8 Years In, and Still Loving Every Minute

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Too Much To Write About!

I haven’t posted since late September, and even that was pretty lame. But it’s not for lack of anything to say. About every 15 minutes I trip over another “I really should write about this” kind of experience. But then I remember I have a dozen things to do. Maybe later… Maybe tomorrow… I don’t like that. For me not writing is like not speaking to a good friend for too long. I need to make it a higher priority, along with meditation, which I’ve also not been doing nearly enough.   

Meanwhile, I passed my ACE exam to become a certified Group Fitness Instructor. Afterward I immediately got to work setting up my company, Reconnecting Ourselves (www.ReconnectingOurselves.com). Among other things, I am planning short-term programs, like boot camps, but for total beginners – the kind of folks who “will join a gym after I get in better shape.” A first step to get people on the path to being more active, and more connected with their own bodies, with nature, and with others. I hope to be offering them soon after the start of the year.

Along with that whirlwind of website work, content creation, and marketing mayhem I have been continuing to train in earnest for my shodan (first black belt) exam, just over two weeks away now, on December 13th. 

Training for shodan, for me, has been pushing me in every way I can be pushed. And I suppose that’s part of the idea. I’m enjoying the process, and learning so much every time I step on the mat. But the more I see, the further I see I have to go. I keep having to remind myself that “shodan” means (as far as I know), “beginning rank.” I think of it like graduating from high school and starting college. A big deal, yes, but then you’re a freshman – just starting into serious study. I’m trying to be patient with myself and keep my perspective, and at the same time of course I want to do the best I can. 

I’m rediscovering a few ways to get myself in the right state of mind, including listening to music that helps me call up the right energies, and visualizing techniques done well. Affirmations, too. I might naturally find the little voice in my head saying “I’m never going to be able to get this down smoothly,” so I’m countering it with some different messaging. If it’s going to chatter on, it might as well get to work saying something helpful.

Sleep is probably important, too, especially because we do exams on Saturday mornings – not my best time of day. Time to get into the habit of being rested, up, awake, and ready to go earlier in the day. Guess I should hit the hay.

That Still Counts!

Yesterday I completed one entire month on the mat. I’m preparing for my first kyu exam, which will be this Saturday, so I’ve been training even more than usual. I did it just because I could, and because it seemed to help me keep up the proper momentum, and stay loose physically. The nerve problem I was having with my neck and arm has been improving with constant activity, and I’m generally feeling very good. So why stop?

I trained every day, even Sundays. Every class, even the kids classes, and every open mat session. :-) 

When I shared that milestone with my friends, one suggested that I must be experiencing an “awesome growth spurt." 

Actually, no. Although I have been enjoying training and having a lot of  fun preparing for exams with my dojo mates, I’ve actually been fairly perturbed by my lack of progress. Sometimes it’s felt like I’m going backward. It’s been discouraging. For for each new "aha” moment there are three more things I see I seriously need to work on.

Here’s what I said to him:

“Not really feeling like it… Well actually, yeah… But the kind of growth where you become more acutely aware of where the holes are, and what needs work. Humbling – in the classic sense of the word.”

In writing that answer I saw the situation in a new light, and suddenly felt a lot better about things. I really was making progress, it just didn’t look the way I had been thinking it should. So I guess that does still count as an “awesome growth spurt.”

  • Opening my eyes to a thousand details and endless room for refinement still counts as opening my eyes.
  • Discovering how I process and remember information (or fail to) still counts as discovery.
  • Becoming more aware of the holes in my technique still counts as becoming more aware.
  • Starting to see some of the bigger picture  — the patterns and relationships in techniques — still counts as starting to see.
  • Learning where my blind spots are still counts as learning.
  • Knowing what I need to work on still counts as knowing.

I will do my best on Saturday, and I’m sure I won’t be satisfied with that. But I will be moving into the next phase of my training better equipped to learn and develop further, with a broadened perspective on the art, and deeper appreciation for what’s available through training in it. And that still counts as progress.

Being Who You Are

[I wrote this post almost three years ago, but tucked it away with a hundred or so others in my Drafts folder, because it felt a little too raw. A conversation with a friend recently reminded me about it. Now, with another free intro class coming up at our dojo, it seems like a good time to hit the Publish button. Here it is, unedited.]

