How the Sea Changed my Aikido

It seems funny to write this.  Not because I don’t feel a fundamental shift but for the fact that it was something so simple.

So, let me give some context.  I’ve never spent a lot of time in water that wasn’t a pool or not fresh water.  I remember swimming in Hawaii and Florida when I was a kid.  It was kinda fun but I didn’t have a lot of interest in getting something esoteric from it.  I think the last time I swam in the sea was in 1980.

So fast forward to now.  I’ve re-entered the atmosphere of my regular life, and have been back to Aikido after a break of about 3 weeks.  I was sick, then took my son to Shasta and then went to Hawaii.  My Aikido feels different.  As a matter of fact a lot of me feels different. For now I will limit this to my Aikido.

When I was in Hawaii, I went snorkeling for the first time.  I’ve never done that before and I have some serious issues with water, especially water that has swells and creatures that can eat me.  But my friend Jim took me out.  He was very good with me and although I was scared, I quickly found that the salt water kept me buoyant, and once I figured out the mask and snorkel, it was easy to relax and swim.  The life that unfolds under 20 feet of water is truly amazing.  I went out 3 times the week I was there.  The first time was really helpful.  I figured out the mask, breathing, and there was hardly any swell.  One of my fears aside from getting eaten was that a wave would come over me, my snorkel would be submerged and I would suck up a bunch of water in my lungs.  But that didn’t happen, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

The second time, we went t a beach and Jim took me out again.  We went maybe a hundred yards out, and then came back in.  I really enjoyed going out there, it was early in the morning and there were hardly any waves.  I went out two other times, though and each time I went, I went farther out and the swell got higher.  But rather than fear, I found myself thoroughly enjoying myself.  In Aikido, we learn to read the energy of our attacker and we blend with the energy.  I found myself doing the same thing, feeling/anticipating the energy of a swell and riding it, while I sat in a spot and watched a school of fish or the interaction with the other citizens down below.  The third time I went out, I was surprised and a bit scared at how far I had swam out and thought it best to turn around and come back.  But it felt really good to be out there, feeling the ocean, being relaxed and present near the beautiful reefs.

This may not be a big deal to most folks.  There are some people who surf, or swim regularly, but it was a big deal to me.  Feeling the swell of the ocean, seeing the illustrious life down below, it made something shift for me in my Aikido.

Now, I’ve been back on the mat for a week.  I can feel that swell still, so do my partners.  As they come to grab my wrist, I start to move into a technique, but the movement is different.  I feel the energy of the ocean, subtle, strong, the ebb and flow.  I copy the swell with my movement.  I feel the connection to my partners when they grab, I keep that connection as if we are both riding a wave.  When I perform a technique, there seems to be new level softness and support I give my partners.  I am more sensitive to their fall.

To say that the ocean influenced me is not quite correct.  I feel that the ocean, or the very minuscule part of the ocean I swam in gave me a bit of herself.  She gave me a bit of her softness, strength and grace that I can carry back home to the Aikido mat.  I can feel that there is shift. I can feel the swell, ebb and flow.  It’s such a beautiful thing.

Hawaii – Epilogue

Hawaii was truly an amazing experience.  I cannot recall having ever fallen in love with a location before, but I did connect soulfully and deeply with the town of Hawi.  I adored the people there, loved the location and shops, the Kohala Koffee Mill, Kava Kafe, Sushi Rock, Hawi Gallery.  All places I would visit on a regular basis if I actually lived there.  I loved the feeling of brother and sisterhood, how people looked you in the eyes, talked to you from their authentic selves and lived every moment in the moment.

It’s been a few days now since I’ve re-entered the atmosphere of my day to day life.  I was going to say “normal life” but I think that there is nothing normal about it.  I lead an extraordinary life.  I have wonderful and amazing people whom I love and love me back with ferver.  I have a zest for life and a hunger for the creative and beautiful things of this world.

As much as I would like to pull stakes and move, I can’t right now.  Maybe this will happen sometime in the future, but whether I am there or not, I can honor that feeling I had there by simply taking it back home by being open hearted, live an authentic and true existence of creativity and love.  This is how I normally live.  Now it seems that I have all the more reason to.

