After the Shipwreck – A Plan for Moving Forward

I’m not optimistic about the future of our country, or the world, under a Trump administration. I think rights and freedoms we take for granted, including free speech, a free press, and security in our homes and persons, will be degraded under the guise of “law and order.” I think the culture will trend toward hostility, violence, and exclusion. Scientific inquiry, education, and critical thinking will be further disparaged. I think the values of evangelical Christians will be imposed on all of us. I don’t think the promised economic revival will come to pass. I think the environment will be irreparably damaged. I think it will take generations to recover from a Trump presidency, if we ever do.

But here we are. It is as it is. I am not without hope, or without determination. We have to work with the new circumstances we find ourselves in.

In a shipwreck it’s useless to cry, protest, complain, and blame. Obviously the ship was off course. Maybe the navigation equipment was faulty, someone sabotaged the steering, or the captain was drunk. Maybe we should have all been on deck watching out for land. Whatever. Here we are. It’s also not helpful to just sit on the beach, enjoying the warm sun, saying somehow everything will be OK. The thing to do is to explore the island, find fresh water, build shelter, figure out what’s edible, learn how to hunt and fish, and find a way to get along. Maybe even build a new ship out of the scattered wreckage.

It’s time to pick ourselves up, dust off the sand, and get work. There’s no help coming. We have to stick together.

Let’s get to know our fellow Americans

We can’t be “Stronger Together” until we can be together.

I am fortunate to have seen a lot of the United States. I grew up taking family vacations to State and National Parks, visiting friends and family in other states, and seeing how other people live. As a kid I played pool in bar along the Columbia river, caught fireflies in the yard of my kinfolk in East Tennessee, and visited many of the places my family came from, including Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

I went to a Southern Baptist Sunday school, attended Catholic mass with neighborhood friends, and used to visit a local Hari Krishna temple regularly for dinner. I have celebrated friends’ bar and bat mitzvahs at Jewish temples, and attended a family funeral at a black church. One hot summer day, after playing in the river that ran across the back of a relative’s yard in small-town Tennessee, my sister and I got berated by an ornery old guy in a pickup who stopped to inform us we would burn in hell for walking around in swimsuits. Culture shock indeed, for two kids who grew up in a Southern California beach town in the 1960s.

I’ve toured groves with California avocado growers, chased cattle on horseback in rural Nevada, and walked all night with a friend down a train track in upstate New York. I’ve worked on open-space cleanup projects with hunting groups, helped build and maintain riding and hiking trails, and worked in a hot little Internet marketing agency downtown. I’ve been involved in amateur radio, general aviation, equestrian groups, traditional music, and martial arts. I’ve led fitness classes for low-income Iraqi immigrant seniors, and I assist in the children’s program at the dojo. Each of these places and groups has its own culture. Even with my privileged exposure to so many kinds of people, there are more to meet and connect with.

Writer Patrick Thornton discussed the importance of getting out of our “bubbles,” our geographical and cultural comfort zones, in his brilliant essay “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.”

“We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country. More Americans need to see more of the United States. They need to shake hands with a Muslim, or talk soccer with a middle aged lesbian, or attend a lecture by a female business executive.”

I have relatives back east who will not visit us in California because of the earthquakes. I used to work with a young man who grew up in the city of San Diego but had never visited the mountains or desert here in our own county. When people talk about the value of travel, and learning about other cultures, they almost always mean international travel. But we have places to see and people to get to know here at home, too. If you can’t get there in person, make friends online, watch documentaries on YouTube, meet people from different cultures in your local area, and read. Failing to get to know your own country is a kind of willful ignorance.

Let’s make it a priority to get to know each other better.

We are the new system of checks and balances

The executive, legislative, and judicial branches of our government are meant to keep each other in check. Now they will all be working together. That’s a frightening prospect.

A free press used to be the fourth part of that system of the checks and balances that made our country work. It gave us a way to keep an eye on what our government was up to. It was the immune system that helped us discover and fight disease. But our immune systems has failed due to years of lying, fear-mongering, politically- and commercially-motivated “news” sources promoting drama over information. Trust has been undermined, such that even reliable sources aren’t believed by many. The commercial media is completely broken. Useless.