Me_NotMe_2Photos

There is nothing that touches us quite like being “gotten” – known for who we really are. Being recognized. And there are few things so exasperating as being seen as someone who you are not.

The photo on the left is me, on my 2nd birthday, on what I’m guessing was a birthday present. A Wonder Horse. Like a rocking horse, but on springs. I think they make bull-riding practice rigs like this. I probably played on it until I outgrew it or wore it out. I’m sure I fell asleep on the damned thing. If they had these for grownups, there wouldn’t be a weight problem in our country. It was only a plastic horse, but it offered movement and energy and adventure and freedom from gravity. I loved that thing.

The photo on the right is me, dressed and posed as someone I never was. I remember that day very clearly. They moved the round walnut coffee table over to where the photographer’s background was, for me to sit on. I was told to smile like that, and the photographer positioned my hand, with my finger against my cheek, and turned my head just so. I protested, but the photographer (who was a professional after all, and who knew best) insisted. I’m sure it was supposed to look sweet and cute. But it didn’t look like me. I was as furious as a little child can be. It still pisses me off to think about it. My mom recently gave me that red checkered dress from the photo, to do with as I like. I think I’ll burn it.

When I was a kid I rode my bike or skateboarded everywhere (or cartwheeled, or pogo-sticked). I had pet snakes and a paper route. I hiked all over the local hills and canyons with the local gas station dog. I played street hockey and body surfed. I never had a Barbie. I hated dressing up. I liked bugs. My sister and I had to plead our case very persistently, but we did manage to get a slot car set (“but those are for boys”) for Christmas one year.

All my life (thankfully not as much after 40) people have been trying to tell me I should be more girly. As a little kid I was told that of course I like pink. “All girls like pink.” (Blue was my favorite color.) I was supposed to love babies. (I’ve never had any rapport with babies, I’ve never wanted babies, and no, I don’t want to hold your baby.) I was supposed to adore wearing dresses.

In 3rd grade the girls at my school were allowed to wear pants on Fridays. Only.

In the summer of 3rd grade somehow I’d heard about a judo class at the YMCA, and insisted on joining it. I remember the room, and I remember endlessly slapping the mat and learning to fall (a skill that may have saved my life later on). The class was mostly boys. I don’t remember this, but my mom tells me they wouldn’t train with the girls, and that my feelings were terribly hurt by that. Being an outsider is painful.

Later I worked on cars and built stuff with my dad. I got my ham license at 12 so I could join the Humane Society’s Animal Rescue Reserve (rescuing livestock in disaster situations). I fought my way into wood shop (where the teacher said he didn’t give girls As) and metal shop. Home Ec was still required, of course. Just for girls. A friend and I were the first two girls ever in our school to take Football in P.E., and we had to fight for that, too. But they drew the line at auto shop. No girls. No way.

In 12th grade I trained in Tang Soo Do for independent study P.E. credit. It was mostly guys… I don’t recall any other girls in the beginning class with me, but one of the black belts was a beautiful young mother named Cristi, and she was clearly capable and respected. I never felt like “one of the gang,” but Master Kenyon never treated me differently than any other student. No less was expected of me. I loved training there, but had to stop when I moved to go to college.

Girls are supposed to crave shoes, jewelry, makeup, perfume, shopping, cute clothes, and wearing frilly things. Naturally we must love chick-flick movies, spa days, and girls’ nights out. Whatever those are.

Those assumptions and expectations alone are annoying enough, but there are more insidious aspects. I wasn’t supposed to be smart. I wasn’t supposed to be interested in greasy mechanical things, or computers. I wasn’t supposed to be good at sports. Possibly worse than obvious active discouragement – you can fight back against that – are the subtle low expectations and social exclusion. Simply not being invited to participate in things… “We didn’t think you’d be interested.” Not feeling welcome. How do you fight that?

Girls aren’t even supposed to be strong. Seriously, I was often told as a young woman to avoid doing things that might make my arms or legs big – like swimming, martial arts, or windsurfing. “If you get muscles you won’t ever be able to wear cute clothes.” Fortunately I somehow didn’t give a damn what people thought, but a lot of girls buy into this, and forgo healthy, fun, empowering physical activity in favor of being acceptable to others.

