Training Away From Home

When I tested for 1st Kyu a couple of years ago, I was presented with an interesting problem.  My friend, Mentor and uke, Sasun, that I selected to be my test partner, could not participate.  His back went out.  So rather than testing with him and benefiting from the familiarity I built up through the training period leading up to my test, my partners were my fellow students. Sensei would call them up and I would perform techniques from my test.  Tall, short, limber, stiffer, more adept at rolling or not.  I was ok with that, and I thought that I did well adapting to the different body types, levels and abilities.

Now, training for my shodan test, I have a different problem.  I am away from my home dojo and do not have the benefit of classes with my Sensei, Bob Noha, who is currently working with the other two shodan candidates as our school goes into test preparation mode for our upcoming exams in the spring.

So, I have been thinking about why this is a problem.  And I’ve also been thinking why it isn’t.  Sensei told a story about a buddy of his who had just started kendo.  Shortly after he started a very high ranking kendo master was conducting a seminar.  His friend signed up and thought that he would sneak into the location where the seminar was early to secretly observe the kendo master and see what he could learn and how this high ranking fellow prepared.  He wanted to know at the master’s level, what esoteric movements and intricate sword strikes he would use to prepare for his seminar.  Surprisingly, the kendo master did the basic strike, shomen uchi, over and over again.  It was the basis for all other strikes and all other movements.  The first strike you learn.  And he was there, over, and over and over.

Aikido is based on universal principles.  They are based on physics, energy and spirit.  These principles work wether I am at my home dojo, whether I am practicing at a seminar or where I’m currently training now in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  There are technical aspects of my exam that I will certainly need to brush up on, but my main goal right now in solving the “problem” of being away from my home dojo is to move on the mat in accordance to the Aiki principles as taught by O Sensei.  Move from center, get off the line, turn, enter.  My arms and hands will follow and I will have faith in my training, Sensei, and training partners that this will carry me through.

Morning Pages at 750words.com

A few years ago I started working through Julie Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  I didn’t get all the way through it but I did enjoy a particular exercise she called “Morning Pages”.  The goal of morning pages is to write 3 pages.  It doesn’t have to be intelligent, and it doesn’t have to be sentences.  It just has to be 3 pages.  She found that through this process, you start to leave all of the “I can’ts” and “I should be doings” on the page, freeing you to be a bit more creative in your life.   The book, intended for artists who are suffering from a block, is also good for those who simply want to live more creative lives.  Creative problem solving is in fact an act of creativity and permeates into all aspects of our lives, from working through how to talk to your child about sensitive issues, to tending to your partners needs.

I did this for a while and enjoyed it.   Writing allowed me to look at certain aspects of my life and work through some fairly heavy things I was going through a few years ago.  I am delighted to have found http://www.750words.com now.  The website derives from the concept of morning pages. (750 words = approx 3 pages).  It is not blogging but it does show you meta information about your writing, with statistics on frequently used words, what kind of things you are writing about etc.  Kudos to the author of the website!  I believe he runs it out of a coffee house somewhere in Seattle, WA.

The October Challenge is simply, write 750 words everyday for the month of October.  If you succeed, then you get to be placed on the wall off awesomeness.  If you fail your name gets placed on the wall of shame.   You can also agree to either treat yourself to something nice if you succeed and do something (possibly donate to the site) if you fail.  I’ve signed up and so far, I’m 2 for 2 with 29 days to go.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing lately to keep the creative juices flowing.  Oh, that and I just upgraded my mac to the latest OS, Snow Leopard.  I’m interested in learning some programming for the iPhone and been really enjoying the latest version of Garage Band.

Road to 1st kyu is complete


Originally uploaded by markdeso

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:3

For the past 10 weeks our dojo has been helping two of us prepare for our belt tests. Linda tested for 3rd kyu and I tested for 1st. I decided to blog about my experience, more from a perspective of what kind of insight this experience gives me.

There were 3 things I wanted to accomplish:
consistency, gentleness and good technique. I think with out the first and the second, the third does me no good. I need to be consistent and I need to be gentle in my approach and manner in all that I do. After the test the testing board brings us out to talk about our test. I was very pleased when Sensei specifically remarked about my consistency throughout the test.

I had been training with a san dan at our dojo who agreed to be my uke. At literally the last moment, (we were in the middle of rolls warming up for our test) he said to me that his back was bothering him to the point where he could not be my uke. My uke has talked about doing the best with what’s given you. This was an opportunity to do just that.

We are a small school so to replace him, I went through most of my dojo mates that came that day to watch. My son Steven even uke’d for me on a few techniques. As we reviewed my test, Sensei remarked that I showed good flow regardless of who I worked with, and adjusted my techniques to be appropriate to the uke’s experience. I was very touched by his support and words. The board all had good things to say and I felt good about my performance.