But we are not helpless. We can observe directly, and we can communicate directly. We can share, discuss, and organize. We are the new immune system. We have to use this power effectively. Here are some thoughts on how we can do that:

  • Stop pretending we can count on the media. They completely failed us. We knew it was happening, we just didn’t want to see it. Now we can’t pretend to be naive anymore. Assume not only that the other guy’s favorite network is spreading lies, but that yours is too.
  • Read, view, refer to, cite, and share source materials. Read proposed bills. Read transcripts to see what was actually said. Watch live broadcasts from regular people (Periscope, Facebook Live, etc.) so you can see what’s happening instead of filtered highlights. Click through to what’s actually being discussed in third-party articles. Don’t trust others’ interpretations – see and hear for yourself.
  • Exercise radical intellectual integrity. Stop spreading crap you know isn’t true. Focus on what’s important, not slips of the tongue, statements taken out of context, snarky memes. Spreading these things is counterproductive.
  • Call out falsehoods, exaggerations, and omissions you see in articles and reports, even when they serve your own interests. Spreading baseless fear riles people up without accomplishing anything. Sharing out-of-context quotes leads to mistrust. Don’t selectively cherry pick just the information that reinforces your beliefs.
  • Support good journalism when you do find it. I hadn’t considered this until my friend Maryjo shared it: “If you’re worried about the freedom of the press: Pay for journalism.” She went on to suggest supporting the best sources you can find, saying “Can’t afford it, can’t afford not to.”

Five critical things we can all do

We need to build community, pick our battles, and fight effectively.

  1. Stay well. Take care of your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Be active. Go outside. Breathe. Move. Eat well. Rest. Without this, nothing else can be accomplished.
  2. Get connected. Meet your neighbors. Stay in touch with friends and family. Keep lines of communication open. Get to know people from different cultures, races, ethnicities, classes, religions, ages, genders, interests, and values.  Hillary Clinton said we are Stronger Together, and that is no less true now.
  3. Find common ground. Talk to people. Ask what’s important to them, and then listen. There are things we all want. Let’s work together for our shared best interests. This helps build the relationships that allow us to address the issues where we disagree, too.
  4. Be informed. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Watch documentaries. Keep in mind the points above. Get out of your comfort zone. Think critically.
  5. Speak up. Alert others when you see trouble ahead. Propose solutions. Direct people to information. Let your representatives in government at all levels know what’s important to you, and what you want them to do about it. Encourage others to do the same.
  6. Work for good. Find a way to make a difference. Write. Create. Build. Volunteer. Donate. Teach. Pick one or two causes you believe in and actually do stuff to help.

Specific things I plan to do

I can’t fix everything. None of us can. I can’t even keep an eye on everything. Paying scattered attention to many issues – knowing just enough to complain ineffectively to the folks around me – isn’t productive. I’m choosing just a few focused actions I can take, and issues to stay on top of.

Help people stay healthy and sound.

Right now the work I’m doing for good is my own career as a fitness coach, personal trainer, and writer. I can help people keep their bodies and minds in good working order by staying active, building strength, and avoiding injury. I don’t like negative marketing messages, but this one is true: “If you think staying healthy is expensive, try getting sick.”

Some of the responsibilities of leadership in this area is to share solid information and encourage people to get started. Another, which is crucial to our collective future, is to advocate for increased opportunities for physical activity in schools and workplaces.

Whether or not we find ourselves having to work well into old age, without access to decent healthcare, taking good care of ourselves starting now is a smart, safe bet. Even with universal healthcare, a weakened, injured, and sick population is expensive for all of us. This is something I can help with directly.

Practice Aikido.

Aikido offers an inclusive community of people dedicated to a better world. It’s a physical and philosophical practice that helps us to be more balanced and and peaceful. When people say “be the change you want to see in the world” the dojo is a good place to do that. I’ve been practicing Aikido since 2009, and will continue training, and invite others to explore the idea as well.

You may turn to music, dance, religion, being out in nature… Whatever works for you, I invite you to find it and participate in it.

Support access to broadband Internet.

For any of this to work we need unfettered access to the Internet. We have to be able to speak out, gather, share, and support each other. We must defend our access to the Internet, and expand it to include the urban poor, rural communities, and everyone else.

It’s hard to imagine for those of us with instant access to Damned Near Everything right in our pockets, but many people in the United States don’t have decent Internet access – or any access at all. Many of my rural friends around the country have slow, unreliable, expensive, and limited Internet. They have to wait until they get to work download anything that requires serious bandwidth. They get cut off if they go over their monthly limit. That’s not cool.

There will be pushback from the same privileged whiners who complain about “government cell phones” (Lifeline service for low-income people). They’ve got theirs, so why should they help anyone else get ahead? We’re just going to have to fight educate them. It does not help anyone to have millions of Americans excluded from the online world.

