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


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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.

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


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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.” 😀

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



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“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


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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


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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.

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 4 day 3 – Train Joyously


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Train Joyously
– Morihei Ueshiba

Today’s class was a good class. We worked on nikkyo ura and sSankyo Omote and Ura and koshi nage. We’ve done these techniques many times but it’s always a good thing from time to time to pick these techniques apart from time to time. Sensei does a really good job explaining our techniques from a body to body perspective as well as on a purely physical perspective.

Signing off with the following thought:

“Train Joyously.” If our world is our dojo what does that tell us?