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.

Facing a Shut Gate

Large-Closed-Gates-Empire-Mine

Sensei has announced that there will be an uchi-deshi program at our dojo, beginning in mid-summer [this was in 2011]. You can contact him for details (via the Aikido of San Diego website) if you are interested in participating.

It looks to me like a rare and valuable opportunity to train intensively, deepen one’s understanding of Aikido, learn to teach, test one’s own limits, and discover new possibilities, all under the guidance of a truly gifted teacher.

It also looks to me like a right of passage. Forging, like seeing combat, for a future military officer. A gateway. How one moves from casual student to serious practitioner.

Right now I’m not in a place to walk through that gateway. I don’t know if I ever will be. I hope, maybe, somehow, someday… There’s a little fear and frustration about that. What if I’m not able? What if it’s not there? A sense of loss. And there’s reminding myself that upset from thwarted intention just points to a commitment.

It’s OK, though. There are cracks to peek through, high places where one can see over, and a lot of space to explore on this side of the wall. For now.

[Added the next day…] And now I’m seeing that there is more than one gate. Not feeling so stuck on this side. :-)

Freeing Ourselves from “I Can’t…”

Recently a teacher wrote a frustrated blog post about their students not training enough to really improve, not participating in seminars with visiting instructors, and not supporting the dojo community.

The context was Aikido, but it could have been music, horsemanship, or anything else. I see the same thing happen all over. 

We mostly live in the same world. We have jobs, families, and other things going on in our lives. But if we want to get good at something, anything, we have to put in the hours. And if we want our teachers, schools, and arts to be around for us, and for others, they need our active participation and support. 

What does that look like to me? Join, and pay your dues, even during times you can’t train for a while. Pitch in and help with projects and events. Invite your friends. Promote your art publicly. When teachers are generous enough with their time to write books or produce videos, buy them. Show up and train, and support each other.

Something I’ve noticed about people’s participation (or the relative lack thereof), is a common way of thinking and speaking about priorities. “I can’t…” “I would, but…” “I have to…” It’s disempowering. It robs us of the opportunity to engage fully (at whatever level is appropriate). When we’re honest with ourselves about where we are, and what’s true for us, we have some power in the situation. When we whine about our circumstances we become victims to the choices we’ve made, and powerless to change.

One response to the above teacher’s post struck me as a perfect example of this kind of speaking. I don’t know their actual situation, and don’t mean to pick on them, it’s just that they provided a perfect example to discuss. The commentor said something to the effect of “I wish I could train more, but I just can’t. I have to be home to have dinner on the table every night.” Really? You have to? Either this person is enslaved or imprisoned (unlikely), or is making the choice to be home with their family rather than head to the dojo after work. That’s a perfectly fine choice, but don’t whine about it.

When we speak the truth, which is likely something closer to “I love the idea of training daily, but it’s more important to me to provide a good dinner for my family every night” then we not only honor our real priorities, but we can actually see them clearly. When we see them clearly, we can choose freely whether to change them or not. When we speak as though we have no choice, we actually cannot see that we do have a choice. Our unspoken (and often unexamined) real priorities control us, instead of the other way ‘round.

So as an exercise, I invite you to look for these things in your own speaking (even/especially if it’s only in your own head):

  • “I cant, because…”
  • “I wish I could / I would / I’d love too, but…”
  • “I’m too busy / broke / etc…”

Carefully examine the real situation, and reword them. Notice if you feel either happier with your current situation, or if you feel more able to change it. 

Some examples:

  • “I can’t. I don’t have time.” vs. “It’s more important to me to relax, away from people, in the evenings.”
  • “I wish I could, but I have to work.” vs. “I would rather save my vacation time for something else,” or “I chose to work in a field/job without any flexibility in the schedule,” or “I’m afraid to ask my boss for time off.”
  • “I’m too old.” vs. “I’m afraid it will be too physically challenging,” or “I’d be self-conscious being the only one there over 20.”