Dar Williams’ song “When I Was a Boy” perfectly reflects my experience. Click here to open a video of her performing it (opens in a new window): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zIB3piK0wE

“And now I’m in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more. More that’s tight means more to see. More for them, not more for me. That can’t help me climb a tree in 10 seconds flat. – When I was a boy – see that picture? That was me. Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees. And I know things have gotta change. They’ve got pills to sell. They’ve got implants to put in, they’ve got implants to remove. But I am not forgetting that I was a boy too.”

No one at the dojo has ever been even subtly discouraging to anyone on the basis of gender. Expectations are appropriate to the students’ experience, physical ability, and skill. But somehow in the context of Aikido recently, the issue of gender has been coming up. Someone mentioned the male:female ratio at the dojo a few weeks ago (about 3:1, I think). In a few small classes recently I’ve been the only woman. I don’t think I would’ve noticed except that I was the only one in the women’s dressing room. It doesn’t bother me in the least to train with just guys, but I do think it’s a shame that more women aren’t finding their way into martial arts.

The reasons why are many, and have been discussed ad nauseum with no agreed-upon answer. For many I’m guessing it’s a lifetime of assertions about who we are (“Oh, you wouldn’t like that, it looks pretty rough.”), concerns over becoming physically unacceptable to others (having bruises, or keeping nails cut short, for instance), the discouragement of subtle low expectations (whether about ability or commitment), and maybe just plain never having been invited, or made to feel welcome once they join. Not welcome like an outsider who’s being treated with kindness, but one of us.

A friend of a student was visiting the dojo one day months ago, watching a class. Trying to strike up a conversation I asked her if she’d ever done any martial arts. She visibly responded as though I’d asked her if she ate kittens for breakfast, and said something to the effect of “Oh heavens, no!” I was so taken aback by her repulsed reaction that I couldn’t find a tactful way to ask what in the heck she meant by that. If I see her again maybe I’ll follow up.

We may never have a solution, but meanwhile, invite someone, include everyone, and let people feel like they belong.

13 Days and Counting

I have 13 training days left before my 1st kyu exam on March 9th.

It’s been a very difficult week for me, personally, quite outside of my comfort zone. But I’ve been learning to deal with conflict in a way that benefits everyone. And isn’t that the whole point after all?

I’ve been training really hard, with a lot of focus, and things are starting to come together. I’m seeing more patterns, groupings, and relationships, rather than dozens of separate techniques. And I’m starting to find some new subtleties and details. It still seems like there’s a long way to go, but I’m basically feeling on track.

There’s quite a large group of us all training for exams on the same day – from 1st to 6th kyu. We’ve all been supporting each other and training together, which has been a fantastic experience. We’ve also had a great deal of help from our very generous yudansha, who have spent hours with us refining techniques, clearing up confusion, and polishing the rough spots. I’m feeling very fortunate indeed to have them!

Tomorrow, Sunday, we have another three-hour open-mat session in the afternoon. I want to focus on smoothing out some techniques that I basically understand, but haven’t gotten into muscle memory very well yet. Slow, smooth, relaxed, repetition. Breathing is important, I hear, too. 

Right now, though, I’m really tired, and looking forward to a hot bath and a good night’s rest.

Threshold Spirits

Big ideas seem to come together for me in the morning, perhaps before the rational, detail-oriented part of my brain comes online and takes charge. Earlier this week, when I was uncharacteristically up before sunrise, a larger theme came to me that will help tie my book together. And now this morning, blundering around the kitchen getting my coffee, I realized that two things I’ve been struggling with are really the same. I am on the verge of publishing my first book, and in a few weeks I have my first kyu exam. In both cases, I’ve alternately been unconcerned, and a little panicky.

One day soon I will hit the Publish button, and my first book will go live on the Amazon store. And on March 9th, Sensei will call me up in front of the class, and for about 45 minutes I will bring forth everything I’ve got. No do overs. No excuses. I will wish I might have had more time for editing and rewriting. I will wish I had trained harder, spend more time, focused more clearly… But it will be what it is, and I will have to leave it at that and move on.