Universal broadband Internet access is a natural extension of the vision behind Carnegie libraries. Free access to information is critical for our democracy, and helps level the playing field for all citizens. Among other things, the Internet offers…

  • Access to educational resources, from science blogs for kids, to eBooks from public libraries, to universities offering online degree programs.
  • An infrastructure that enables people to start businesses, sell products directly to consumers, or work remotely when no jobs are available locally.
  • A way to communicate and connect directly with people across the country and around the world.
  • A venue for all of us to seek out and share information.
  • The means for the elderly, disabled, and geographically isolated to stay connected with family, friends, and the world.
  • Access to government resources, information, records, and representatives.

Donald Trump was elected, but that doesn’t mean the country as a whole rejected what Hillary Clinton was proposing. Indeed, more than half of voters favored her. In California she received 2.6 million more votes than Trump. There are many, many people who support her proposals, and we should go right on working for them.

One of the most important was Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation

“Hillary believes that high-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for economic success and social mobility in a 21st century economy.”

Close the Digital Divide: Hillary will finish the job of connecting America’s households to the internet, committing that by 2020, 100 percent of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ needs. She will deliver on this goal with continue investments in the Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), and by directing federal agencies to consider the full range of technologies as potential recipients—i.e., fiber, fixed wireless, and satellite—while focusing on areas that lack any fixed broadband networks currently. Hillary also backs the FCC’s decision to extend Lifeline support to broadband, and she will work to connect this policy with community-based programs that help citizens with enrollment, offer digital literacy training and expand access to low-cost devices.”

This is the cause I’m taking up. I invite you to choose something you’re passionate about, and focus your energies on that. I will do my best to understand these issues, follow developments, educate others, share information, and keep pressure on people who can make it happen.

Speaking of which…

Stay in touch with people in government who represent me.

Many times I’ve thought “I should write to someone about this!” Occasionally I’ve done exactly that. Most of the time, though, I mean to get around to it later, when I have a minute and can find who to write to. But then I never get back to it. To support myself in more effective communication with my representatives, I am going to create a document I can easily access from anywhere (in my case, that means putting it in Evernote), and keep in it the contact information for each of them right at hand. I invite you to do the same.

My list will include:

  • Our local Planning Group members and County Supervisor
  • State Assembly members and Governor
  • Members of Congress and Senators
  • Representatives involved in expanding Internet access
  • The President.

In the past when I have contacted representatives I’ve sometimes head that I was one of just a handful of people they heard from. I know my input has added to their understanding, and even shifted their thinking in a few instance. I’ve been on advisory committees and even served as an elected member of our Planning Group for several years. What we have to say can make a difference, but we have to say it.

Remember:

  1. Stay well.
  2. Get connected.
  3. Find common ground.
  4. Be informed.
  5. Speak up.
  6. Work for good.

Let’s get to work.

Looking Ahead to 2016

Wow… As usual it’s been too long between posts. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of (and usually jot down) at least one or two subjects to write on. Alas. 2015 didn’t include much space for writing. This year – 2016 – will be a year of writing, a year of training, a year of working, and a year of doing.

This post is what has been rattling around in my mind as we’ve wrapped up the old year and moved into the new one. It’s probably of no significance to anyone other than myself, but if you’re inclined to do so, grab a cup of tea and come along for the ride.

Looking back at the past two years – 2014 and 2015 – it’s been easy to feel like I didn’t accomplish much. But now I see they were a time for preparation. For laying groundwork.

In 2014 Michael and I – well, mostly our very skillful contractor, Randy Metevier – renovated our 1960s house. I did most of the planning, purchasing, and scheduling, and some of the work, including refinishing the kitchen cabinets, painting a full-room mural, and planting a new garden area. Everything from the plaster inward was redone, right down to the wood paneling, the 30-year-old salmon-orange carpeting, and the poorly-designed room layouts that we couldn’t use well, and didn’t really enjoy. Now our house supports us, instead of being a constant source of irritation.

In 2014 I trained for almost the whole year, along with my friend and dojomate, David, in preparation for our shodan exams. We worked hard, had fun, and learned a lot about Aikido and ourselves. I continued assisting in the kids’ classes at the dojo, and training almost daily. Here and there I also worked on a couple of books, which are waiting for me to get back to them. That year I studied for, and earned my certification as a Group Fitness Instructor – physically active, sociable work to balance out my sedentary, solitary writing. I worked on building that business, creating the branding, all the online assets, networking and advertising… the usual startup work. I also did tons of learning, reading, listening, and some writing, immersing myself in the fitness profession.

In February 2015 our dojo produced the first Joshua Tree Evolutionary Aikido Retreat, a major international, live-in, 4-day event 3 hours from San Diego. It went beautifully, and we’re offering it again this year. I couldn’t make it to the O Sensei Revisited retreat at Occidental, but did get to the Aiki Retreat in Feather River. I continued training almost daily, and assisting in the children’s programs. During 2015 I also had the opportunity to lead occasional adult classes at the dojo, which I  enjoyed, and look forward to continuing in 2016.