There are cases where you really, truly, factually can’t. I can’t join the Navy. I’m too old. Fine. But mostly our limitations are lies we tell ourselves, to give ourselves a comfortable way out. Once we realize the truth is “I’d be self conscious…”, and not really “I can’t…” we can chose either to let being self-conscious stop us, or to give it a go anyway. “I’m too busy” keeps us from seeing how we really choose to spend our time. Even if the reality is “I don’t know how to,” then at least we can explore how to, and not be stuck up against “it’s not possible.”

When we shift from "I can’t. I have to be home to have dinner on the table every night,“ to "I don’t train every night because it’s important to me to provide a good dinner for my family,” we open up some freedom to explore options. Maybe making big dinners on Mondays and Wednesdays could mean great meals from leftovers on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Maybe, if the real issue is spending time with family members, breakfast together could be the solution. Maybe finding a dojo with morning classes is the answer. Or maybe the truth is “Training at that level really isn’t important to me.” That’s fine. But we can’t explore these things as long as we’re stuck in “I can’t… I have to…”

Some issues I’ve dealt with, or am working on:

  • “I can only train one night a week, because I’m busy every other night.” I gave up other commitments, changed my work hours, and now I train 4 nights a week.
  • “I wish I could ride my horse more.” I realized that was a familiar story I was telling myself, but wasn’t true for me anymore. Now my horse is off with a potential new person, and I can stop feeling bad about not getting around to riding.
  • “I can’t ever be an uchi-deshi because I don’t have that kind of freedom, and besides, I’m too old.” I’ve changed my speaking on that to “I’d love to train at the level of focus and intensity one would find as an uchi-deshi. I don’t how see to do that right now, because I have a job, a home, and a husband, and I don’t know if I’d be physically up to it, but it’s a possibility I’m open to exploring.”

I love to hear about places where you’ve shifted from “I can’t…” to something more powerful. Even if it’s only “I want to, but I don’t see how yet.”

Learning Through Feeling – “The Mirror” on AikiWeb

Learning Through Feeling – “The Mirror” on AikiWeb

“…
You see when a baby animal experiences stress, its brain changes so that it’s subsequently less sensitive to stress hormones. This means that, as an adult, the critter recovers more rapidly after a hair-raising experience (21). And we know that play (which normally consists of exciting ‘flight or fight’ behaviors) activates the same neurochemical pathways as stress (22). So maybe young animals are using play to prime or fine-tune their own stress response.

The other very important thing we’ve learnt from the humble rat is that when they’re reared with lots of companions and interesting objects, they develop larger brains than rats that grow up in austere surroundings. These enriched rats not only have heavier cerebral cortexes, with more neural connections, they learn more quickly too.

Researchers teased apart the factors that promoted this brain growth and found that sensory stimulation and arousal (even together) couldn’t increase cortical growth unless they were coupled with interactive behavior (i.e. play or training). And it was play that had the biggest impact; in fact, the more a young rat played, the more rapidly its brain grew (23).
…”

Very interesting article covering lots of potential reasons for play (rough and tumble interaction). Read the whole thing here: Lynda Sharpe, a wonderful blogger, in a guest column on Scientific American website on the role of play. Thank you to zanshinart for sharing this!)

My Aikido Timeline

I keep forgetting and remembering important events on my Aikido path, and our organization doesn’t use kyu books. So before I misplace any entirely I thought I should get them all written down in one place. What a chore! So here they are – or the ones I could think of this evening, at least, plus a few I’m planning on in the near future.

I will update this post regularly, and keep a permanent link to it in the sidebar, eventually. This has a sister post now, too: My Aikido Teachers.

— Someday —

Aikido Randori and Weapons 4-Day Intensive w/ George Ledyard Sensei
Aikido Eastside, Bellevue, WA 
[I am tentatively planning a 2-week train trip around this.] 

— 2012 —

Fall, 2012 
Aikido of San Diego Fall Retreat
Instructors Denise Barry Sensei (KumaKai Aikido) & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Local mountains of San Diego County (?)  