I have posted my test on youtube. i’m wondering if I will have an onslaught of “that stuff just won’t do against MMA.” comments. Here’s what I think about that: There were two peopl on our testing board that are up in their years. We have a woman who is 82. She does not train anymore but Sensei thinks enough of her to have her sit on our tests anytime she can. She is a testament to consistent training. We also have one of our black belts that still trains. He is 79, and still rolling around on the mat and throwing us with ease. I’m fairly certain that neither of these two fine people have had a fight in their life. However, when we see football players, wrestlers, and boxers who cannot train because of bad knees, hips or other casualties of their sport, we have people well into their 60s, 70s and 80s still training and still vibrant. This is of great inspiration to me.

If you teach someone to fight, then that’s all they will do. However, if you teach someone to resolve conflict, become a bigger person, show love in the face of adversity, then you teach someone to tap into the greatness we all have.

I am grateful to my Sensei, my school and uke for their gracious support. I’m grateful to my son for his wondrous and unflinching support of his dad. Last but not least, I’m grateful for having a wonderful and amazing woman that has been there for me, cheering me on, inspiring me and loving me through this experience. Leah, you are my sun, moon and stars.

Road to 1st Kyu – the final stretch


Originally uploaded by markdeso

This has been a whirl wind couple of weeks. We have been really busy at work and I did not have a chance to train this weekend. I am taking advantage of the classes yesterday, tonite and thursday before my test.

I had an interesting revelation last nite. I don’t really have to think. I just have to do what Sensei asks of me on my test and it will be alright. For me, it’s not “can I” but “how well can I”. I’ve thought a lot about the things important for me to express when I’m testing this Saturday. Ultimately there are 3 things I want to accomplish:

Good technique – I want to be able to demonstrate good form in my throws and techniques. The basics of any artistic or physical expression stem from good technique.

Flow and consistancy – I want to feel a connection with my partner and exhibit zanshin, awareness throughout the test. This means that as I finish one technique I still keep focus on uke and hold that focus till we bow out from our testing.

Most importantly, the spirit of loving protection – I’ve read once that the spirit of loving protection means that when we are in a conflict situation, we not only strive to protect ourselves from harm, but we strive to protect our attackers, even as they seek to hurt us. I want to encompass the spirit of loving protection and exhibit how this can be done on the mat. If I can practice these things on the mat, then I can learn to work this into my life, just that much more.

Tonight was an interesting and wondrous night at the dojo. I came in to find Charlie, one of our teachers, standing at the window. I asked him how he was doing and he said he had come down with a bad cold. He felt that he didn’t want to touch the mats or have any human contact for fear that he would be contagious. He said, “You get to teach the class tonight…Lock up when you’re done…” Wow… I was scared and at the same time very appreciative of the opportunity. So, we had five people come today including myself. We bowed in, and started. As it turned out, we worked quite a few techniques, we did some suwari waza, worked in a line and worked some interesting earth and heaven energy, did nikkyo into irimi nage, and I think that I did a pretty good job on short notice! I tried to stick to the basics, and show what I knew, not what I thought I knew or what i thought Sensei or Charlie would teach, bu what I knew. The end result: I can see why people like to teach! It was a great and amazing opportunity!

So, as I finished my second to last class before my test, I feel that tonight was a really great gift. I’m appreciative of my dojo mates for putting up with me, and I am still high from the experience as I type.

Onegai shimasu!

Road To 1st Kyu – Week 8 day 1 – With open arms


Originally uploaded by markdeso

I’ve been thinking about some of our techniques that we do. They are truly unique from other arts. Most grappling arts concentrate on joint lock manipulation and pain compliance. Aikido, having transcended from Daito Ryu ju jitsu has many similar techniques.

This evening, we worked on suwari waza (more knee techniques) and variations. I’m still working at about 85% but everyday I feel just a bit better. For this test, I’m trying to concentrate on softness and gentleness. This does not come at the compromise of technique but rather an enhancement to it. It feels good to feel things flowing more and more easily, and it certainly feels good to meet a strike or punch with openness and gentleness. All of these things translate to affairs off the mat; not just conflict situations with bosses, family and friends but also with the ever growing need to expand these relationships and grow them.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 7 Day 1 – The Dojo Hath Conspired…


Originally uploaded by markdeso

Oh my my… I’ve been sick. I don’t think I’ve been this sick in a while. I had a brief reprieve last weekend, but relapsed for the next week. Aside from 2 hours at an Aikido seminar last sunday today was the first time I have trained in 2 weeks. Normally, every last Saturday of the month we have weapons practice. I thought that today would be a perfect day to come back and ease back into training… HA!