In addition to Aikido, in January 2015 (after I had my shodan exam safely behind me) I also started training with a strength coach. Deadlifts, presses, rows, squats, chin-ups… It’s been fun and interesting, and I feel more solid and confident, especially when falling and rolling.

Over the summer of 2015 I led large group fitness classes (mostly for seniors), and discovered that while it is important and rewarding work with great people, it is also not a viable way to earn a living. One notch above volunteer work, pay-wise. I also was reminded that I don’t do mornings. No more 8 a.m. classes for me! An important lesson. Thankfully they were short-term gigs, filling in for instructors who were away for the summer months, so that spared me the awkwardness of quitting. In the fall I turned my focus to working with small groups and individuals. I studied more, and more intensively, this time to be a Certified Personal Trainer. I rebranded the business (FitCoachLinda.com), reworked all the assets, more networking and advertising… I established relationships with facilities where I can train clients and hold workshops. I learned more, read more, and listened more, too. I’m loving audiobooks, because I can easily “read” a book several times through over the course of a year.

While I was in the right mindset to work on websites I also totally redid this one (see my earlier post), so things are easier to find and read, and it will be more useful and enjoyable to more people.

During 2015 I got bogged down in some health issues, too – all resolved, happily.

A particularly stressed-out day had me holding my breath periodically, and that triggered supraventricular tachicardia, where one’s heart rate can shoot up suddenly with very little provocation. Turns out I can hit 230 beats per minute just walking from my desk to the kitchen! I’ll write more about that another time, but the bottom line is that it’s relatively harmless, just disconcerting, and is well controlled by a mild drug (beta blocker) that costs $2.89 for a two-month supply. But it was an exciting few months of urgent care visits, cardiologists, heart monitors, conducting fitness classes in this state, and a few times sitting out classes wondering if I’d ever be able to train again – that was the worst part.

That little cardiac adventure, plus some feedback from a mentor (“Hey, you’re not breathing! I can’t believe I never noticed that before!”) during one of my earlier shodan exam run-throughs led me to the discovery that I just don’t breathe sometimes. Not-breathing is bad thing, as it turns out. Long story short – pulmonoligist, sleep testing, and finally an APAP machine (like CPAP, but not continuous – it adjusts), plus being mindful of staying relaxed and breathing freely during waking hours, which is harder than you might think. I thought I had been sleeping OK before, but now I feel sharper, think more clearly and creatively, am more productive, and have more energy during the day. Still not a morning person, though!

And as if that weren’t enough, I also managed to get flattened by a case of giardiasis – the sickness caused by the microscopic parasite giardia. I recommend that you not try this yourself. It’s miserable, can kill you, and can leave you permanently messed up. And no, I don’t know how I got it, in spite of going over the preceding 45 days of activities and foods with the very nice lady, Peaches, from the County Health Department. Could be anything from eating salad bars in the Sierras to the fresh cilantro dressing I’d recently discovered at the market. The worst part was the fatigue, which lasted well past actually being “over” the infection. I’m sure you’ve seen very elderly people who doze off during meals or conversations. Yeah, that. If I were moving I could keep moving (for a while). If I sat still I was out like a light. I had no energy. I would sleep 10 hours, teach two hours of classes, nap for 4 hours, train at the dojo, and crash again for the night. Absolutely exhausted. That can linger for months or even years. I’m delighted to report that I got away with just a couple of months, and seem to be fine now. Miserable stuff.

So back to the good stuff…

At the end of 2015 I pulled together the last details required to begin taking on personal training clients. I determined rates and billing policies, created contracts and exercise programming forms, and designed systems for tracking clients’ progress. I planned a client training schedule that flows right around all the classes at the dojo, leaves useful spans of uninterrupted time for writing, and does not include being anywhere before noon.

Finally a solid foundation is in place, and I am ready to get down to the actual work of both training clients and writing books. *whew*

So what lies ahead? My long-term intention is to split my time about equally between writing and training clients. At the moment I do not have a full book of clients, so I’ll have a chance to do more writing in the early part of the year. The first two books will be for beginning Aikido students – adults, and children. In just a couple of weeks I’ll be participating in the San Diego Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar – its 10th year, my 7th – and am looking forward to seeing many friends there. As we only have one retired old backyard donkey now, Clementine, I’ll be selling my F350 truck and horsetrailer ASAP, and clearing out almost all my horse tack and supplies. We’re doing the Joshua Tree Evolutionary Aikido Retreat again in February, and I’ll be helping some with organizing that. Finances permitting, I hope to be able to travel to several seminars this year. (If you know anyone in the San Diego area looking for a supportive, friendly, professional personal trainer at a gym right next door to a great Aikido dojo, send ’em my way!)