September 14-16, 2012
Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei
Facebook Event page for the Weekend Intensive with George Ledyard
Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, CA

August 4-5, 2012
Daitoryu Aikijujitsu Ginjukai Seminar with Howard Popkin
Facebook Event page for the seminar with Howard Popkin
Jiai Aikido, San Diego, CA

June, 2012 Unfortunately, the Retreat is not happening in 2012.
CAA Aiki Summer Retreat 
Aiki Retreat Fan Page
Bay Area, CA  

May 18-20, 2012
CAA Division 3 Retreat, Robert Nadeau Shihan & Others
Sabastopol, CA

March 30-April 1, 2012
Evolutionary Aikido Seminar, Patrick Cassidy Sensei & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Register for Evolutionary Aikido Seminar
Aikido of San Diego 

March 2-4, 2012
Dan Messisco Sensei
Facebook Event page for the seminar
Two Rivers Budo, Sacramento, CA (Geoff Yudien’s and Adam Fong’s new dojo!)

January 21, 2012
My 2nd Kyu Exam
Video of my 2nd kyu exam, on YouTube
Aikido of San Diego, Dave Goldberg Sensei   

January 12-16, 2012
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan
Register for Aikido Bridge Seminar 
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego  

— 2011 —

October 7-9, 2011
Mary Heiny Sensei
Aikido of San Diego  

September, 2011
Mitsugu Saotome Shihan
Redlands Aikikai 

September 11, 2011
Aikido In Focus: Aikido, Fear, and Freedom, Dave Goldberg Sensei
Aikido of San Diego  

Summer, 2011
Jo (Staff) Seminar, Chetan Prakash Sensei
Redlands Aikikai  

July 15-17, 2011
Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego  

July 9, 2011
My 3rd Kyu Exam
Video of my 3rd kyu exam, on YouTube
Aikido of San Diego, Dave Goldberg Sensei  

June 12-18, 2011
CAA Aiki Summer Retreat (Nadeau, Doran, Ikeda, Heiny, & others)
Aiki Retreat Fan SiteMenlo College, Atherton, CA  

 Feb 18-21, 2011
Gasshuku, Patrick Cassidy Sensei
Aikido of San Diego 

January 13-17, 2011
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego  

January 3, 2011
Special New Year Training with Dave Goldberg Sensei,
and instructors Mike Coit, Megan Palm, and Lloyd McClellan 
Aikido of San Diego 

January 2011
Dojo Projects
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Service and Community 

— 2010 —

November 13, 2010
My 4th Kyu Exam
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuGsMi4MhOQ 
Post: To 4th Kyu & Beyond

October 24, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop, Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “How am I limiting myself / getting in my own way?”
[My focus: Over extending.]
Aikido of San Diego
Post: How am I Limiting Myself?  

September 24-26, 2010
Seminar with Mary Heiny Sensei
Aikido of San Diego
[Helped with seminar logistics. “Tetsudai.”]

July 12, 2010
First day of training at new location (6356 Riverdale St. 92120)

Month of July, 2010
Several Work parties at the new and old locations.

May 22, 2010
Spring picnic at Santee Lakes

May 3, 2010
154 total training days. Just interesting trivia. 

April 9-11, 2010
Seminar with Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego 
A Flickr slideshow of my seminar photos  

March 21, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “Putting the Free in Freestyle”
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Body, Border Collies, & Beer 

February 6, 2010
My 5th Kyu Exam
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bhlXh91Ksg 
Post: 5th Kyu Test Tomorrow
Post: Thoughts on My 5th Kyu Test
Post: More thoughts – What I Meant 

January 31, 2010
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: “Ukemi”
Aikido of San Diego

January 23, 2010
Community service project with Aikido of San Diego
Fire clearance work day at the Unity Center Ranch (where our retreats are held)