I know I still have some time. Feeling rushed and stressed out will not help me. These are just stepping stones on much longer paths — there will be more books, and more exams in the future. No lives are on the line. In the greater scheme of what’s important in the world, these are No Big Deal. In one sense this is a sane, adaptive way of looking at things. But I recognize it as a defensive strategy: “It’s not that important… I wasn’t really trying…” Minimizing the importance of something is a great way to protect against the sting of failure.

On the other hand, I don’t take these things lightly at all. In each case I will be presenting to the world the work that represents me. “Here it is, the best I can do.” For someone committed to, or perhaps attached to, doing everything as well as I possibly can, that’s a frightening prospect.

My sempai, mentor, and friend, Karen, who is as smart, kind, and wise as they come, commented a few days ago when I was feeling rushed at only having four weeks left before my test:

“The anxiety is threshold spirits trying to carry you to the finish line. Remember that when they are shoving you. :-) ”

I will try to remember that, and embrace my threshold spirits, welcoming their shoving, and I will do the very best I can as I approach my two finish lines.

Acceleration. As in rocket sled.

This past month or so has been an amazingly varied, intense, and joyful period of Aikido for me. I’ve had a great time, and learned tons. I would not have said a few weeks ago that I was on a plateau. I wasn’t feeling frustrated or stalled out in any way. But in the last few weeks I have felt a sort of acceleration kick in. Zero to 60 is one thing. But when you’ve already been doing 60… Wow. 

I’m not sure why it’s been like this, but I’m enjoying the heck out of it, and waking up excited about each day. In my experience, as a native San Diegan, this time of year is one of beginnings. It’s blazing hot for months, and then things start to cool off. Rain comes, and the hills start to go from gold to green. I associate the changing light and weather with the start of start of the school year, so it just feels like a time for learning new things. Also, I’ve been writing a lot here (not just the posts you’ve seen, but drafts for future posts, or just private reflections), plus putting my thoughts down on paper after class in a notebook I carry with me in my dojo bag. Writing helps me digest information, see patterns, and remember. I’ve been writing because I’ve been inspired by everything I’m experiencing and learning, but the writing also deepens the experience and solidifies the learning.

Actually, this all really started around the beginning of August. Sensei did some really revealing and inspired work with us on embodying qualities in our Aikido. We had several classes that, even though each was only an hour, generated the kinds of insights I might hope for from participating in a seminar. Lots of discovery and realizations. The kind of work that whaps you upside the head and wakes you up. I was in the midst of several personal transitions, discovering where I fit in, and the processes we did on in class helped me see more clearly the real issues underlying some situations I’d been suffering over.  

Later in August, while on vacation with my husband, Michael, I got to train at Portland Aikikai, in Oregon. They were very nice folks. I hope I have the chance to go back. If you’re in the area, stop in and train (ask first, of course). They are a warm, welcoming group. I participated in three classes, with three different teachers. That was very challenging! Each one had a little different feeling to their class, and everything was a little different from what I’m used to. So I had to stay very awake! Even warm-ups were done a little differently. Training there was really fun, and mentally exhausting, paying attention that closely for that long. 

Also while on vacation I managed to sneak in an Friday morning class at Michael Friedl Sensei’s dojo in Ashland, Oregon. I’d trained with Friedl Sensei once before, at the Aiki Retreat, and felt right at home. Here again, if you’re in the area, get in touch with him about training. It was a pretty laid-back energy class, which was wonderful, because it was at 7 a.m., and I’m not sure I’d have been up to anything too terribly vigorous at that hour. I’d never trained that early before! At the end of class Friedl Sensei took a moment to explain why they were all (even himself) wearing white belts and no hakama. For a couple of months (if I remember correctly) each year everyone in the dojo wears a white belt. It’s to remind them of Beginner’s Mind, and that we’re all on this path of learning together, even the teacher. I really like that idea, and it fits right into the sense of newness I’ve been feeling about training. 