That about covers it. Time to settle in, dig down, and get to work!

Thanks for hanging out with me all this time. I hope you have a brilliant year.

 

The More of You – A Weekend with Nadeau

Once again I’ve had the good fortune to participate in a seminar with Robert Nadeau Shihan, a direct student of O Sensei, and a 7th dan who’s been teaching since the 1960s. Nadeau is my teacher’s teacher, and the head of our division of the California Aikido Association. Just two months ago I saw him at the Aiki Retreat in Quincy, California, and now this past weekend (21-23 August, 2015) he came to teach at Aikido of San Diego, where I train.

Nadeau Shihan was a strong influence in my choosing to train in Aikido in the first place, and is one of my favorite teachers. He is a character, and a force of nature. People either love him or … well, they don’t. He’s a “rock star” in my eyes, and I don’t feel that way about many people.

So in the weeks leading up to the seminar when I’d try to encourage friends to get registered it felt odd that I really had trouble putting into words what I find so valuable about his teaching. “He’s somebody who… His seminars are really awesome… Oh, heck. Just sign up!”

The seminar was, as I’d anticipated, an enjoyable, eye-opening experience. Each time I train with him I’m listening from a new place, and get something different from the work.

Something I found myself considering this time around was how he came to be such an influential teacher. His students include many of the authors whose books I was reading before I first walked into the dojo, and then early in my training – the late George Leonard (my first Aikido role model, and part of the reason I’ve started a new career in fitness), Richard Strozzi-Heckler, Wendy Palmer (whose books introduced me to embodiment), Dan Millman, and of course my own teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei. What does Nadeau do that results in him having so many well known and successful students? How is he influencing people such that they flourish in their pursuits, and go on to be influential teachers, writers, and leaders in their own rights?

I think I stumbled onto my answer, or at least part of it, in the echos of an expression Nadeau Shihan uses often: “the more of you.” He encourages students to feel, find, and express who they are. He has no agenda. He could not care less if I teach fitness, write books, or become a plumber. His teachings guide students toward their own paths, not toward some “ideal” or “right” path determined by others. When the student is free to discover their true nature, and encouraged in being fully that which they are, their chances of being successful and making a difference in the world are far greater.

It’s an interesting way of being to explore in my own work. How can I help my clients find their path to health and fitness. Another path, some expert’s path, my path – those won’t work nearly so well, and certainly not for long. It’s an approach I’ve been taking all along, but without quite realizing it, and certainly without being able to clearly discuss it. Now that it’s at the level of consciousness I can explore and develop it further.

How might I describe the value of participating in a seminar with Robert Nadeau in the future? “He helps you to see who you are, and to be that more fully.” That’s got to be worth a weekend of anyone’s time.

Good bye, 2014. Hello, 2015.

In looking back at 2014 I see it involved a lot of completions – clearing out the old, and making room for new things – and beginnings – laying the foundations for future work. Time to head into 2015 and take advantage of all that groundwork.

Thankfully, Michael and I, and our immediate families, all stayed mostly healthy, happy, and sound all year. *whew* Plus we celebrated out 25th anniversary.

Most of the first half of the year was consumed with managing a whole-house renovation. There are still bits and pieces to be completed, but for the most part we now have a home that is much more pleasant and functional, and supports us better in our respective activities.

Throughout that time I was dealing with our donkey Eeyore’s worsening arthritis. I tried to keep him comfortable, and he had his good days, but was trending in a bad direction. Eventually, in July, we elected to give him the easy way out. Now Clementine is on her own. She was doing well, but now seems to be having trouble with tendinitis or something in her front legs. Having the vet out, again, tomorrow, to see if there’s anything we can do to help her heal and get off pain meds. Right now she’s not very happy, and I’m hoping she doesn’t follow the same trajectory as Eeyore did.

[I’m including a lot of links here because if any of this sounds like fun to to you I hope you will come out and play, too! Each link will open in a new tab, so you won’t lose your place here.]

Because of other priorities and limited finances (career transitions can be hard on one’s bank account, after all) I didn’t get to as many seminars as I would have liked. But I did participate, as usual, in the Bridge Seminar in San Diego and the O Sensei Revisited Retreat with Robert Nadeau Shihan and his senior students/instructors. Both of those are really worthwhile events, and I’m glad I was able to make it to them. Also, finally, after years of wishing, I took the train to Seattle (2 days each way!) and participated in George Ledyard Sensei’s Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside. It was a blast. Highly recommended!

