-dan (first black-belt rank) in Aikido. Not just passing the exam, or demonstrating a certain level of technical proficiency, but the whole path to get there. Everything from walking in the door of the dojo for the first time, to being part of the community, supporting others and accepting support (that can be a hard one!), training regularly, not letting things stop me… Mostly it’s been a joy and a privilege. I really love all of it, so I can’t say it’s been any kind of sacrifice or hardship. But some parts have been a real test, way out of my comfort zone. I’ve had to grow in a lot of directions. It’s easy to get through school, go to college, progress through a career… Those things are just expected in the ordinary flow of life. Nothing about my experience of Aikido has been ordinary.

Q: And, of course, the all-important question: Pirates or Ninjas?

A: Ninjas, of course. While I was answering this question the ninjas have already bored holes in the hull of the pirate ship and gone home. The pirates haven’t even noticed. Too busy sleeping off last night’s rum.

Thanks, Laura, for the interesting questions! I really had to think about those. That was fun.

My Nominees for the Liebster Award

The Liebster Award (complete info here) is passed from writer to writer, acknowledging and promoting awareness of excellent blogs around the world – especially new or little-known blogs. Each nominee nominates others they think are deserving of recognition and a wider audience.

My nominations are … drum roll please …

Mark De Souza, of Mark’s Meanderings 
Mark has been blogging even longer that I have – going back to at least early 2008 – and has been a friend and inspiration to me from when I first started training. He shares his insights about his journey along the path of Aikido, and about his music and life.

Janelle Shane, of Postcards from the Frontiers of Science
I originally knew Janelle, ahem, Dr. Shane through the Irish music community. Now (alongside the actual important science work she does) she is a brilliant communicator about the wonders of all things scientific, from amazing photography using a scanning electron microscope, to following along as a neural network attempts to create recipes. Like for cooking food. The latter are freakin’ hilarious. You must read them.  Just not anywhere that laughter would be inappropriate. I hope some large, popular media outlet (Pssstt! NPR, are you listening?) discovers her and puts her front and center in sharing the wonders of science with a wider audience.

LaVonne Ellis, of Complete Flake
Join LaVonne, former voice on San Diego news radio, now an author and adventurer, as she travels the world in LaVanne, with her faithful dog, Scout. LaVonne is a unique spirit, who tells her story in sometimes funny, sometimes poignant letters from the road. You might also enjoy her book, A Complete Flake’s Guide to Getting Sh*t Done.

Antonella Nuscis Sensei, of No Kokoro Aiki
This is a very new blog by Antonella Nuscis, who teaches Aikido in Italy. It is (appropriately) in Italian, which I don’t speak, but her writing comes across perfectly well via the translate feature in my browser. In her posts so far she has touched on Evolutionary Aikido, and on her experiences being an uchi-deshi, or live-in student at Miles Kessler Sensei’s Integral Dojo in Tel Aviv, Israel.

I need to think about one other nominee… We’ll go with these four to start.

These are the guidelines to keep the award going if/when you decide to accept it:

  • Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  • Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  • Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you. (See below.)
  • Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  • List these guidelines in your blog post.

My 11 questions for our virtual interview:

  1. What got you started writing?
  2. What keeps you writing?
  3. If you suddenly became independently wealthy comfortable, what would you do with your time?
  4. How many books are on your nightstand, or end table? Tell us about one of them.
  5. Tell me about a compliment, award, or nice feedback you’ve gotten about your writing.
  6. What do you find most challenging about writing?
  7. What topic do you find it hard to write about?
  8. What topic keeps drawing you back to write more?
  9. What’s your favorite poem, or favorite poet?
  10. Are you a dog person, or a cat person?
  11. What’s the weirdest thing you eat with some regularity?

I’m looking forward to reading your answers!

Aikido to Zanshin – 26 Essays on the Martial Art of Peace

During April 2016 I participated in the seventh annual Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Each day (except for Sundays) I posted thoughts on a topic beginning with that day’s letter of the alphabet. These are the essays from that month of writing.

The peaceful martial art of Aikido goes deep. Training is an embodied physical activity with opportunities to challenge one’s limits and beliefs. We develop awareness and practice being present. Aikido can provide a lifelong opportunities for learning and growth as part of a positive, supportive community.

Aikido is especially relevant with regards to staying centered, managing conflict, and working together for a better outcome in these contentious times. Many people simple aren’t aware of Aikido, or have only a vague understanding of the practice. This series of essays is appropriate for anyone with even a casual interest – practicing on the mat, or applying Aikido principles in life. That is, they are not technical, how-to, or minutiae about the art. They are highly accessible and inclusive.

My intent is to revise and elaborate on each essay, and publish “Aikido to Zanshin – 26 Essays on the Martial Art of Peace” as the first book in my planned collection of books about the art of Aikido.