January, 2010
Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar
Instructors: Hiroshi Ikeda, Frank Doran and Christian Tissier Shihan 
Plus guest instructors: Wilko Vriesman, Francis Takahashi, Morihiko Murashige Shihan
Jiai Aikido, in San Diego
Post: How To Go To Your First Big Seminar
Post: Great Trip, Happy to be Home  
On AikidoBridge.com: Article, with photos, by Frank Richardson

— 2009 —

December 15, 2009
My first column for The Mirror, on AikiWeb.com
“Learning By Feel" 

September 11-13
Annual Fall Retreat, with Kayla Feder & Dave Goldberg Sensei
Unity Center Ranch, Descanso, CA
[Mostly weapons and meditation.] 

September 19, 2009
My 6th Kyu Test
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZR4eKhpRXE
Post: Studying for 6th Kyu Exam
Post: Reflections at the 1st Milestone
Post: Comments After My Exam 

August 30 (?), 2009
Aikido In Focus workshop with Dave Goldberg Sensei 
Subject: "Relax, It’s Aikido”
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Don’t Push So Hard Against the World 

July 24-26, 2009
Seminar with Robert Nadeau Shihan
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Getting to the Nadeau Seminar

July 8, 2009
10th training day 

Mid-May through June, 2009
Of the mat with a shoulder injury (separated AC joint)
Watched classes 1-2x/week 

May 5, 2009
My first day of training
Aikido of San Diego
Post: Introduction 

To 4th Kyu & Beyond!

My exam for 4th kyu is one week from today. I’m excited, and starting to feel almost ready. I have gotten so much from my practice these past few months, and have been having a blast training.

Several of us who will be testing have been on the mat 4 to 5 days a week lately, staying late to train together after class, helping each other and working with our mentor, who has his hands full between me and two 3rd-kyu candidates. I’ve got a jump on the 3rd kyu test, at least, when I eventually get there! I’ve being doing ukemi for them when I can, and going through all the jo and bokken suburi that are on their test (mine are a subset of theirs). We’ve all learned and grown a lot together, and gotten closer as friends, too.

I am mentoring someone for the first time, too. She will be testing for 6th kyu, and I will be her uke. She is a joy to work with, and I’m looking forward to her test!

Since my 5th kyu exam in February I have trained 143 days (so far), helped with moving the dojo to our really nice new location, trained in two seminars – Robert Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei – and assisted with the logistics of the latter. I’ve participated in two Aikido In Focus workshops with Sensei, watched a lot of exams, and enjoyed several dojo parties. I’ve gotten more comfortable with working with brand-new beginners, doing my best to provide ukemi that lets them get the feel of techniques – or at least doesn’t get in their way. I’ve been having way too much fun practicing my first breakfalls. Woohoo-whoosh-thump!

Because it’s a question a lot of people ask, yes, there is a colored belt associated with 4th kyu: Blue. There is no universal meaning to belt colors in Aikido. At our dojo 6th-5th are white, 4th-3rd are blue, and 2nd-1st at brown. Until just a couple of years ago our dojo went with the more traditional white for every rank until you get to shodan (first black belt). But it’s helpful, especially for brand new students who don’t know everyone yet, to have some indication of the level of proficiency of the person they are working with. 

Rank for its own sake is not important to me. I will be the same person, doing my best (and screwing up, too), no matter what. But rank sometimes does have its privileges; 4th-kyu students and up can participate in the advanced classes on Monday and Thursday nights. I’ve been watching them lately, sometimes glad I have the luxury of just observing, but more often itching to get out there and play, too. Soon… :-) On Monday, November 15, actually. Not that I’m counting. ;-)

The months ahead are full of even more exciting things!

In December we will have a student doing his shodan demonstration. I always enjoy training with him, and benefit from his feedback. He’s a lot of fun, doesn’t let me get away with ineffective technique, and he’s strong as an ox. He’s also 73. He has a few limitations, but does not let them stop him or ruin his fun. He has been training his butt off lately. I wanna be like him when I grow up!

