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