Finally, I will speak directly now to my host over there and my good friend Jim: My brother, I don’t think you realize how big of a gift you gave me by allowing me into your house, showing me the beauty and the magic of your city and very small patch of an amazing land.  I came there to heal from a devastating time in my life, and not only did I heal, my heart and soul grew tremendously.  You are an incredibly strong, talented, thoughtful man and I hear and see the care you have for the people in your life.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve had a friend like you.  I am honored to know you, interact with you, and call you my friend.  Mahalo, my brother.

The chocolatier I met at the farmer’s market taught me the word “pono”. It means “do the right thing”.

Live in the spirit that is good, love people, be helpful, smile, be friendly, live well and in the present. I’m glad that there is a word to encompass this. This is how I try to live: pono.

Hawaii – Day 7 – my last day…Waimea, little adventures and Aloha

Jim had one more adventure in store for us.  Well, 4 to be exact, although I didn’t expect the last two.  We drove up Hawi Rd and took the right turn towards Waimea.  Actually, there are two Waimeas in Hawaii, one in Maui and one on the isand of Hawaii.  The postman’s name was Kamuela and when mail got delivered incorrectly to the Waimea in Maui, the post office would say, “Oh send this to Kamuela.  So the town is aka Kamuela.

On the way up we hit a 3500’ elevation.  One side of the road would be clear, and the other would be covered in cloud.  Some of the pictures I took show a vast contrast between very wet side of one road and a very clear, bucolic scene right on the other side.

We found a huge waterfall just off the road.  The drop was at least 100’ and it was windy…. Very hard to get down into the area where we could shoot from.  But we made it.  However, I was too scared to look over the edge of the waterfall.  Jim attempted to but only caught the lip of the fall.  We were attempting a shot of the fall from the top all the way down, but that was not going to happen.  We did get some very nice shots from the side and across the road we were able to view the run off of the mountain that led to the falls.

Driving into Wiamia, the climate changes dramatically.  It seems to be constantly wet.  I feel for you Seattle and Oregonian folks.  This must be how it is out there.  It was a great drive on into town.  We then turned around.   On the way back, at the peak was our second unexpected adventure for the morning.  At 3500’ There is a small reserve for native Hawaiian trees.  As we walked in, we heard the sound of rushing water.  We discovered another small fall coming down from the run off from all of the rains.  We tried to figure out how to get down to it and we finally found that if we wind ourselves all the way through to the top of the park, there are stairs cut into the ground that leads us down to the spot where we can view the falls.  I took a few pictures but I was unfortunately out of time.  We could not climb up to the top of the falls.  This will be an activity for the next time I’m here.

We came back the way we came.  Jim and I had a nice heart felt man-to-man talk.  I expressed my gratitude for the wonderful gift of friendship, as did he.  I’ve appreciated my friend’s warmth and friendship and although I was happy for him that he was moving to this special place, I knew that our day to day interaction would end.  So for the short time that I was in Hawaii, I got to experience him, his wonderful family, and his new friends in Hawi, Hawaii.

I had cleaned up and packed early this morning and was all ready to load my stuff into the van.  I did a quick check, took a moment to savor the room that was my home for the last 7 days, and closed the door.  I loaded up my suitcase and backpack, now packed with some trinkets, gifts, shells, coral and the wonderful pumpkin lasagna that Leah made the night before and we left the house.

Today was a shopping day for Jim.   We picked up Audrey at Beach 69 to go grab lunch and start their shopping. Kona has some big box stores like Target and Costco.  There is also a nice health food store and the plan was:


Go to health food store

Drop me off.

So, the third adventure: Lunch!  We stopped at a place called Genki Sushi.  This is sushi on conveyer belts.  The food was really good.  Fresh made with two chef stations loading on the rolls, nigiri sushi and French fries (yes, there were French fries…. I can show you pictures).  Now this is my kind of adventure.  You have the all of the elements of something epic:

Strategy – (how do I distract Mark so that I can grab the oncoming dynamite roll)

Suspense – (Ohhhh the chef just put something I really want but it has to go all the way around.  Will I get it?)

Drama – (Oh no, not another spamusubi)

Fulfillment – (holy Jeebus I’m full)

From here we went to the health food store.  I stocked up on some chocolate and macadamia nuts and Jim started a part of his shopping.  When we finished we drove towards the airport.