I hope to be able to do all three of those seminars again this year. Definitely the San Diego Bridge Seminar, which is in just a couple of weeks. And this year there’s a new retreat that I’m really looking forward to – the Joshua Tree Evolutionary Aikido Retreat with my teacher, Dave Goldberg Sensei (Aikido of San Diego), Patrick Cassidy Sensei (Aikido Montreux, Switzerland), and Miles Kessler Sensei (Integral Dojo, Tel-Aviv, Israel). It’s going to be a pretty spectacular event, at a historic retreat center in the Mojave Desert in February. The Aiki Summer Retreat is reported to be happening again this year, and I hope to make it to that as well.

After the house project was done I got busy studying, and passed the test for my ACE certification as a Group Fitness Instructor, then went right on to get certified to teach SilverSneakers Classic, Circuit, and Yoga classes for seniors, and began the process for offering their FLEX Community Fitness classes.

At the same time, I clarified the concept, created branding and marketing materials, and launched my company, Fit Coach Linda. Its mission is to support people in getting moving, and living active, healthy, happy lives through better connection with their own bodies, with nature, and with others. Right now I’m designing programs and materials, and arranging for venues. I should have had that up and running for New Year’s. Alas, too much to do at once. I’ll have to catch people as their resolution motivation is waning, and they realize that a supportive group environment and accountability is more likely to lead to success than determination alone. If you want to be a part of this, you can follow my Fit Coach Linda Blog  for info and inspiration for living a more active life, and also “Like” the Fit Coach Linda page on Facebook.

As always, I enjoyed training all year at Aikido of San Diego. In December I passed my shodan (blackbelt) exam. I’m looking forward to “just training” this year, and deepening my understanding and application of Aikido. The Joshua Tree Retreat will be a huge part of that, I’m sure. I didn’t meditate as much as I would have liked in 2014 – must incorporate that into my regular practice this year, too.

Between the renovations, donkeys, studying, and training, I didn’t get as much writing done as I should have. However, I was able to make tons of progress on two books (Aikido-specific, for students, to be published in the next few months), and some progress on a third (non-fiction/self-help, maybe later in 2015). Writing – actually publishing books via my other company, Shugyo Press – is my “day job,” along with the programs I’ll be teaching for Fit Coach Linda, so I need to be diligent about actually getting that work done this year.

But before any of that, today is the first day of New Year. I’ll be celebrating by heading to the gym to work with my personal trainer, Kyle, of San Diego Strength and Conditioning. A very nice guy who knows what he’s doing, and his facility is right next to the dojo. Perfect. Part of my own strategy to make 2015 an even better year.

Facing Forward, Walking Straight – Aikido and Health

Photo of my parking garage stairwell

I went into the office for a few hours yesterday – something I hadn’t done yet this whole year, as I work off site now. It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, and was excited about seeing my friends there. A quick visit, checking out a new tool I’d be using on the cool project I’m working on, catching up with a few colleagues, and then I’d be heading to the dojo to assist in the kids’ class and train in the two evening classes. The makings of a pretty awesome day.

I parked in the usual garage, on the 5th level, and headed for the stairs down to the street. When I saw them I was struck by something I hadn’t thought about in years. I stopped and stood there so long, just looking, that the security guard came over to see if everything was OK.

It’s funny the things that you forget.

When I first started training I could not climb these stairs, not up or down. My knees couldn’t take it. Every day I had to detour and take the elevator. I could do a few steps. But whole flights of stairs, no. The pain behind my kneecaps just wouldn’t let me. It’s been so long ago, so much has changed, I’d forgotten it completely.

There was so much wrong, back then. I had the knee pain, of course, and shoulder problems that had required surgery and ongoing PT. Plantar fasciitis meant I had to wear heavy hiking shoes with orthotics, and even with them I couldn’t walk far. Every morning I woke up stiff and sore, like I’d been sleeping on cold concrete. I had constant vertigo that felt like I was living aboard a ship, complete with seasickness during particular high seas. And neuropathic pain that would have sent me to the E.R. at times, except that I knew there’s nothing they could’ve done for it.

I felt old and weak and broken. But I wanted become a better horseperson – more centered, less reactive – and I knew Aikido could help. I called and asked Sensei about classes that didn’t involve rolling or falling – I didn’t know if I’d be able to. “Nope. We all train together. Come in, and just do what you can.” I didn’t even consider the link between Aikido and health – the possibility of actually improving one’s health. But I was cautiously optimistic, and buoyed by his confidence I decided to give it a try. I dragged my busted up self into the dojo and started training.

