My Plan for Ruthless Focus & Productivity in 2020

My plan for 2020 and beyond: Aikido, Writing, and Fitness

Ten years ago I decided to write a book. I actually did write one – a just-for-fun throw-away I wrote for the learning experience – with plans to get to work on my “real book” after that. Even started my own publishing company. And I have been writing. My to-do list of books has expanded to around a dozen. I’ve created titles, outlines, chapters, front matter, marketing copy, graphics, …

Know how many I’ve completed so far? Zero.

Lots of Movement… in Random Directions

I’ve gotten lots of other things done – closed the horse-keeping chapter of my life, worked with a contractor to renovate the house, earned several fitness pro certifications, started my Fit Coach Linda business, sold the truck and trailer, doctored a sick kitty, created business websites and graphics, helped a friend though his mom’s last few months, participated in workshops and networking meetings, and of course I’ve continued to train regularly in Aikido. 

But mostly for the past four years the bulk of my productive hours have been consumed with doing relatively low-paying hourly work for a handful of non-profit web clients. This is the kind of work I had to give up as full-time career because my body can’t take 8 to 12 hours a day working at a desk. But these were paying gigs, part time, on my own schedule. Good work if you can get it, right? So I took them on. 

Amazingly, I had two instances where I’d wrapped up a major project, sat down with coffee in hand the next morning to get reacquainted with my writing works-in-progress, and within hours got a call asking me to take on this or that new client. Ever feel like the universe is deliberately taunting you?

It’s Time to Regroup!

While the clients and the work have been great, it’s been frustrating to feel that I have an important contribution of my own to make, while having my plate full with tasks for others. For years I’ve been just about to really get rolling on my own work. Any minute now. Right after I handle this urgent e-commerce issue. And document these bugs. And take this phone call. I never seemed able to get any momentum going. 

“The key question to keep asking is, 
Are you spending your time on the right things? 
Because time is all you have.”

Randy Pausch
The Last Lecture

My dear husband noticed this pattern, too, and proposed a solution that’s going to change my life dramatically for the better: Stop doing outside work. My work offers no benefits, and we are fortunate to be in a position now where I do not have to bring in a steady (if small) paycheck. I sat with the idea for a week or so, to be sure it was realistic. It is. So at the beginning of December I gave 60 days notice to my web/UX clients: No more outside work after January 31st.

What a gift! It is thrilling and a little frightening. It feels fragile, precious, slippery. During school I had to work, and for a few semesters also cared for my ailing grandparents. With several employers I learned after years of dedication that I never really had a chance of succeeding there. I’ve made tactical career mistakes and wasted time on pointless projects. I’ve been through health challenges that knocked out a year or two here and there, too. I’ve been variously blocked, sidetracked, distracted, and thwarted. Now…?

“Your heart knows the way. 
Run in that direction.”

Rumi
13th Century Persian Poet

Now, unbelievably, the road ahead is clear. No hindrances. No excuses. A chance to create exactly what I want, how I want. At 57 one doesn’t get many more do-overs. I can’t screw this up. I have work to do, and am determined to take full advantage of this chance to do it. I’m laying track now so on February 1st I can lock myself in my office, ignore my phone, and get down to business. I am so excited!

I really need to nail this.

This rare opportunity means taking a hard look at developing better ways of keeping my mind in my work. I need to be checking more things off my to-do lists than I’m adding. I have some longstanding habits that serve me, and some that don’t. It’s going to take an intentional effort to fully take advantage of this.

Are you with me? 

I know I’m not alone in this. In just the last few days I’ve talked to so many friends in similar situations. Some are realizing that another year has gone by without getting the really important stuff done. Others are setting out on brand new adventures. A couple will be starting new jobs in the new year. It seems there’s a lot of change in the air.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start. 
After that, things can only get better.”

Stephen King
On Writing

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how to stay on track, how to actually accomplish the things I have in mind. So in case it’s helpful, here, in no particular order, are some thoughts I’ve been thinking on how to (finally, goshdarnit) stay focused and be productive.

Let’s get started.

Set goals, measurable, with deadlines. Yes, I know, this strategy is older than dirt, but it endures because it works. I am setting challenging but realistic process goals and performance goals. 