On our way south we stopped in Chico, California, where I got to observe a couple of hours of Danzan Ryu Jujitsu classes at Chico Kodenkan (founded in 1939!). Aikido has roots in Jujitsu, but I’d never actually seen it before. So I was very fortunate that this dojo was about 3 blocks from where Michael went to play in a traditional Irish music session, and happened to have classes at the same time. Here I only went to watch, but the teacher (maybe Ken Couch?) was very generous about stepping off the mat to explain their teaching system and history, and to answer my questions. He said next time they’d get me on the mat. That would be fun! I also got to meet their Sensei, Delina Fuchs, a gracious woman who made me feel very welcome. Once more, if you’re in Chico… Well, you know. :-) The class I watched included two senior students who appeared to be training for an upcoming exam, and a few children who were just beginning. A couple of the kids had to go early, leaving one very new boy and the two seniors in the class. The instructor had them do a really creative, fun Sumo kind of exercise in balance breaking that put the little newbie kid on an equal footing with the much more experienced, bigger students. I often find that watching the teaching and class management is as fascinating as seeing the techniques demonstrated, and this fun, effective exercise was a great opportunity for that. 

After returning from vacation, on Saturday, September 1st we had two shodan exams at our dojo. We’ve averaged about one a year since I started, so two on one day was a big deal. It was great to see two friends who have mentored and encouraged me from day one take that big step. Inspiring. And the next day (Sunday) one of our other shodans celebrated his 75th birthday! 

The next weekend, September 7th-9th, we had a seminar on Connection, co-taught by Denise Barry Sensei from Kuma Kai Aikido in Sebastopol, and our own Dave Goldberg Sensei. Part of it was at a retreat center in the mountains. We worked on what it means to be connected – to ground, to ourselves, to our partners, to others. We took a long look at how we relate to being connected. What qualities would a connected person have? What’s easy/difficult for us about connecting. I really started to see connection in a broader context. That whole experience is still reverberating for me, and I’m sure will be for a very long time.

Back at the dojo I was available to help out in the kids’ classes for the first time! During the past month I’ve been able to assist a few times with both the 5-7 year-olds, and the 8-13 group. I don’t have a lot of experience working with children, and am grateful to be able to see how Sensei interacts with them, and to have my more experienced dojo-mates, Oya and Gilbert, as examples and mentors. He uses a balanced mix of action and stillness, fun and discipline, teaching and participation. It’s been interesting seeing how they learn, and I got to participate in some fun games and exercises, too.

The week after our own seminar, I took the train (20 hours each way!) to a Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei, at Two Rivers Budo in Sacramento, on September 14th-16th. I’ve posted a good bit about that already. The short version is that it was three days of looking at things from a slightly different perspective, and was great fun. A little extra-special aspect of the weekend was that I had the opportunity to interview Ledyard Sensei. (One video is out on YouTube now, and the others will be available soon.) 

The next Saturday, the 22nd, we had kyu exams at the dojo. I got to be uke for a friend testing for 4th kyu. He did a great job on his test, as did the others testing that day. As is traditional, we all went for lunch afterward.

The day after exams, Sunday, a big group of us went to Tijuana, Mexico (about 20 miles south of the dojo) with Sensei, who was teaching a seminar, “The Evolution of Flow,” along with Victor Alvarado Sensei of Aikido Tijuana. The trip was an adventure, the seminar was brilliant, and the party afterward was great fun. What a nice bunch of people! And of course the seminar was another path to seeing things with fresh eyes and feeling new energies.

Both at that seminar and in class a few times recently I’ve gotten to take ukemi for Sensei. I love having that chance to feel his technique. It means having to really pay sharp attention and be extra sensitive and responsive. It’s an especially rich experience, and I really enjoy and appreciate having that opportunity.

Classes at our dojo are never “the same old thing,” but this past week has been, for me at least, an intensive period of in-depth, precise, technical training. Honestly I don’t know how much that’s what’s being taught, and how much it’s that I’m paying attention more closely. Either way, the whole week has been like opening my head and pouring buckets of information into my brain (and body). I’ve been noticing bigger patterns and relationships between blends and techniques from various attacks. More layers to the onion. I’ve been taking pages and pages of notes after class, trying not to lose any of the precious details I’ve been noticing. This is what inspired my poetic post recently about trying not to drop any of bounty of delicious gifts from a friend’s garden.