Sensei decided that, since we are 3 weeks out from my kyu test, if I showed up, he would skip weapons, put the mats down and focus on test preparation. So much for an easy class to get back into the swing of things. I’m actually very touched that he would forgo our weapons practice to support our testing efforts. It’s one of the many reason I am a student of his.

Today, we worked on koshi nage (hip throw) as well as techniques from hanmi handachi. In Aikido and some other traditional Japanese martial arts, there are a series of techniques that are performed on the knees. Suwari waza is performed where both partners are kneeling. Hanmi handachi is performed with the attacker standing and the person performing the technique on their knees in tradiitional seiza position.

I’ve blogged about this a while ago as to the origins, but in brief these series of techniques where designed to defend against attackers coming in suddenly while the defender is conducting business, eating or sitting on the tatami mats back in the day when the traditional seiza position was the norm in Japanese culture.

The practicality of defending one’s self against marauding hordes while in the middle of tea ceremony has past, but there are other reasons that we still practice these techniques. Techniques done from the kneeling position helps our standing techniques tremendously. Whatever weaknesses that we exhibit in a standing technique will be multiplied on the knees. Thus, if you can work better on your knees it will help the technique overall.

Today we worked irime nage, and the omote and ura versions of shiho nage. In anything we should measure our success by the progress we make, small or large. Shiho nage has been a strong technique for me standing, but in hanmi handachi, I seem to be all left knees. Today, I was getting it. I felt strong and sure today. It felt like technique flowed really well.

My son, who has his second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, was happy a while ago because he just nailed his first 540 degree spin kick. Today, I was happy that I could feel shiho nage, so it’s all relative. The point being, progress is always good at any level.

OH, and btw:

Dear Son,
Please, the next time Sensei demonstrates a throw on you, please refrain from saying “Oh snap.” :D

Annnnd, Leah, you are my sun, moon and stars…

Road to 1st Kyu – week 6 Day 1 – if you can still inhale….

…I will keep on practicing, not for the prowess in self-defense, not for rank or prestige, not even for the wonderful and life-changing lessons that flow from this art. I will practice Aikido for the sheer, unmitigated beauty of it.
- George Leonard, Way of Aikido

OK, I’m sick. My son brought home a cold the week before and I caught his. I got bad Wednesday, felt better Thursday, better yesterday and relapsed today. Apparently a frog has decided to possess my vocal chords and i’m hacking and coughing. Hence, I did not want to infect the dojo so I haven’t trained all week . I’m unfortunately missing a seminar today with Nadeau Sensei and Heini Sensei that I really wanted to go to. If by some strange circumstance I feel better tomorrow I will take Steven and head over. They have a session from 10 to 12.

I’m at a really good place in my training right now. At this point, I’m not worried about my test. Regardless of whether I pass or fail, it will be fine. This does not mean I’m not concerned with performing to the best of my ability. It’s nice to not have anxiety around this though. When our Sensei was asked with how he deals with a less than optimal day on the mat, he simply said, “it’s only Aikido. No one got fired as a result of a bad performance. No one lost money, had tragedy, etc.”
It’s a nice place to be. I believe that the lessons we learn on the Aikido mat help us in other aspects. Thich Naht Hanh said, “if you can still inhale and exhale for that moment, you know you are OK.” I’ve said before that Aikido is a microcosm of the world, so if I can be still and OK with however way my test goes, then I can be OK with other aspects of my life. I can know that regardless of the situation, I’ve given it the best of me.
So, hopefully I will feel better tomorrow. It would be regrettable to not get some training in this weekend but it’s not the end of the world. I’ve not been on the same mat as Nadeau Sensei in probably 20 years. There’s always another seminar though. If not tomorrow, then sometime soon.
Oh, and by the way. I’m trying out the kindle app for Windows Vista on my laptop. Before I bought anything crazy like an Apple Ipad (out next week) I wanted to see as to the readability of the kindle app. The quote I found was from George Leonard’s book, “The Way of Aikido, Life Lessons from an American Sensei.” I like that he has such a simple and down to the point writing style. More so, I really enjoy the quote. Aikido is a beautiful thing; whether realized on the mat, used to evoke a creative outlet, or to calm a not so calm situation.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 5 Day 3 – all caught up



Originally uploaded by markdeso

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.” – Morehei Ueshiba

I seem to be playing catch up this week. Last nights post was for Thursday. Today’s post is for our Saturday class.

We worked katate dori shiho nage, both the omote and ura versions, as well as more koshi nage techniques yesterday. I had the good fortune of working with a couple of the black belts on both of the shiho nage versions; one of which will be my uke for my upcoming test, the other will be on the testing board. I respect and welcome their critiques. They both are upping the ante as it were, and helping me pick up the finer points of these techniques.

