Surrendering to Center – revisiting this

My first blog post was titled “Surrendering to Center”.  In describing this, I wrote:

“What this means to me is that center happens. “Center” is that element of myself that I cannot avoid. it is me, the good, the bad, the ugly. Therefore, I happen. I happen everyday, whether I am alone, with my son, my friends, my coworkers. Surrendering to center means that I need to embrace my demons, make peace with them and thoroughly love me for who I am.”

I think that a basic building block of this is a good practice of gratitude.  I say this because gratitude is in fact a practice.  It is a practice because we need to in fact “practice” the art of gratitude even when we don’t have the ability to see the benefit or even if we don’t have the ability to see what significance of something in the immediate.

It’s not one that I’ve felt I’ve been too terribly good at.  I am grateful for the obvious things, the things that we should all be grateful for, family, friends, love, a pay check, a place to train, a place to study, a place to express art.  I’m not that great at being grateful for adverse things that pop up into my life.  I don’t think that we should jump for joy when those big or small things come in our lives, but I feel that I can do a better job in accepting some of those obstacles and challenges that do come in.

Pema Chodran writes. By putting up with little cares, with minor annoyance, when the “shenpa” (annoyance) is light weight we train ourselves to work with great adversity.  By putting up with learning to keep our nobility, to not spin off, to not reject our own energy when the challenge is fairly workable, we train for difficult times.  This is how we prepare ourselves to work with any highly charged situations that may come our way in the near or distant future.

It’s exactly these “little cares” that I need to work on.  I believe that I can get there with gratitude.  With gratitude I can see that people are people and they are just doing the best they can.  With gratitude I can see that when people know better they do better.  I can address a situation but I don’t have to let it affect me.  So, I think that today, 12/31/2011 will be a good time to reflect on this, to surrender to center yet again, and make gratitude my direction for the coming new year.

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Quiet yourself and train!

I think that this is much better than “shut up and train”… maybe it’s the PC version… but it’s kind of on my mind right now.  A friend recently expressed interest in Aikido and I thought about the suggestions and advice that I wanted to give him.  Strangely, it was advice that I heard a long time ago when I first started Aikido.  This advice was never heeded, and my ego got the best of me.  This is probably the reason that I have had so many start / stops with my Aikido career on the mat.

What was told to me was simply this:  Train, be present on the mat.   Understanding etiquette, the Japanese terms that surround Aikido, the esoteric principles, those will all come with time.  But if you want to learn Aikido, then learn it in the way that it was supposed to be learned, in the body.

I like to read, and I think that this is an important part of our practice: understanding the history and how our art ties into O Sensei Morehei Ueshiba is tantamount to understanding the art and putting it into context with why it was created.  However the first thing we have to do as Aikidoka to be Aikidoka is to train.  We can then try to make sense of how Aikido fits into our lives, we can then understand how Aikido works off the mat and how we can use our training to be in project meetings, interpersonal relationships, familial relationships, tragedy, joy, life and death.

However, for me it cannot be the other way around.  I can not say that I will practice Aikido off the mat as an “instead of” to actual training.  Our dojos allow us a laboratory, a safe place to express conflict  and resolution in the fundamental and whole way we can, in our bodies.  I remember a friend of mine a few years ago was interested in Aikido and he wanted to “find out more about it.”  He never went.  there is nothing that is secret that you will find in books that you will not find on the mat.  However, there are many things on the mat that you will not find by reading.  The pure joy of experience can not be had by reading or talking about it.

This obviously goes for many other things, music, visual arts, you name it.  Aikido is an art expressed through the heart, felt in the bones, skin and muscles.  So… shut up and train!

What do you have planned for your Aikido in 2012?

We are closing out the year here in a few days, and I’ve been thinking a bit about the things I want to work on in the upcoming year.  I think that it’s good to have goals and to work on different aspects of an art.  While general comments like “I want to get faster/stronger/quicker” are always good, I think that specifying some of the finer points helps set the focus for growth regarding some of the specific things we can work on to better our skill level.  When I worked towards my first kyu test a couple years ago, I worked on a consistent flow throughout the test, so that as I finished one technique, I’d go right into another.  This was the first time I had worked on something beyond “faster/stronger/quicker.

So for me, I want to explore a few different things as I progress through 2012.  Some are more general, helping me to come closer to achieving the ability to  practice “Takemusu Aiki”, the spontaneous creation of technique, and some are more specific regarding some technical issues I need to brush up on.  They are:

Expressing a fuller range of motion – I want to work on using both big and small movements in my waza.  I want to work on changing the tempo and speed of my response to an attack, slowing down a fast attack or redirecting my partner in some unexpected ways.

Becoming more knowledgeable in my weapons practice – Our dojo does not emphasize a lot of weapons use but I enjoy training with both the bokken and jo.  So doing more solo practice will help me understand the relationship to my empty hand technique as my empty hand technique will help me understand my weapons practice more fully.

Enter/don’t retreat – I still have tendencies to back up rather than move forward, more so on some techniques than others.  One of our black belts worked with me a while ago and said, “everytime I feel you backing up i’m going to ‘beep’.”  I heard him beeping quite a bit, so I will work on moving forward rather than backward on my irimi nage.  (It translates into “entering throw” for christ’ sake!).

Shiho nage – I benefit from the fact that my training partners are usually taller than I am.  Thus, it’s easier to perform shiho nage on most of my partners at the dojo.  However, there’s one or two folks that are significantly shorter than I am, so I tend to have problems keeping my arms in front of me as I move throughout the throw.  I will seek out those training opportunities more so that  I can work with this.

Ukemi – I have a couple things I want to work on here. I’ve always felt that my ukemi was pretty good, but I sometimes feel that I am too soft on my partner.  Sensei expresses the role of uke as “allowing our partner to grow in a balanced way.”  If I am too compliant then it doesn’t help my partner.  So I want to work on the balance of being too soft and too unyielding.  It’s a delicate balance, because there are many things we can learn as uke regarding subtle movements in our partner and the energy they create when they move, but I think that that does in fact need to be balanced with a bit more resistance than I sometimes offer.  Too much resistance and it’s no fun for anyone, but too little and we can  create a false sense of achievement for our partner.

Ukemi part deux – Since I’ve been having problems with my knee I have to find different ways of moving and falling on the mat.  I tend to favor one side more than the other now, so When I’m being thrown I still fall on the opposite side of how I should be falling.  I won’t be stupid about this but I need to be better balanced about which side I fall on or roll from.

These are some of the things that I’m currently working on, but I think that  it’s a good thing to call out some specifics and keep them in mind as I train in the upcoming year.  What are some of the things you are working on?  Do you have goals for 2012?  I would like to hear them too.   Finally, I wish you all a wondrous new year.  I hope that this year is filled with happiness, joy and good training for all!