Road to 1st Kyu – Week 2 Day 1 – Aiki field trip

Gengo Sensei and me
Originally uploaded by markdeso

Today I took my son to San Francisco to train with Stevan Gengo Sensei at Aikido of Noe Valley. Before my incredibly long period off the mat this was my home dojo. I love training with Steve as he is always offering an interesting perspective on Aikido.

He stays true to O’ Sensei’s teachings and today talked about Ai (triangle) ki (circle) and do (square). Today he used an ushiro version of koto gaishi to demonstrate how these shapes represent the intention of movement and direction at the start of a technique, the spiraling and circular nature of Aikido through the technique and ending the technique with a solid and substantial frame.

I enjoy visiting Steve and have always enjoyed being his student. His Aikido seems to have grown. He seems like he moves with smaller circles, exerting less effort. Today, he mentioned the three techniques that O’ Sensei says we should practice everyday, Taino Henko, Kokyo Ho and Kokyo Dosa.

In class Gengo Sensei is always working through things in his head to offer up for the next technique. It’s fun to watch the gears move in his head as he walks around class. Most of all, I enjoy his demeanor. He is a truly gentle soul and always makes me feel welcome and encouraged. I look forward to training with him again in the coming months.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 1 Day 5


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I was reading more from the book “A Life in Aikido” this morning. Early on in the book, O’ Sensei’s son Kisshomaru Ueshiba writes about O’ Sensei having a bit of a selfish and childish streak in him. I scratched my head about reading this and wondered for a bit why he would include this about his father. I think he took the time to write this so that we understand that while O’ Sensei was supremely talented in many things, he is still a man, prone to the same issues we have in our daily lives.

I remember a friend telling me about a therapist she went to school with. Her school mate was taken under the wing of a prominent psychologist and mentored for many years. She grew immensely under his guidance. One day she found out that he was having an affair. She felt terribly betrayed. My friend said that eventually though she came to the understanding that the message and teachings she received stand on it’s own, even though the messenger had compromised values.

Now, I’m not comparing the two men at all, and in no way am I saying that O’ Sensei had compromised values. But by Kisshomura’s account, he was at times childish and selfish. I appreciate a 360 degree view of our founder though. I appreciate that we get a humanizing account of someone we often think of as bigger than life.

Today in class, we are still working on “La la land”, “nuetral zone” and “the embodied state.” As we use techniques in class to transition through these states Sensei asks what we do in our bodies and how we know we are at a higher state.

For me, I become aware of where my body stops and feel the direct delineation between my body and the world. I don’t always have this awareness. Sensei talks about the concept of proprioception. Wikipedia defines proprioception as “the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. ” It’s interesting and eye opening for me to start understanding this on an experiential level and relate back to these three states, and to start recognizing that internal shift that moves me from one state to the other.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 1 Day 4


Originally uploaded by markdeso

We’ve been working on a few interesting themes lately at our Aikido school. Sensei has been working with the state of “la la land”, “neutral zone” and “embodiment”. I’m working on a more thorough post of these states that I will publish later but as a part of my process towards 1st kyu, I’ll relate to it from that angle.

Some quick definitions:
la la land – that place we go to when we “check out”. The place that we allow ourselves to go to when we are not present. There is some attractiveness to this place or magnetism but it’s a place that leads us ultimately to entanglement.

Neutral zone – the state where we catch ourselves and start to pull out of la la land. We start to become present and in the moment.

Embodiment – the state where we are simply “here”. We have all the attractiveness of what brought us into la la land, but we have it in a fully present state of being.

So the goal of the past few classes have been to simply realize that there are these three states, and note what things happen in the body when we move from one state to another. This has been an eye opening practice for me. There are MANY different states of La la land that I find myself in.

As of late, I’ve been in the following: My son has been having some tough times in school with his grades. We’ve been working with a tutor but it’s been a hard road for him. The particular flavor of La la land that i go to is – Since Steven is not doing good right now in 8th grade, he will have a hard time at high school, won’t get into college, work jobs where he will feel less than and have a difficult time for the rest of his life. Yes, I know it’s ludicrous. But that part of my brain that goes there goes there for a reason. I think it goes here because it removes all the unknowns. I don’t have to be present and can indeed check out because his path is already mapped out.