“Wait, what?” you say, “There are two kinds of goals?” Yes, two kinds. 

Process goals are about developing habits or regular patterns of behavior that support us. They are the means by which we succeed. “Sit down and write for 4 hours each day” is a process goal. Similarly, “meditate every morning,” “eat ten servings of vegetables a day,” or “write all my random to-dos and errands in a list to deal with on Wednesdays,” are all process goals. 

Performance goals, on the other hand, are about the ends we are trying to achieve. “Have my first book finished and printed by June, 2020,” is a performance goal. A single objective, with a deadline. More examples: “Finish a 5K by the end of October,” or “Earn x dollars by ___ date,” are performance goals.

Either way, they need to be specific enough that I can answer “Did I do that today, or not?” Did I accomplish it as planned, or didn’t I? I’ll be writing them down and posting then right where I can see them. They will be the compass by which I can tell if I’m going in the right direction. Moment by moment, are my actions moving me closer to my goals, or are they not?

Use systems, tools, and rituals to stay on track. I’ve already updated my calendar with blocks of uninterpreted work times. I’ll use timers, track my hours, whatever it takes. I’ve worked out what should be a sustainable weekly schedule, and will do my best to stick with it. If it’s unworkable, I’ll modify it and try again. I find it also helps to observe rituals like consciously turning on the right lighting in my office each morning in my office, starting music from my Writing playlist, and turning on a fan to keep the air moving. At the end of the day I deliberately close things down and move on to the next thing.

Be mindful of attention and generosity. I have lots of interests and hobbies. I love my friends. It’s fun to learn something new. It’s rewarding to help out with a project here and there. It is against my nature to be stingy with my time, attention, or money. But if I’m to reach my goals, I need to skip a few lunches, say no to some requests, shut my office door, and get to work. That also means judicious use of social media, video binges only on my off hours, no photo-a-day challenges…

Focus, or relax. I’ve discovered that, for me, stress is doing one thing while feeling I should be doing another. Catching up on gardening while ignoring the papers on my desk. Tidying my office while while the yard goes to weeds. My solution is to set aside reasonable time for those chores and errands that need to get done. They won’t happen by chance – they are going on the calendar. So when I’m working I can be working, and when I take time to play, I can relax. 

Magically wishing away distractions doesn’t work. It’s all well and good to block off interruption-free time. But the fact is one still needs to run errands, make appointments, return phone calls, shop for groceries, clean the house, and deal with paperwork. My plan, then, is to handle all those things, as best I can, on Wednesdays. Wednesday is a day set aside for handling personal business – not for trying to work, and failing in frustration. Need a few minutes of my time? Great, let’s set up a call on Wednesday. Want to do lunch? I’d love to. Are you free on Wednesday?

Shopping and meal prep supports health and productivity. Earlier this week, for breakfast, I ate some cold “leftover” salmon I had deliberately prepared the previous night at dinner time. It was delicious, and supported me in eating healthy. I was able to grab an easy morning snack because some thoughtful person made some good food ahead of time – me! When I can prepare several days’ worth of food at once, and stock up on easy, nutritious snacks, it saves me time and helps me eat better, too.

Let most of the “important” causes take care of themselves. When I recently saw a Facebook group against something that really annoys me I almost reflexively clicked “+ Join Group.” Then I remembered that if I’m going to make a difference in my chosen area, I can’t spread myself so thin. This battle would have to be fought without my help. I can’t save the whole world. I might be able to make a difference in a little corner of it, but not if I succumb to every “important” distraction that comes along.

That doesn’t mean I”m going to bury my head in the sand. But maybe listening to one good news podcast each day is sufficient. When more in-depth understand is called for, set aside time on the weekend to catch up. My personal moment-by-moment comprehension of political, scientific, or other matters is not going to change the course of things for anyone. My completing my chosen work, on the other hand, might.

Keep training, and keep sleeping enough. It’s the time-management version of false economy to skimp on rest or grab easy junk food just to get in a little more time on a project. It seems every day we are learning more about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental health. That tired “just get up an hour earlier” advice won’t lead to success (or good health) in the long run. And skipping Aikido is out of the question for me. Aikido is my daily source of physical activity as well as socializing, plus it keeps me centered and happy. Plus it’s the inspiration and primary topic for my books! 