My life has a soundtrack. Somehow the right song seems to come along when I need it. Last week I got to see the brilliant songwriter Cheryl Wheeler in concert. As I was listening to her music on the way home that night I rediscovered this gem, “Boulder Hotel Room”:

Life is short, but the days and nights are long
Time will heal all these wounds
Some day soon
I’ll be rising I’ll be strong

When I first started training I loved this song for its powerful little flickers of hope and determination. I listened to it over and over, back then. I’d forgotten all about it, too.

Shortly after I started training I injured my shoulder. It occurred to me I might have made a mistake, trying to take up a martial art at my age and with my collection of ailments. Soon after, it appeared that my neuropathy might be causing new and more dangerous autonomic nervous system problems. I was worried about what was wrong with me. I thought it might be MS. Whatever it was I was scared to death that it would get worse. But I’d already been drawn into Aikido – waking up in the mornings excited about getting to the dojo, smiling about nothing on the way home from class. Come what may I wasn’t going to give it up.

But now I’m losing all my battles
Now I’m down and dropping still
And this snow’s blowing through
Like some ghost
With this blue I know too well

It turns out the worrisome symptoms – near-fainting and seeming inability to regulate body temperature – had a perfectly harmless explanation. I don’t think my doctor has ever had a patient react with such relief and happiness to discover that she’s run headlong into menopause!

But there weren’t only physical problems. In recently years I’d lost my sister to addiction, several friends suddenly to various health issues, and my first horse to colic. The equestrian community I’d been part of for years unraveled as members focused on recovering from a fire that affected thousands in our area. At the same time work went straight to hell, with a sadistic boss seemingly bent on ruining my career, and I had to quit that job. The 9/11 attacks and hurricane Katrina provided a fitting background. It was a painful time, and when I started training these things still had a strong hold on me.

Broken hearts keep on beating just the same
So I guess I can too
Go through these moves
Facing forward, walking straight

But now my glance keeps drifting downward
Now my feet can’t find their way
And this cold’s creeping in
Through my bones
Whisperin’ it’s here to stay

You know how years later you can clearly remember words that shocked your system? Someone says something so unexpected, so direct, so true that it pierces right through the usual listening we have for small-talk and ordinary communication. Like a time decades ago – maybe I was in my early 20s – in a supermarket… I was standing in the path of a woman’s cart and as I stepped aside I said “Oh, I’m sorry.” Instead of the usual “no problem” kind of civility she snapped at me sternly, but not without kindness, “Don’t apologize. Women are always apologizing. Don’t do that.” It came from out of the blue – a little verbal dope-slap – that it really caught my attention, and made me think. She was right. I took her advice to heart, and try to follow it to this day.

Anyway…I was training one day, and I don’t know what I said – probably something about how that particular technique was really hard for me, you know, with my shoulders, or how badly I was doing it – when Sensei snapped at me in the same way, not out of meanness, but so direct and piercing that really caught my attention: “Stop wallowing in your own misery!” Whoa… I hadn’t realized it, but I really was. For sure I had some problems, but I was turning circumstances into misery; I was the one doing the wallowing. I hadn’t been aware of that. I took Sensei’s words to heart, trying to catch myself when I’m inclined to revert to that way of being. The world is a brighter place when you’re not wallowing in misery, it really is.

I know there’s light on some horizon
But I can’t see so far ahead
Patience and grace, blessed is love
I’m losing my faith
In most of that stuff those wise men said

When I started training I had no idea what a sensei was, really – what it would mean to have that kind of teacher in my life. Someone who not only points out where I need to correct my body, but where I need to correct my mind as well. Not only showing me where to put my feet, but where to put my attention.

Sure, I figured that he knew what he was doing as far as technique, and could teach it well. I assumed I’d be challenged with faster, harder attacks as I became better able to handle them. I thought I’d learn to stay calm and deal more effectively with scary, painful reality.

I didn’t hope circumstances would improve. I never imagined that I would be challenged to change my reality. I didn’t even know that was an option. I couldn’t see that far ahead.

Now that old reality is only a distant, faded memory. It comes back to me, infrequently, in dream-like flashes – like when I’m stopped in my tracks at the sight of a stairwell, realizing I’m about to jog down 5 flights in light, flexible flats and a skirt, excited about the beautiful day ahead of me, like it’s the most natural, normal thing in the the world. And now it is.

Thank you for that, Sensei.

 

—–

Lyrics above are quoted from “But the Days and Nights Are Long” (AKA: “Boulder Hotel Room”) by Cheryl Wheeler

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?

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

Training Diary – The First 6 Classes

From my notes on my first six Aikido classes:

Physical Info – Starting Point

Health: Coming off 2 weeks or a horrendous cold. Feeling better.
Weight: 189 lbs., goal of 160 lbs. (And then “We’ll see.”)
Fitness: Sedentary work, semi-active fun (cleaning horse pen, gardening…). Few PT exercises for shoulder. No working out or stretching for many years.
Vertigo: Much better over past couple of months. Encouraged, but concerned that rolling and breakfalls could set it off again.