The fact is his life is NOT mapped out and there is a world of possibility between now and then. There is a world of possibility between now and the end of the trimester. In fact, there is a world of possibility right now. Seeing this, having the ability to be present and at the very least understand why I go there is a huge thing for me and very empowering.

O’ Sensei founded Aikido with this in mind: “the martial arts are a way through which we fulfill our divine mission by making the spirit of the universe our own and fostering within us a spirit of loving protection for all things.” We cannot have the spirit of loving protection within us if we give up and resign ourselves to an outcome that is days, months or years away. Embodiment can only happen when we realize that there are a myriad of possibilities in front of us at all times.

Week 1 day 3 – Process vs Program

Week 1 day 3
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I was thinking about this as I left the gym today. There is a difference between a process and program. I define them for me as:

Process: a series of things that you can do internally and externally to accomplish tasks and goals, get to the next plateau and churn the creative juices. Most important, it is something you can look back on and reuse for different situations.

Program: something with a start and an end date with definable and finite goals.

I choose to follow my process. Lately it’s been “The process of getting to 1st Kyu.” Sensei often talks about the ingredients of a process and how you take these ingredients, stir them up, cook them and let them sit with each other and pretty soon you have something different; you have stew. So right now, I’m gathering up the ingredients of my process. So far, they are tenacity, perseverance, patience and sincerity towards my upcoming test.

Sensei is a big proponent of asking the question “What did you get out of this process, and how can you use this to better your life?” This is paraphrased and an amalgamation of my few years of training with him. This is the message I feel I am asked by him. I’m looking forward to seeing what the answer is.

So today, I went back to the gym again, did my 30 minute circuit, and am now gonna try and shower, dress and leave within 5 minutes.

Onegai shimasu!

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 1 Day 2


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I started the book “A Life in Aikido: The Biography of Founder Morihei Ueshiba” by O’ Sensei’s son and the second doshu of the art, Kisshomaru Ueshiba . I only got through the preface and the first couple of pages. What was overwhelming for me was how much love and admiration Kisshomaru Ueshiba had for his father. I am looking forward to gaining important perspective of the founder of Aikido but for now, I am deeply touched by how much his son loved him.

Tuesday nights are taught by Charlie. Charlie is a 4th Dan Aikidoka and has a very solid and elegant style. I really enjoy his classes as they are a little more fast paced and we go over several different techniques. One of the attacks on my test is kata dori (shoulder grab) menuchi (strike). The attack comes off to the side and uke grabs the shoulder and raises his other hand at the face. We did several techniques from this attack: Ikkyo omote and ura, Irime Nage, and Sankyo.

I’m grateful to our dojo and our teachers for the help in preparation for our testing. It’s always a good thing to see the dojo come together in support of the testing candidates in preparation of their next rank. I look forward to the coming couple months for the training and benefit of preparation for 1st kyu.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 1 Day 1 – one more thing


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A coworker of mine is an exceptional classical guitar player. I asked him one day how he goes about learning new things. He tells me that before he starts to practice the piece he usually listens to a couple of pieces of the composers work, and tries to learn something about the author himself.

As Aikido is an art centered around O’ Sensei, I think this time of preparation gives me a good opportunity to learn more about him. To this, I’m grabbing the book “A Life in Aikido” by Kisshomaru Ueshiba off the shelf. I bought the book a while ago but never started and will start reading today.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 1 Day 1


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A few months ago I wrote a series of blogs to get me back into the gym and be consistant. That seemed to work well for me. Subsequently, stopping that process has allowed other things in my life to come before my time in the gym, so I’m starting up again.

This time however, I am preparing for my 1st Kyu test at the Aikido dojo I attend. I am inspired by some of my friends on the net and the chronicling of their experiences with their challenges, whether it’s learning a new technique or preparing for a test.

In preparation of my last test at 2nd kyu, I took a different view. Rather than “I have to prepare for my test and be good enough” I took the perspective of my test as a gift back to my school. The people that I train with from a few days off the mat through Yondan to Sensei have all had a part in my preparation and my ability. My test is a gift back to all of them to show them my appreciation for what has been learned on the mat.

So my posts for the coming weeks will be more frequent. They may or may not be more vocal. But I use this as a motivational tool and a way to keep me focused.

Onegai shimasu!