Sensei is also very supportive of the testing candidates. He works with us so that we are performing these techniques at our appropriate level. “Mary had a little Lamb” sounds different when a piano student first starts on the piano keys, versus a few years in, where they can support the melody with chords and bass lines, versus when he turns into a master pianist, that can throw jazz chord substitutions, syncopate the melody and still have it be very recognizable as “Mary had a little Lamb”.

So, Sensei and the other yudansha works with me at the level appropriate for my rank. Yesterday on the ura version of shiho nage, he was working with me to not turn my head and luck before I turned into the technique. There is a slight lapse in connection as I turned my head so he was trying to correct that.

The thing I enjoy most is the constant refinement. We can always polish technique and get it to be better and better. If this is the case, then we can polish and refine ourselves. God knows I need the refinement!

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 5 Day 2


Originally uploaded by markdeso

One of the things I love about Sensei is that he is an excellent story teller. He has had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the martial arts community. His first T’ai Chi teacher was Robert W. Smith, who was a direct student of Cheng Man Ch’ing, and for a period of 2 years he studied with Cheng Man Ch’ing in New York.

Every so often Sensei will relate an anecdotal story to us. This evening, he talked about a story Robert Smith told him. Robert Smith had a friend, John. John was a gigantic Swed, 6’8″ 280 lbs and a hardened war veteran. John was a hard core tough guy. One day Robert Smith arranged a demo from a Chinese martial artist. The martial artist proceeded with his demo and after, John turned to Robert and said, “Quite frankly, I’m not impressed.”

At this point, Robert walked over to the person who gave the demo. He simply told him “My friend John would like to see something.” His friend walked up to John, put his hand at his stomach, and made a cork screw motion. At first John just kind of wavered, and then he fell to the ground vomiting. At this point, Robert Smith walks over to John, leans over to him and says, “Did you want to see anything else?”

I love that Sensei has these stories he can pull out of his hat. He has many different sides to him, and story teller is definitely one of them.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 5 Day 1 – Harmony,Life Lessons and Mr Fogerson


Originally uploaded by markdeso

Harmony is an interesting thing. Musically, there are notes that are hit that, because of the frequency of vibration, appeal to our ears. We hear a major third, a minor sixth, a perfect fifth, and those two notes, played at the same time sound right to us.

So as we practice Aikido, how do we evoke harmony in our technique, and how do we use that as a model to extend out to the other aspects of our lives. We are sons, fathers, daughters, bosses, orphans, leaders, followers, friends. I find that there is a similarity between being present with my guitar, playing and not just hitting the notes, but really feeling a song, really expressing musically what is in my heart and soul, and being on the mat, really connecting with my training partners, letting the technique come out of the interaction between myself and my partner, rather than trying to force it.

So if I can find similarity with this, then I can extend this out and connect with my coworkers, my son, my lover, my family and some how find harmony there as well. All of the same ingredients that make for a well played guitar,or a good connection with my training partner can be used in so many other aspects of my life. Those ingredients: compassion, presence, feeling full and comfortable in my own skin, being open to the possibilities around me, listening and not waiting for my turn to speak.

Our class today was a small one. We had four people and Charlie who taught. We worked on shomen uchi ikkyo through yonkyo, yokomen uchi shiho nage and morote dori irime nage. Typically when we are working on test preparation, whoever is teaching that night will ask candidates to come up and perform techniques that they call out; a kind of “aiki pop quiz” if you will. I got a chance to work some variations today from both standing and kneeling positions. They feel like they are improving! Everyday that I train I’m excited.

For some reason, Mr. Fogerson is on my mind tonight. Before I saw “Above the Law” with Steven Seagal, George Fogerson was the person who introduced me to Aikido. Mr. Fogerson was the neighbor who lived across the street from me when I was a kid. He had three children, Amy, Karen and Dave, all around my age. We all used to play hide and go seek and whatever else while I lived there. I was 12 or 13 and George was training at Aikido West under Frank Doran Sensei. I remember him taking out his jo and swinging it around in his yard.

Mr. Fogerson showed me a couple of techniques that I didn’t quite understand at that young age. However, I do remember being a bit fascinated by these strange movements. Mr. Fogerson planted a seed way back when, and now, 34 years later it is still growing. I have to credit him with my introduction to this wonderful art. I remember that he unfortunately had to quit at a certain point because it was hard on his knees.

I reconnected with Mr. Fogerson’s kids on Facebook a little more than a year ago. Sadly, George passed around the same time. I remember him and always will. So, Mr. Fogerson, thank you for showing me those weird movements. You were the one that made me aware of this art.

Gentle reader, if you are wondering, yes, this is… this is a disjointed blog post. I suppose I have a lot on my mind. I wish I could say something more eloquent but simply put, tonight I feel and I want to get it out. Thanks.