Wrapping up the month, on Saturday the 29th I took a 3-hour Self Defense for Women class at our local adult education center. I wanted to see what the class covered, how the teacher managed a roomful of newbies, and what kind of concerns the participants brought to the class. I get a lot of people asking me about taking Aikido for “self defense”/personal safety reasons. This is a class I would feel comfortable referring them to, if that’s really what they want. It was interesting seeing how the participants approached training. Some were quite good at picking it up. One didn’t grasp the concept of “pulling” an elbow strike to the solar plexis. (Ooof!) Another woman, in a game of balance-breaking, kept pushing off me when I was solid and she wasn’t, and knocking herself over. And she thought I’d done it to her. Interesting… I wonder where else that happens in her life? It was a fun class, and yet another perspective.

What fun!  Lots of great classes, five dojos, three seminars, about a dozen teachers, working with kids, taking ukemi, shodan exams, kyu exams, four parties, travel, writing, high falls, technical work, personal process work… And I’m probably forgetting a lot, too!

Today I started out with a massage. Now I’m off with Michael to visit a great bookstore, listen to music, and have dinner with friends. And tomorrow… Another new month of Aikido begins. Yay!

The Possibility of Balance

Dang, I am really behind on posting. I read a quote recently that suggested one should meditate for 20 minutes a day, and if too busy for that, then meditate for an hour a day. It’s a really good point. Pausing is in order. 

For horsepeople, perhaps think of meditation as a half-halt in the forward motion of life, a momentary slowing to regroup. Get your feet under you, collect, and then continue in a more organized, empowered way.

I have been just too busy. Mostly with work, and then with trying to get caught up from having been too busy with work. Things are slowing down now, and I’ve got a little breathing room.

More important, thanks to support from my darling hubby, and a willingness to be creative with working arrangements on the part of my employer, I am on course for creating a more balanced life in the long term.

Getting myself into a better daily rhythm is important. Sitting for hours on end is terrible for anyone’s health, and particularly injurious to mine, I think. It really aggravates my peripheral neuropathy, so by the end of 8 or 9 hours everything hurts. It’s a miserable experience, on all levels. Being able to be active for more of the day is something I’m moving toward at every opportunity. And getting enough sleep. That one’s a challenge.

My goal is to have time and flexibility to pursue writing more consistently, to focus more deeply on my Aikido training, and get a hundred (+/-) projects done, or heck, started – house maintenance, yard improvements, a vegetable garden, that kind of thing. Oh, and simplifying, focusing, and decluttering. I have a lot of getting rid of things to do, to make space for whatever’s next.

Meanwhile, here’s a litte catching up since my last post, at the “O Sensei Revisited” retreat (May 18-20, 2012). It was a wonderful little camp in Occidental, California, just north of the Bay Area, in the woods. I had posted bits and pieces about the event, until the WiFi went out at the Lodge. And then I drove home. And then I went to work the next morning. And didn’t come up for air until now. 

We had an amazingly good time. The people were wonderful, the food was good, the facility was recently built, and well designed, and the surroundings were beautiful. Twelve of us went from Aikido of San Diego. It was a great dojo bonding experience. Someday, we will bring Oya the tea she deserves. 

The workshop itself was brilliant. It’ll get its own post, but it had a fairly narrow subject, which we explored in some depth, lead by Nadeau Shihan, with parts presented by several instructors, who each approached the work in their own way.

The trip home was a grand adventure, also deserving of its own post. It included great company on the road, visits with four friends on the way south, a solar eclipse, sitting in a river, incredible coastal views, elephant seals, horses, lots of coffee, and hours of delightful conversation.

Since returning, I have been working and training, mostly. I am very fortunate to be mentoring a friend for his upcoming 3rd kyu exam, which means extra training for me, paying closer attention to details than I often do, and enlisting the help of our generous yudansha to help us through the fuzzy parts.

It’s also been a month or so of milestones, transitions, and beginnings happening around me. Again, subjects for another post, but for the moment I’ll say it’s been a time to look at where I am, where I’m going, and what it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, it’s time to feed the donkeys, cats, skunks, ‘possums, and raccoon, and then get to bed. 

Hearing My Own Advice

My 2nd kyu exam is coming up in two weeks. Today a friend sent me my own advice, from my email to her before her first exam, a while back. If you are an aikidoka, you might hear echos of Robert Nadeau Shihan, via George Leonard Sensei’s book “The Way of Aikido”. If you are a horseperson, you might recognize the teachings of Olympic Dressage Coach, Jane Savoie. I try to train this way, and it’s always good to be reminded:

“Meanwhile, between now and your test (especially if you are getting stressed out), visualize the situation (dojo, Sensei, fellow students, etc.), and practice being calm, happy, and deliberate.