On the way to pick up Audrey,  Jim started to tell me about how the reefs are teaming with life.  He told me one day before he had to fly out to the mainland, Leah drove him to a point and he dropped in, only to find a 6’ black tip reef shark.  Although these sharks are seldom dangerous to man, a 6’ anything in the water next to me is disconcerting.  Apparently it was for Jim too.  He finally got it to shoo and he was able to climb back onto shore.

Coming back from the health food store, we decided to go for my one last adventure.  We went to the point where he jumped off.  This point was a little different.  There is no beach and the ocean bottom is about 40’ down.  Hence there are no waves crashing at the shore.  There is just a swell.  The visibility is just crazy.  You can see down all the way to the bottom.  We stayed there a few minutes.  I asked Audrey to take a couple more pictures of Jim and me and she did.

We got to the airport, said our good byes and I headed towards the TSA station.  The lasagna that Leah cooked last night perplexed the TSA folks.  They finally opened it and saw that it was in fact lasagna and let it go.  I sat for a while in the open outside airport until my flight arrived.

As I write this, I am in row 16D, right next to an emergency exit.  I like the leg room but am not crazy about my seat not going back.  I have edited all my pictures and converted them to jpg files that will be ready to upload as soon as I get connected to the internet.

I’ve kept busy and now I’m going to shut down the mac.  I have an Alaska Airlines Visa application that’s going to give me some points for signing up and I am going to start to work on getting back here.  But after all of this is done, the mac is put away, the application is signed.  I’m going to sit for a while.  I may laugh, I may smile, and I may cry.  There was depth, meaning, beauty, and joy all around me.  I felt at home… like I’ve never felt at home in another location.  I am going to contemplate this last week that meant so very much to me.  I am going to honor the time I’ve spent with old friends and new with my feelings of joy of meeting, and the sorrow of saying good bye, and the opportunity to come back to this magical place in a very short while.

The last of my shots can be found here:

Hawaii Day 6 – Kiholo Bay

Today, I ventured out alone to Kiholo bay.  This is about 40 minutes south west of Hawi.   Jim and Leah let me borrow their Suburu Legacy and I packed up my back pack with a towel, orange, apple, water, snorkel gear, camera, Jim’s underwater camera, and sunscreen and took off.

The dirt road is not marked.  I was told that I should start looking at it right around mile marker 81, so I kept my eyes open for it, and glanced at the blue direction dot on google maps on my iPhone and found it.  The drive into where you can park is about a mile down a dirt road.  Thankfully the Legacy is an all wheel drive car  so making the drive down the dirt road was not a big deal. (Steven, it’s looking more like we will be getting a legacy now that I drove one and liked it!)

Jim suggested that I look for a sign just off the trail that says, “Keanalele is not a tub, a toilet, a sink – nor an ashtray… Enjoy it… Respect it.”  Keanalele is puka (hole) that has fresh water in it. There is a ladder leading down to the fresh water and there is an underground area that goes on for about another 15 or 20 feet.   I’ve never been in a cave before.  Never come close to spelunking, so this, even this small fresh water hole that has miscellaneous crabs running around in it was amazing.  I used Jim’s underwater camera to take pictures inside the hole and you can see them in the link to my flickr set at the end of this post.

The forest next to the beach is overrun with the Keawi (pronounced Kee ah ve) tree.  These trees are non native and were originally planted by the missionaries that visited the island.  The reason?  The native Hawaiians walked barefoot, and they thought that no man should walk without shoes, so they planted these.  The Keawi tree has thorns.  Man is fucked up like that.

The lava at the beach, since it spilled out of the ground and cooled makes some very intricate patterns as it found it’s way to the see.  This will be eroded into sand in many years, but for now, I enjoyed being able to bear witness to this beautiful dark phenomenon of once molten rock, cooled in layers that captures the ripples of the once liquid substance.

It was a slow go getting to the little island, but I finally made it there.  There were many little spots to place my backpack and set up to snorkel.  I tried for a few minutes to take Jim’s camera out but wasn’t too successful.  I needed to be closer to the fish and got a little freaked out being out there by myself AND holding a camera and snorkel gear.  After a few failed shots I opted to put it down and swim to the island.  The small island is a habitat for the Hawaiian sea turtle.  There was only one out though basking.  I sat about 30 feet away and watched him for a while and then swam back.