Say no, and honor boundaries.It took me five days to write this, squeezing in an hour or two here and there. During that time a client’s online store required urgent attention, a neighbor wanted my input before her gardener trimmed a hedge, I managed to get a last-minute appointment only days before my doctor retired, and my foot was still slowing me down after a minor surgery a few weeks ago. I had to sort out how to exchange a gift that broke, my husband had a minor dental emergency, and there was a dinner with friends. On one morning alone, four phone calls resulted in my leaving for an errand two hours later than I’d wanted to.  

“This is your life. You are responsible for it. 
You will not live forever. Don’t wait.”

Natalie Goldberg
Author and Writing Teacher

Stopping my outside client work will open up many productive hours and free my mind from most of the urgent interruptions. But there will always be other distractions and emergencies. A business cannot become profitable (or stay open!) by consistently giving away product, I will not succeed if I’m not disciplined about how I spend my time, and where I focus my attention. The strategies above are only nice ideas if I don’t respect my own schedules and deadlines, and honor the boundaries I set. It’s going to take conscious, ongoing, intentional effort. Always asking “is this what I mean to be doing right now?”

Countdown to Launch

I have a little more than a month to finish handing off work and training colleagues. I’m doing my best to dump all my client knowledge into persistent documents where the clients’ and their staff will have easy access to everything that’s currently in my brain. This is taking even more of my time than usual, but is a good investment. They don’t yet know what they don’t know, and will undoubtedly discover that they need the information. 

I have told my clients I will be minimally available, rarely, by appointment on Wednesdays only, for any lingering questions. No “just a 5-minute phone call for a quick question.” Tempting as it will be to be helpful, there’s that boundary thing again. For me even a brief interruption in my working time is like a small hole bored through the hull of a ship – it brings all forward progress to a dead halt. A few of those scattered throughout each day? Disastrous. For me, it’s focus, or allow intrusions. It can’t be both.

Meanwhile, as I’m wrapping up loose ends I’m also bringing the writing parts of my brain back online. I’m excited to get back to work, and want to hit the ground running. I’ve been listening again to favorite audiobooks about writing, refreshing my memory of the tools I use, and reviewing my works-in-progress to see what state I’d left them in. I’m even writing a bit, which feels really good. Only 41 days to go…

“All writing is launching yourself into the darkness, 
and hoping for light, and a soft landing.

Paul Theroux
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

A Few Extras

Writers and Ritual – Bowing In

I heard some great advice recently, and it’s been working well for me this past week. It’s one of many useful practices from Ally Nathaniel’s “Productivity for Writers” session, in the Nonfiction Writers Conference (NFWC), a tremendously valuable presentation at this annual online event.

The idea is to create rituals to support your work. Simple things you do every time you write, habits that help you get into your focused flow state. Writing every day in the same place at the same time. Drinking coffee from your special writer’s mug. Listening to a certain kind of music, or a playlist of songs that work for you.

My Own Writer’s Rituals

So I put some thought into what my environment is like when I’m in a good flow for writing. When I just randomly walk into my office, listening to a podcast on my phone, I flip the overhead bare light bulb on and try to work, it feels like I’m only dropping by casually. Perching. I don’t settle in. I can’t seem to focus, and tend to wander off, either mentally, or physically. Maybe I should start my laundry, feed the cats, tidy up my desk…

So now I’m being more deliberate about it. I turn on three indirect “daylight” lights that create a whole different natural, open kind of energy to the space. I take my earbuds off, and set my phone on the charger instead of leaving it in my pocket. I put my favorite writing music on, playing through the speakers in my office.

It makes all the difference in feeling like I’ve settled into writing right from the start. Now I can achieve a flow in my work right away, rather than stumbling into that state randomly after hours of aimless fiddling around.

Bowing In

These actions are like bowing in. When we go to the dojo we put on our uniforms. Before we step onto the mat, in Aikido and other martial arts, we stop and bow. Those are rituals too–declarations of intent. Bowing in is a gesture of respect for the space, and it’s also an opportunity to set aside whatever daily concerns might be rattling around in our brains and commit to focusing on our training.