Worry/anxiety is just negative visualization – rehearsing in your mind all the things that could go wrong. When you catch yourself doing that, stop, take a breath, and rehearse in your mind everything going beautifully. :-) Breathe, smile, stand up straight and feel your feet rooted in the ground.

Try on the feeling of saying, in your mind "For the next few minutes, this is my mat. Get ready, because you’re about to see an inspiring test!” :-) And be prepared, if anything during your test should throw you off momentarily (getting dizzy, doing a different technique from the one Sensei asked for, or whatever), to simply re-center, take a breath, and keep moving forward with your test, calmly. Just let it go (“Oh well. Next!”) and keep going.

It’ll be fun. :-)“

Train as Fast as You Can

One of the things we focused on in Cyril Poissonnet’s class tonight was speed. We worked on training only at a pace where we could still do the technique well. We noticed how we would often get impatient and rush, and our form would fall apart. It was a really useful exercise to train keeping an awareness of that. I should incorporate it into my day-to-day training.

Cyril demonstrated doing a few things slowly, and correctly, and then speeding up to the point where they fell apart. He instructed us to go “as fast as you can,” but only as fast as you can. If your technique gets sloppy, slow down to a speed where you can do it well.

It reminded me of something similar Patrick Cassidy Sensei told us during his most recent seminar at Aikido of San Diego. Cassidy Sensei asked if we knew what speed people are supposed to drive on the winding mountain roads of Switzerland. No one knew. The answer, he said, was “as fast as you can.” I’m sure you can imagine the confused looks! 

“And no faster." 

Of course Cassidy Sensei was making the same point. Don’t go faster than you are able. Important advice in many areas. We all feel pressured, we all rush, we all want to get there sooner. And as the saying goes, "the hurrieder I go, the behinder I get.” We often need to slow down to do it right.

In the arena of horse training (if you’ll forgive the pun), you’ll hear “the more you rush, the longer it takes.” I have a t-shirt from Robin Shen of Enlightened Horsemanship that says “I train my horse slowly because I do not have the patience to do it quickly.” You can’t gloss over important steps in training. You need to do them correctly, or you’ll spend ages later trying to undo your mistakes. Or you’ll end up in trouble when you suddenly discover one of the “holes” in your horse’s education.

In military firearms training they say “slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” I like that way of putting it. The way to get to fast is through smooth. The way to get smooth is to go slowly. Hurrying won’t get you there at all.

In my musical training, teachers constantly reminded me to slow down, play it correctly, use a metronome. Oh, the tedium! “Yeah, yeah… OK sure, I’ll do it.” And then I’d “practice” playing faster than I could. I was imprinting playing badly, of course. I was learning how to screw up, not how to play well, at speed or otherwise.

The thing that finally got the point across, for me, was a week-long fingerstyle guitar workshop with Woody Mann, at the Augusta Heritage Center’s Blues Week in West Virginia. I knew he was an incredible player (treat yourself, listen to him in this YouTube clip). What I discovered was that he’s a brilliant teacher as well. It just didn’t look anything like I expected. Here I am, having flown across the country and driven for hours to the Middle of Nowhere to Learn to Play The Blues. Awesome! First day of class we get acquainted, get comfortable, and start playing. Slowly. Really slowly. With a freaking metronome. Seriously? “One and two and three and four and…” I came all this way to do this?

But we all did what he said. Our little group class worked through about 4 tunes, practicing together several hours every day with Woody’s guidance and instruction. We learned a lot, of course. New techniques, tips, cool sounds… But mostly we played the songs, slowly, together. And smoothly. Cleanly. With expression. It was almost hard to notice that we were playing a little faster each day. We never did fall apart. By the end of the week we were all playing all the tunes… well! And up to speed! Amazing.

I never would have really gotten it about slowing down enough to play correctly if I hadn’t been essentially “stuck” doing it for a week. 

I know this works, this training slowly. I just need to remember every day to do it. Thanks, Cyril, for reminding me today.