Not fighting.

May 27, 2008

A new person has joined our dojo community. What a pleasure…new faces, new wonderful Ukes to train with. This person has lots of experience and, I can tell, has been training for years. His technique is well-studied and he has a great attitude.

And he’s big. Not tall, just built. And strong. With attacks in motion, he’s wonderful to work with. It’s kind of like practicing with a live blade; when you see a strike coming with all the mass he has to deliver behind it, you move. NOW. For if you don’t, you’re going to get flattened.

The real challenge comes in his grabs. They hurt. Intentional or not, he clamps down extremely hard, and every time I’m paired with him on a katate technique, I simply take it as a given that I’m going to come out bruised.

So there I am. The fight within becomes a struggle between the heart-felt desire to welcome and train with every individual in the dojo without pause or hesitation, and the simple self-preserving desire to avoid this individual due to the dread of ending up with black and blue forearms.

The lesson I take? Not fighting. Our Path teaches us not to fight, but to move. To arrive beyond the attack before it comes. To not plan ahead, but to control and lead.

In this case, I make the decision to let my inner conflict dissolve away and take the situation as it comes. When sensei finishes his or her demonstration, I look down the line for the eyes of a partner to train with–to lend me their body so that I might learn. And should my eyes meet his, I welcome him, but with inner caution, for I know that he is a live blade.

In practical terms, I can talk to him and simply ask him to not grab as hard. Or I can move earlier and not let the grab fully develop. In any case, I have options. I have ways to take the fight out of the situation before that dreaded stalemate of pain occurs.

Aikido teaches us the lessons of the Art of Peace lie within everything, everyone and every situation. They are only there for us to listen and learn from them.

Here, I’ve learned control. I’ve learned to talk. I’ve learned to be brave enough to confront someone causing me pain–and still welcome them into my sphere again.


Just move.

April 29, 2008

For the past few days, I’ve felt stalled. In business, in life, things just seem to be standing still. Maybe it’s the coming summer and the hotter days. Maybe it’s the way the intensity of the sunshine in this place subtly drains one’s energy. Maybe it’s the intense, saturating insecurity of the times. Maybe it’s fear.

Fear of what I’m not sure, but it seems like apprehension is pervading life today. And as I feel this pause, I imagine myself in the dojo, on the mat. I can see my partner’s attack coming. We’re practicing kumitachi number one, a choreographed exercise with bokken, smoothly finished wooden swords of Japanese white oak.

I stand still, waiting for the attack to come, which will send me and my bokken spiraling into the next movement. And my partner’s sword rises smoothly, straight up as he steps in, and then drops toward my head as if to split me down the middle.

In that moment, in the back of my mind, I hear it.



But I don’t. In this instant-after all these years of training and all the work-the memory in my muscles and my mind draw a blank and I stand frozen. And thanks to my partner’s presence of mind and concentration, his bokken stops crisply, one inch before crashing into my unprotected forehead.

“What happened?” he says.

“I blanked. Sorry.”

But I knew exactly what should have happened. As his bokken swung down, I should have slid my right foot across the line of attack and raised my weapon, simultaneously protecting my head and the side of my body whilst initiating a quick, powerful circling cut toward the opposite side of my partner’s head.

That’s what should have happened.

And even if I couldn’t remember the correct move, I should have at least let my instinct go, forget everything and move. Just move. Anywhere. Just survive.

But I didn’t. In that one frozen moment, my mind wasn’t just blank. It had stopped like a rusting clockwork. And it cost me my life. A zen mind has the freedom to move in any direction at any moment. A stopped mind goes nowhere. It’s dead.

And that’s where I’ve been this week. Stopped. Blank. Going nowhere.

But now, with this writing, I’m moving. Through this exercise, this training-here in this dojo of the mind-my thinking is again spiraling into its next movement, toward the next moment of life.

Where am I headed? Right now, I’m not sure. But at least I’m moving.

Part of this exploration will be lessons from the mat. Other parts will be my “discussions” with O’sensei, or at least with the learnings he left us. Today, in my reading I came across this lesson:

“Large does not always defeat little. Little can become large by constant building; large can become little be falling apart.” –O’sensei

Towering a whopping five feet five inches, it’s needless for me to say that this one spoke to me on a very personal level. A level closer to the ground than may of those with whom I train.

In our training, we often speak of “leading Uke into our space” and “bringing Uke to us” as opposed to our moving out to meet Uke…

You’ll note that I capitalize Uke. Uke, to me, is an individual. Of course, he or she deserves to be capitalized, no matter now annonymous they might be! They are essential to my development. But I digress. Sorry, this is a conversation. Bear with me…

Oh, yes. Leading. In training, I have found that inviting Uke into my space means leading them to me in every sense: psychologically as well as, shall we say, geographically. When I offer a hand for katate tori, it is at the level of my center, not their’s.  I don’t reach my hand up to a six foot Uke; through my posture and how I offer my hand, I invite them to my level. From that moment–when they begin to move–their balance and center are now in my sphere. What I make of the technique from there, well, that’s up to me.

The life lesson? To me, this is about knowing ourselves and using our strengths. I am a small business person, I am my only employee. I have positioned myself and my business to have this be my greatest advantage. Likewise, I am a husband and a parent. And a son. And a brother. In all of my interactions with all those around me, I invite others to experience me for who I am. I don’t try to be someone I’m not. This self truth is what helps us be strong in life, moment to moment, and able to continually build and become stronger.

It is when we overextend and become untrue to ourselves that things fall apart. I hope to always be true to myself and build my strengths. Not as easy as it sounds. We’ll see.


The first step.

April 3, 2008

We all learn lessons on the mat. Aikido training engages mind and body, and unifies the elements with the minds, bodies, and life process of those around us. I’ve been training since 1994, and just this year, my technique has taken a great turn.

I’m not an instructor. I have not yet tested for shodan. Still, I do feel a deep meaning in my life due to my aikido training, and that consciousness pervades every aspect of who I am. From how I relate to my friends and loved ones to the way I ride a motorcycle in traffic. (Talk about needing technique!) My hope–my plan–is that when the time is right, I’ll test once again and start sharing what I’ve learned. This blog will be an effort to focus on that education and document some of that learning for the future.

 As in aikido, as in life, I’m always trying to learn from everything. Let’s learn together.

“Do not fail
To learn from
The pure voice of an
Ever-flowing mountain stream
Splashing over the rocks.”