Bowing in works at the dojo. The same concept can be applied for writers in our work.

Aikido – It’s a Lot Like… Handwriting?

Printing versus Handwriting

When I was training for my nidan test (2nd-degree black belt) it seemed like everything I’d learned previously was wrong. I would do what I was sure I’d been taught, what I’d been doing all along, and then we’d stop and work on doing it right. My spacing and timing was wrong. Things I’d practiced carefully over and over were wrong. Things I’d heard as perfectly clear, specific instructions were wrong. “But, but, but, … Damn it!” It was terribly frustrating. At some point (unfortunately not until just before my last pre-test run-through), I just decided that nidan must be the level at which you have to un-learn everything you thought you knew, and chose to take it all in with a kind of detached, bemused curiosity. “Oh, goody. Let’s see what I’m doing wrong today.” That made the apparent contradictions easier to deal with, at least.

Even the morning of my test, reviewing a weapons partner practice I’d be demonstrating, I learned that the way we’d all been very deliberately doing one particular detail was wrong. Aaauugghh! At least I was able to fix it in time for my test.

I’ve long thought of the stages of learning Aikido being analogous to learning to write. At first we learn our letters. “Aa Bb Cc Dd …” Then we put them together to form simple words. “Cat. Dog. Toy.” Soon we add more words, and put them together to form simple sentences. “My cat likes to sleep in the sun.” Over time we learn to express more complex ideas. We can write persuasive essays, evocative poetry, and powerful novels.

This was something different. I finally realized it was like having worked to master legible printing, and now being expected to write in flowing cursive handwriting.

Cursive is smooth and continuous. There’s no stopping and starting between the letters. Words are whole, not made up of separate parts. Once we’re good at it, writing in cursive should be faster and easier. Done well, it’s beautiful, too.

Printing is kihon waza, basic technique. Cursive handwriting is ki no nagare waza, flowing technique.

To write in cursive we have to let go of much of what we know about printing. Things we’ve worked to master for printing are “wrong” for cursive. Those deliberate, absolutely vertical straight lines? Ditch ’em! Now our lines should lean and bend and loop. The perfectly round, complete circles? Out the window! In their place we pen graceful ellipses and swirling curves that sometimes (horrors) don’t even completely close. As we grow more confident, and mature in our ability, we develop our own style. Our writing may be tight and orderly, or swirly and free. Regardless of our individual style, we can convey beautiful messages that connect us with our readers.

I admire beautiful handwriting, but I’ve never been any good at it, and haven’t used it since elementary school. I’m really good at printing, though! In fact, because of my background in engineering I can print in perfectly straight, disciplined, careful, all-caps block letters like nobody’s business.

*sigh*

Time to work on my handwriting.

Fridays are for Writing

Fridays are for Writing

By Linda Eskin

Fridays are for writing!
Lay in snacks and coffee.
Clear the decks.
Lock the office door.
None shall pass!

Fridays are for writing.
But the cats are meowing,
And mustn’t starve.
Feed the cats.

Fridays are for writing.
But there’s that thing tonight,
And one mustn’t go naked.
Real quick, before you begin,
Start the laundry.

Fridays are only for writing, damn it.
But it’s hot as blazes,
And the yard is withering.
The trees mustn’t die.
Start the sprinklers.

Are you through yet?
Top off your cold coffee.
Close. The. Damned. Door.
Take a breath.
Fridays are for writing.

PHOTO – Nadeau: Ask Who You Need to Be

Last month I wrote a series of 26 posts, Aikido from A to Z, one for each letter of the alphabet, as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, April 2016.  It was, indeed, a challenge, writing 4-6 hours on most days.

Also during April I participated, for the 4th time, in the annual 3-day “O Sensei Revisited” retreat, lead by Robert Nadeau Shihan. He is my teacher’s teacher – a huge influence on my Aikido and my life, both through my teacher, and directly. Nadeau Shihan uses Aikido to show us how we can arrive at better, bigger, “finer” levels of ourselves, in whatever we are up to, not just on the mat, doing techniques.