Aikido from A to Z:

A – Aikido – Practicing Harmony – A Good Idea for Bad Times
B – Beginner’s Mind – The Power of the Empty Teacup
PHOTO – Aikido is Active Fun for Kids
C – Community – Evolving Together
D – Dojo – The Place of The Way
E – Elephants and Blind Men – Aikido Is An Elephant
F – Fun – Vibrant and Joyful Training
G – Grounded – Being Stable, and Settled
H – History – How Aikido Came Into Being
PHOTO – We’re All on the Same Side
I – Inclusion – Aikido is for All People
J – Japan – Language, Etiquette, and Culture in Aikido
K – Kihon Waza – Practicing Basic Technique
L – Life Lessons – Taking Your Aikido into the World
M – Mastery – The Endless Path
N – Nage and Uke – The Relationship Between Partners
PHOTO – The Dojo – Because Some Things Can’t be Found on the Internet
O – O Sensei – Morihei Ueshiba
P – Presence – Being In The Moment
Q – Qualities – Discovering and Developing Our Better Selves
R – Ruthless Compassion – Resolution Without Apology
S – Sensei – What It Means to Have a Teacher
T – Testing – Taking It to The Next Level
PHOTO – Yudansha Books
U – Ukemi – Learning to Roll with the Punches
V – Violence – Controlling Our Own Violence
W – Weapons – Refining Technique, Forging Spirit
X – X Chromosomes – Being a Woman in Aikido
Y – Yin-Yang – Inseparable Halves of a Whole
Z – Zanshin – Ongoing Awareness and Connection
PHOTO – Nadeau Shihan – Ask Who You Need To Be

Thank you for reading, commenting, and sharing!

Hey look, it’s a book!

It’s live! My first book, “A Bowl of Love — How to Make a Big Green Dojo Potluck Salad,” is now available for sale on Amazon, for Kindle and Kindle Reader apps! Click the photo to go to it on Amazon. Only $2.99, and Amazon Prime members can borrow it for free! Give it a look, and give it some love. Enjoy!

When Master Morihei Ueshiba, or “O-Sensei” (Great Teacher), as his students fondly called him, first began calling his art aikido (in 1942) he had already accumulated years of experience in other Japanese martial arts. By studying and mastering Daito-Ryu jujitsu, sword, staff, and spear, Master Ueshiba rooted aikido in the ancient Bushido tradition. Testing his ideas in actual combat and armed confrontations he established aikido as a potent self-defense form. At the same time he spoke of aikido – The Way of Harmony – in a revolutionary way, a way previously unheard of among the martial traditions. He taught that aikido is a budo of love and that its purpose is to unite the people of the world. He repeatedly told his students that aikido was not to be used to hurt someone, but to provide loving protection for all people. It was as it the Secretary of Defense suddenly announced that the role of the Armed Forces was to provide a safe, loving environment for the entire world. There were, of course, guffaws when the word got out about a “budo of love” and many came to challenge Ueshiba and his new art.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler

In Search of the Warrior Spirit – Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Military

I got the book “Holding the Center – Sanctuary in a Time of Confusion” by Richard Strozzi-Heckler recently. I finally picked it up to begin reading it last night, and randomly opened it to this paragraph, in the chapter on Teachership:

“The kanji for sensei is a man leading an ox by a nose ring. This indicates that through wisdom and intelligence a teacher is able to guide even that which is difficult and resistant. Sen depicts the earth giving birth to a plant, which in turn yields a flower or fruit. From this image we are reminded that life comes from life, that learning and growth come from a living transmission. Sei is often spoken of as Heaven, Human, and Earth united to create something new and useful. With the symbols placed together, sensei or teacher is someone who has more experience than us, whose consciousness is more expanded, who has walked before us on the path that we are now on, and who embodies a vision of the world that is more powerful than the one we now live in. Sensei is able to guide students on the steps that are necessary for them to gain proficiency in a specific discourse. A teacher is someone willing to cultivate our own life so that it will bear fruit." 

While the explanation of the symbols escapes me, the sentiment rings true. The entire chapter is a very interesting look at what it is to be a teacher.

I’ve just read Terry Dobson’s book “It’s a lot like dancing…” for the first time. I usually read with a highlighter in one hand, but this is the kind of book you don’t want to deface. Besides, nearly every page would be highlighted in its entirety. Here is one of the many beautiful things he said:

What is more important than anything I say is that I touch you. Through me, through my touch, comes the touch of the founder of Aikido. There is no Bible you can buy that says, “This is what Aikido is.” It is transferred from person to person. These vibrations pass among us.

Reflections at the 1st Milestone

This Saturday morning I will arrive at a milestone of sorts on my Aikido path – my first test, for 6th kyu. I’ve done 36 training days over the course of four and one half months. I can’t believe it’s only been that long – it feels like a lifetime (in a good way). Some reflections on my journey so far:

Early on I injured my shoulder, and I have recovered completely from that injury. I have lost 20 pounds. I worked with a personal trainer/PT to set up an exercise program, and am in better shape than I have been in years. I’ve made new friends at the dojo, locally, and online, and have reconnected with still more friends through Aikido. I’ve seen several rounds of tests, including the Sho-Dan test of one of my favorite sempai. I’ve learned that I like (and need, really) meditating before class. I’ve been to a dojo picnic, a party, and camping.