In January I will be training in the Aikido Bridge Friendship Seminar for the second time. It’s 5 days with Ikeda, Tissier, and Doran Shihan, plus several guest instructors. I really enjoyed it last time, and met a lot of very nice people – many of whom I’ve keep in touch with on Facebook throughout the year. I am looking forward to seeing then again, and meeting others, too.

In February Patrick Cassidy Sensei from Aikido Montreux in Switzerland will be coming to Aikido of San Diego over the Presidents Day weekend. I’ve heard only great things about his teaching! He comes to our dojo about once every other year, and I just missed him when I started training 18 months ago. So this will be my first time getting to train with him.

March through May are blessedly quiet. Time to just train. Get into a steady rhythm and let it all settle in. Play with Rainy the horse more as the days get longer, and maybe build those raised veggie and herb gardens I keep promising myself.

In June I am planning to go to the 35th Annual Aiki Summer Retreat at Menlo Park for the first time. It is a week-long live-in camp at a college – Sunday evening through Saturday morning! The dates & instructors aren’t up yet, but last year it was in mid-June, with Ikeda, Doran, and Nadeau Shihan, and Mary Heiny Sensei as a guest teacher. If you’re going to be there, drop me a note, although I’m sure we’ll meet each other in any case. If you’re from Aikido of San Diego, think about going! People from our dojo, including Sensei, have gone before, and I’d love to get a group together for this year. It’s a cheap vacation, and a heck of an opportunity.

Whew… That’s what’s on the horizon. Fun times ahead. Lucky me. :-)

If I don’t post again before my test it’s because I’m busy training. Or icing things. Or stretching. Or sleeping. Or drilling myself on the names of the weapons techniques so I don’t forget them under pressure. And trying to remember to go to the wrist, the wrist, the wrist, not the elbow, in nikyo ura. Oh yeah, and breathing. In other words, having entirely too much fun.

Downs & Ups of Exam Prep

My exam for 5th kyu is Saturday morning – tomorrow. When I first started working with my mentor a month ago we began with a sort of diagnostic run-through of the exam. I knew all the technique names, and basically what they were. There was plenty of room for correction and refinement, but I wasn’t completely lost. I felt like I was on a pretty good trajectory for being ready by exam day.

Then in mid-January I did a seminar, which was great fun, and a tremendous experience. I loved it, but it was exhausting, and dumped a whole lot of new information into my little 6th-kyu brain.

The next couple of weeks were difficult all around, and left my confidence a bit battered. I couldn’t seem to do anything right in class. Friends on Facebook were commenting that my Aikido posts had been negative lately.

I accumulated a dozen or so small injuries and ailments – a jammed thumb, a knee that didn’t like to bend, sore shoulders and neck muscles, a stomped foot, assorted bruises and tight muscles, etc. I found myself stiff and guarded. Lingering symptoms from a cold in December returned, and my breathing was getting clogged up during class. One night I must have been dehydrated, and whited out (and sat right back down) when I stood up quickly from seiza.

Last Wednesday I had the worst bout of vertigo since starting Aikido. The world was spinning. I felt seasick and was tipping over and falling into things. Feeling grounded isn’t even a possibility in that state.

Vertigo also causes a cognitive hit, from all that brain CPU being used just to navigate in the world, I guess. It’s like the brain fog that rolls in when one has a cold. When I worked with my mentor last Friday, terminology I had down solid a month ago was lost in the fog. Techniques I’ve done well enough a hundred times were incomprehensible. I felt overwhelmed by how much I had left to learn.

There were other little things. Work seemed to be a morass of interruptions, distractions, and conflicting priorities. I couldn’t seem to get caught up on chores at home. One night a car easily going 100 mph very nearly rear-ended me on the freeway. The universe was not being kind.