Activities

Tuesday evening, May 5, 2009
Class #1
Really fun, awesome people, great time, very excited about Aikido.
Very sore, tired quads later. Did lots of walking and stretching.

Started walking around park several times during the day at work.

Saturday morning, May 9, 2009
Class #2
An hour before class something “went out” a little in my hip. Figured it would loosen up with work. Ha! Wrong. On very first attempt at rolling hip went into spasm.
Limped through class. (Too stubborn to bow out.)
Did lots of walking and stretching for several days. Probably piriformis muscle. Learned trigger point technique using foam roller, which helped.

Tuesday evening, May 12, 2009
Class #3
Very comfortable. Feeling good. Halfway competent at where to stand, what to do…

Wednesday evening, May 13, 2009
Class #4
Forward rolls from standing/walking. Great fun. Lots of work on breathing, centering, flowing… Quiet blending exercises – nothing I had envisioned doing in a “martial art” – very cool!
Right at end of class landed hard on right shoulder.

Between classes
Major pain. Several days of Really Bad Muscle Spasms in shoulder. Lots of intensive work with icing, heat, and trigger points.

Breathing and centering exercises from class are tremendous for pain control. Open posture and attitude (?) reduce pain & discouragement, while closed posture and focusing on self make everything notably worse. Lots and lots of stopping, centering, breathing in the universe, focusing outward, extending.

Saturday, May 16, 2009
Observed class and tests! Dojo picnic at Santee lakes.
Lucky timing, that I should have the chance to meet so many people so soon.

Between classes
Shoulder much better, but not enough, by Monday. Off to Orthopedic guy who had done earlier bone spur removal surgery on that shoulder. Dx: Minor separation of the AC joint. Rest, ice, activity as tolerated. No Aikido. Next check in 2 weeks.

Tuesday evening, May 19, 2009
Observed class
Paid especially close attention to things I could do on my own, trying to be sure I understand them well enough to practice the right thing: Stretches, breathing, warm-up exercises, hanmi. Walking, grounding, aligning, settling. Many notes on names of techniques, and elements to remember.

Between classes
Holistic Health Practicioner (HHP) back from vacation. 90-minute massage. Many knots undone, bless her very skilled heart and hands.

Tuesday evening, May 26, 2009
Observed class
Similar notes and observations. Watching classes is time well-spent, but very much like “watching all the other kids play in the pool.” Very frustrating.

Saturday morning, May 30, 2009
Observed weapons class and open-hand class
Brought two friends who have been thinking about studying Aikido. One, Sue, with whom I used to work, and had not seen in years, and a new friend, Edgar, from Twitter who I was just meeting for the first time.
Had not really considered weapons work, but am now thinking it would be a very good idea to be doing this too.

Between classes
To Doc for shoulder check on Monday. Happy with progress. OK to do classes, but no falling or rolling. Yay! Next check in 3 weeks.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Class #5
Back on the mat! Was able to do quite a lot. Finally remembered to say “onegai shimasu” at the right time. Progress! Sensei very kind about alerting me to upcoming techniques I would not be able to do. Some ouchy experiences, but mostly good.

Between classes
Still icing shoulder 3-5x/day. Some heat, too.
90-minute massage with HHP. Many more nasty knots.
On Monday not happy with progress. Feeling worse, not better. Other shoulder starting to hurt almost as bad. Made PT appt.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Class #6
Participated, but a bit more cautiously. Could not lift hands over head without pain. Sat out about half the class. Should’ve just observed.

Between classes
PT appt. Turns out there’s also an injury to the brachial plexus – a bunch of nerves. Numbness & tingling in fingers. Not a good thing. I am not to do anything that causes any pain in shoulders. Now 2x/week PT for 4 weeks. Must get injured tendon calmed down so it does not irritate nerve. Benched for at least 4 more weeks, if I’m lucky, and then will have to be careful to not reinjure shoulder.

Physical Info – Current

Health: Felt like cold was coming back. Doc says allergies. Treating that, and feeling 80% better.
Weight: 181 lbs. Down 8 lbs. Goal of 160 lbs.
Fitness: Walking breaks at work. Taking stairs. Lots of stretching & exercises on my own (stepping on/off straw bale 20 reps, 2x/day).
Vertigo: No problems so far w/rolling or falls. Survived 4-hour sailing adventure, even.

Finally – up to date. Whew. Hmm… I was thinking I had done 7 classes, but it’s only 6.