One of his teachings that particularly resonates with me is something he said a few years ago, during a seminar at our dojo, and which has hung above my desk ever since:

“Don’t ask how to do this. Ask who you need to be where this is possible.”

April’s A-to-Z challenge was an opportunity to put this into action. I put it out there that I was committing to a post a day, and had to be a person who was doing exactly that. I declared myself to be a consistent writer, someone who does quality work and hits deadlines. And then I had to be that. The doing – how to go about it – was secondary to simply being a person who writes solid material every day, on time. I skipped zero days, even the days where I was out of town – I wrote those by doubling up the previous week. There were a lot of very late nights, often writing until 3 or 4 a.m., but I had a post up on my site before going to bed every night, all month.

Nadeau Ask who you need to be

It was a rewarding month. I have some catching up to do in other areas of life, like getting my oil changed, and putting away my laundry, but I’m proud of the work I’ve done.

I’m grateful for the support of so many Aikido friends and others, for their encouragement and kind words, and for sharing this series. I hope these posts ignite some interest and action among readers, and that at least a few folks will find their way to a dojo, or will see some new possibility for themselves.

I learned a lot, both about the subject, Aikido, and about the process of writing. I found great new friends in a group of local writers – Laura, Kristen, and Natalie – as we all participated in the challenge together (at Laura’s invitation, actually). Now we’re going to continue supporting each other with regular meetings and ongoing online discussion.

What’s next…

The next step, which I will be doing during May, is to create and publish a book using this work as a starting point.

And to keep writing.

My Blog, Evolving

Blog Topic Pie Chart - Aikido, Writing, Body, and Life

When I started writing here, I wrote exclusively about Aikido. As time has gone on – over six years now – it’s become more and more difficult to differentiate what is Aikido from what is not. The poem about the November afternoon light streaming through the high window at the back of the dojo? A report I read about the cognitive benefits of practicing complex movements with a partner? The story about calmly changing my plans at the last minute, because the circumstances changed?

I find myself filtering. This belongs, that doesn’t. But Aikido influences everything in my life, and everything in my life influences my Aikido. It’s all interconnected.

To reflect this, I will be more inclusive about what I write here. I may discuss an realization from last week’s class with Sensei, something I learned about alignment and grounding while moving a heap of wood chips with our little orange Kubota tractor, or a brilliant comment by one of the young people in our children’s program. I may post about my work as a fitness professional, research supporting Aikido as a healthy activity, or my own progress in strength training.

Photography, sketches, and poems? Yes, of course. When I write about the black-crested Phoebe perched on the splintered handle of the overturned plastic wheelbarrow, hunting insects on this wet winter morning, I will share it. Being still and observing a little bird from a place of wonder belongs here, too.

So, grab my wrist, and let’s see what happens.

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.

Dear Ueshiba Sensei

[At our dojo we have a tradition of submitting an essay when we test for sho-dan. My exam was today, and here’s what I wrote.]

—–

13 December, 2014

Dear Ueshiba Sensei,

We have never met, Sensei, but I am a student of yours. My direct teacher is Dave Goldberg Sensei in San Diego, in the United States. His teacher is Robert Nadeau Shihan, who I am sure you remember well. Goldberg Sensei also trained in Japan with your devoted student, Morihiro Saito Sensei. Sensei has had many teachers – he has told me about a few of them – and I have learned a bit here and there from other teachers and friends as well. There are many bubbling rivulets and quiet brooks that feed into the river that is my experience of Aikido, but they all originated with you.

I owe you a debt of gratitude for this art you created. I’ve been practicing Aikido for a while now, and so thought I should introduce myself and share with you how my training is going.

Today I am testing for the rank of sho-dan. Some of my friends who aren’t familiar with martial arts see earning one’s black belt as having arrived. It is an accomplishment, of course, but it feels to me like a starting point, like being accepted into a university. Commencement. “Beginning rank,” truly.

It has been a great adventure getting to this point. So many hills and valleys, forks and detours, breathtaking vantage points and mysterious deep canyons. I have traveled to seminars and camps and other dojos, and made good friends from around the world. So many kindred spirits in this community! My health is much improved, to say nothing of my attitude. I never used to smile or laugh much. I didn’t even care for people, for the most part. I am not the same person who set out on this expedition. Or maybe I am, I have just set down a lot of unnecessary, burdensome things along the way. Any way I look at it, training in Aikido has been a journey of discovery.