I’ve always enjoyed learning, so I dove into Aikido from many angles. Even before looking into local dojo I listened to all 9 episodes of the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony” podcast (which you can fine in the iTunes Store). I have listened to them again since, many times since, and I’m sure will many more. Together they are a great introduction to Aikido, and I hear them in a completely new way each time I listen.

I’ve read a nightstand-full of books, including “The Art of Peace” (O Sensei) of course, “Aikido and the New Warrior” (edited by Richard Strozzi-Heckler), “The Way of Aikido – Life Lessons from an American Sensei” (George Leonard), “Aikido for Life” (Gaku Homma), and “In the Dojo – A Guide to the Rituals and Etiquette of the Japanese Martial Arts” (Dave Lowry). Shifflett’s “Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training” has been a great help generally by providing a broad look at training and learning, and specifically by sharing good information on stretches and exercises that address some problems I have had for years. And of course it was the horse trainer Mark Rashid, and his book “Horsemanship Through Life,” that brought me to Aikido in the first place.

I’m currently browsing through “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere” (Westbrook & Ratti) A bookshelf of others awaits, include all three of Ellis Amdur’s books, Donn Draeger’s 3-volume set “Martial Arts and Ways of Japan.” Those may be just the thing for cold evenings after the time changes. (Daylight and nice weather are cherished commodities for horsepeople.)

Videos have provided still more information and inspiration, including Ellis Amdur Sensei’s DVD, “Ukemi from the Ground Up,” George Ledyard Sensei’s 3 DVD (videos) set, “2006 Seminar on Entries,” and many, many shorter, less formal videos on YouTube. I’ve also found “Aikido 3D” (software) to be a very useful tool for reviewing the mechanics of techniques. It’s perfect for those “how did that technique go, again?” questions that haunt one late at night.

I had no interest in weapons at first, thinking of them as a kind of interesting sideline for people who are into that sort of thing. Now I have my own set, and enjoy training with them every bit as much (if not more, on some days) as I enjoy open-hand practice.

So far I’ve participated in classes at the dojo with Dave Goldberg Sensei, of course, and also with most of the yudansha: Mike, Karen, Jason, Megan, Cyril, and Andy. Each has an entirely different style of teaching, and they all complement each other beautifully. I’ve also been fortunate to participate in several seminars with visiting instructors.

Robert Nadeau Shihan came to our dojo in late July for a two-day seminar on “Aikido as an Art of Harmony,” giving us all an opportunity to look through the lens of Aikido at how we are in other areas of life. His coming here also gave me a “be healthy and back on the mat by” date when recovering from my shoulder injury. I’ve never been so proactive about healing, and by gosh it worked. It took a little convincing to get my brain to realize that rolling would be OK again (you can read my earlier post on that process), but I did it, pounding heart and all.

Our own Dave Goldberg Sensei, who’s August Aikido In Focus workshop, “Relax, it’s Aikido,” had me giggling with the fun and joy of it all, and days later awash in tears as I realized how much I had been guarding myself against feeling, in my body and my heart, for a very long time.

This past weekend was a three-day retreat in the local mountains with our Dave Goldberg Sensei and guest instructor Kayla Feder Sensei. Again, whole new ways of experiencing Aikido, of thinking about (or not thinking about) technique, and applying Aikido for the advancement of humanity. A side benefit of the Retreat was that it provided a reason to pick up my guitar again, which I did with far less frustration and more success than I expected.

In preparing for this test I have been working several times a week with my mentor, Scott, a senior (in rank) student who is a wonderful teacher, endlessly patient, enormously capable, and always kind and compassionate. I’ve learned as much about teaching as about technique, and I hope I can put some of that to good use if I have the opportunity to mentor a kohai someday.

I could not strive for rigor and mindfulness on the mat while letting other aspects of life go to pieces. I set some small goals at the beginning, and met them all. My car, which was always littered with fast food wrappers, empty water bottles, and hay, has been clean for months. I decided to stop fumbling in hurried frustration every day with a simple gate latch in my electric fence, and set my mind to opening and closing it fluidly on the first try. I typically run late for everything, but have not been late to a single class, or arrived unprepared. As I reach this first milestone on the path I’m considering what goals to set for the next leg of the journey. Some of them will involve horseback riding, which I set aside while initially immersing myself in Aikido. I will be seeking a balance between Aikido and dressage (essentially an equestrian martial art) in the coming months.

Honestly, I found Aikido of San Diego in the usual pedestrian way on the web. The location and schedule were convenient. I liked everything I saw and read, and was impressed with attitude of the people I met when I observed a class. So I signed up. I expected a decent school with solid instruction. I hit gold.

If this is how it goes getting to this point, I can hardly imagine what might lie ahead.