Then on Sunday I participated in one of Sensei’s “In Focus” workshops, this time on ukemi. These workshops push us a bit. They are always revealing, and usually fun. While some of the exercises in this one were indeed fun, on the whole the experience was, for me, profoundly discouraging. The toes on my stomped foot were numb. I’d rolled funny on one shoulder, so my whole arm hurt and my fingers were tingling. I was told, and could see in the video, what I was doing wrong, but couldn’t feel it. It felt right, but wasn’t. Without accurate perceptions how can one make corrections? I’d had a similar experience, where I could not grasp *how* to learn something else in the past, and in that case I just give up entirely. So running into this particular personal brick wall was hard. Giving up Aikido is not an option, but I couldn’t see my way around the wall. A very perceptive fellow student gave me a bit of a pep talk (or a kick in the butt), but it was still a difficult day.

Less than a week to my test, and it felt like my Aikido, barely held together with duct tape and baling twine on a good day, was falling apart. Sunday night my status on Facebook said “Linda Eskin is looking for the lesson, hard.”

By Monday morning I decided I had to dig myself out of my rut. I remembered to take my allergy meds so I could breathe. I drank plenty of water, and walked at lunch. I stocked up on Gatorade and bananas to keep dehydration and muscle spasms at bay. I skipped going to the dojo to stay home to rest and heal, and to really study. I watched videos of each technique, reviewed my old descriptions of each, and wrote out new ones. When anything wasn’t clear, I noted that, so I could ask about it.

On Tuesday I visualized the whole test over and over. As I fed Rainy and the donkeys I heard the words Sensei will say, let myself be aware of the little crowd of parents there to watch their kids’ tests, felt what the cool blue mat will feel like, smelled how the mid-morning air will smell when it comes in across the little stream out behind the dojo, and heard the birds singing in the reeds. I saw and felt each technique in picture-perfect detail. I ran through it again as I got ready for work. Once more while I walked at lunch. And again as I drove to the dojo.

Tuesday night I did both classes. We reviewed all the techniques I was having trouble with, and did some great work on jiyuwaza. After class I got to practice with my mentor and with my fellow 5th Kyu candidate. We both did the whole test, plus jiyuwaza with each other. We got video of everything, and posted it so we could review it during the week. I felt so much better! Not quite ready, but confident that I could be ready by Saturday. Back on track!

Wednesday was another day off from classes. I iced and rested the ouchy parts, studied and visualized the techniques, and went out to dinner with my dear husband, Michael. Ended the day feeling more settled.

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I put together a playlist of positive, high-energy music that I love, and listened to that while driving. In the middle of a long day of meetings at work I managed to get outdoors once, sit quietly, and do the whole test again. The weapons class in the evening was very calming and reassuring. I may not be any better at weapons than at anything else, but I find them easier to comprehend. So weapons classes generally leave me feeling like I might have a bit of a clue about this stuff. I stayed late to watch some of the advanced class, write some notes and be sure I had all my questions down to ask my mentor on Friday. The class was doing some really interesting work on feeling shared energy and going with it. I’m very glad I stayed. I left feeling quietly excited, happy, and very grateful to be able to train with Sensei and my dojo mates.

Tonight is a 90-minute class with Sensei, and then a full run-through of the exam with my mentor. I’m really looking forward to both.  All I have to do tomorrow is show up, relax, breathe, and have fun.

Enjoying the first beautiful, quiet morning of a 4-day holiday weekend. No classes for a few days, but the two last night were so rich it may take 4 days for everything to sink in. The first offered a powerful new perspective on familiar techniques, and the second taught calm focus under pressure. I am so lucky to have such amazing teachers.

I’ve been much more relaxed, and really enjoying training, having discovered and let go of my energy on testing. Last night when Sensei was walking around watching our practice I was still trying to get it right, of course. But instead of worrying that he’d notice my mistakes when I made them, I was hoping that he would. He did, of course, and provided very useful feedback and clarification. So grateful for amazing teachers, and for being able to take responsibility for my own attitude about learning.

And now, a few days with my sweetie pie, family, and friends, puttering in the yard, time with the critters, and riding Rainy for the first time since starting Aikido.