About 6 years ago a wise horseman and writer, Mark Rashid, suggested that I train in Aikido when I went to him for help with my riding. He said it could help me become the strong, clear leader my big, goofy young horse needed. That is what got me started on this path. Mark learned of Aikido from a student of his, and found the principles entirely compatible with his work with horses. I know you were a farmer at times. Did you work with horses? I often wonder if you found that to be true as well.

I had tried Aikido almost thirty years before, in college, briefly, but it went right over my head. All I remember was the kneeling kokyu-dosa exercise. Where was the sparring? When were we going to do something? It seemed boring and dull. I really didn’t see the point. Young and stupid, I suppose…

In high school I had trained in Tang Soo Do, a hard, competitive Korean martial art. Things were tough at home. My sister’s drug and alcohol problems kept our family in constant turmoil. I was angry, and wanted to learn to hit things. Fortunately, I had an excellent teacher. Yes, he taught me how to punch (and kick), but he also taught me how to be calm and centered so I didn’t feel the need to. I left to go to college after just my first test. I always thought I would return to train afterward, but my teacher died suddenly a few years later, and I never found my way back to it.

Even before, as a child – I must have been about 8 – I tried Judo for a summer. I don’t know how I heard about it, maybe at school, but I was the one who insisted in signing up. I was an eager student, and brought friends with me to train, too. But all the others in the class were boys – they refused to train with us, and the teacher allowed that. We didn’t learn much, and quit after the summer. Who knows, I might have stuck with it otherwise. I’ve seen photos of women and girls in your classes, and I know you said that Aikido is for everyone. Thank you for that. At least I learned to fall and roll that summer – I could practice that on my own. I think it saved my life once… But that’s a story for another time.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the tenuous fortune and fragile connections that comprise these chains of chance encounters leading to my being here today. I met Mark, the horseman, when he led a workshop nearby, right at the moment I was having trouble and needed his help. My teacher learned of Aikido when his cousin demonstrated a simple technique at a family gathering. A young Mary Heiny, who has taught at our dojo on occasion, saw you because a friend encouraged her to observe your class, and it changed the course her life completely. How fortunate that you encountered Deguchi Sensei! And perhaps more so, Takeda. So many paths crossing, like wavy rings from stones tossed into a pond.

In any case, somehow the gears of the universe meshed and turned in such a way to arrive at this state of things.

I know how lucky I am to have found my teacher. It is said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Apparently that is so – and the right teacher, too! I have trained with and learned from many skillful practitioners and gifted instructors. Like the proverbial blind men and the elephant, each one sees Aikido from a different perspective – a tree, a wall, a rope. In my experience, their perspectives are each valid in their own way, and contribute to a more complete understanding of the whole. Every teacher has something valuable to offer. But I think it’s ideal when there is harmony of temperament and resonance of philosophy between the teacher and the student. A teacher that challenges and corrects, supports and encourages, as each student requires. The right teacher, here at the right location on the earth, at the right point in time. It’s a wonder we ever find our teachers. I suppose most never do. So unlikely…

Speaking of unlikely – I have been surprised again and again at the things I have learned in practicing this art of yours! It’s never been about fighting or defending myself, for me. I expected I would learn to relax under pressure, and respond from a more centered place. Indeed, I continually work on that, and like to think I am improving. I’ve seen that pushing back against … well, everything, is counterproductive and exhausting. I am more comfortable with letting things be – and letting people be – now. But I have also gotten better at being clear and standing my ground when that’s appropriate. I might expect to learn that from a martial art. But more important, I have begun to know what it is that I stand for.

Your art has expanded my understanding, opened my heart, and enlivened my spirit. These have been happy, free, rewarding years. Through Aikido I have begun to discover who I am.

Oh, look… I have rambled on too long! It’s time to get on the mat for my exam. Thank you for your kind attention. I’m so grateful for your vision of what Aikido could be, and how it could change people and the world. Thank you for being a teacher, and sharing with us what you discovered.

With much respect,

Linda Eskin