Coming back, i was tired.  This was a long slog on gravel, pebbles, and the last part to get into the cove was up and down on the lava rock… but it feels so awesome and fulfilling to get to places like this.

I found a piece of coral witha small hole in it.  There was a large fallen tree near by that created a great stage for this and I took a few photos.  I think these were my favorite ones.  I immediately thought of my Aikido teacher, Bob Noha Sensei.  He has taught us a practice of circle and center, where we open our arms and move our bodies, carving out a circle, then, as if we are holding our jo staff, we spiral the staff up and down establishing our center.  For our school this is an essential practice and I’ve learned to see this in as many things as I can.  I saw this here and thought of Sensei as I photographed it.

Coming back I would see the occasional couple or group walking down the beach, I was also accompanied periodically by the many goats that graze around this area.  I came back into town and had lunch at Sushi Rock.  Jim said that I should treat myself to Sushi Rock so I did.  It was very good but I was a little disappointed with the selection.  I was hoping that there would be more variety for the chef’s nigiri plate.  The special roll I ordered was awesome though: ahi poké and mango wrapped inside out with ono, a cilantro puree and crushed macademia nuts.

I came home and crashed for a bit.  This evening, Leah made a wonderful pumpkin lasagna.  I finished the evening reading Dr Suess’s ABC, 5 Little Monkeys Make a Birthday Cake for Mom, and Pinkalicious to Jim’s little ones.  It’s been a really long time since I’ve had kids crawl on me while I read. It was a real special moment for me to read to them.  I’ve enjoyed my friends generosity and friendship immensely here.

Tomorrow I have one more adventure.  I will need to be up early to pack, but Jim has a couple locations at the 4000′ level to give me a different perspective of the island.  I will look forward to that.  i won’t be looking forward to getting on a plane, but I will adjust fairly quickly.  It’s felt like a very long time I’ve been here and at the same time, the length of a blink.  I will treasure this though and never forget this trip.

But I’m still here and we have one more thing planned.  I will look forward to that!  Here’s the link to the last set of pictures:

Hawaii Day 5 – Beach 69 – The biggest humuhumunukunukuapua’a you will ever see!

I got to celebrate my birthday at one of Jim’s favorite beaches here in Hawaii.  Beach 69 is a beautiful beach that has ample shade and snorkeling right off the shore.  I went out 3 times, once with Jim and twice by myself.  After a while, rather than swimming past the fish, I stayed in one spot to watch how the citizens of the reef conducted themselves.  It is a beautiful beautiful world to see down there.  To think that this abundance of life happens so close around us… it’s quite amazing.   While I snorkeled I did the circle center practice Sensei Noha taught us.  The third time I went out, the ocean was a bit more rough.  I felt so at home there and such a sense of calm though.  I rode the swells as I snorkeled out and was surprised at how far out I went.  Exerting a tiny bit of common sense, I swam back to shore.

While I snorkeled, Jim set upon building a sand castle.  This was a castle of a different color though… He set upon building Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a.  This takes a lot of water, a big shovel and various other types of tools to carve out the sand.  You can see his masterpiece here:

Driving back we went to a fish market and picked up some ono for dinner.  Jim and Leah cooked up ono, beats, rice, and green beans and a white pineapple salsa.  This was the perfect way to end my birthday.  Quiet, with friends and their children.

Hawaii Day 4 – Pololu Valley and the city of Hawi

Today was nothing short of amazing.  Jim and I started early and got to the start of Pololu Valley a little after 6am.  This is quite simply the most breath taking scenery I’ve ever seen. I’ve taken MANY pics and have a link to them here:

We came down the trail on the north end to the beach and stayed there for a bit.  We did a T’ai Chi set and hung out for a bit.  I turned my back for about 5 minutes and Jim had set upon building a huge stone tower.  He had it at about waist high and continued till it was almost up to his nose.  He would take a big flat stone, place three smaller stones on it and then stack a slightly smaller one on top of the three stones.  He did this smaller and smaller till the tower spiralled up.

We crossed the beach into the forest and made our way up the south side.  This was very muddy and it turned into being a very slippery walk up.  We didn’t make it to the top… I pooped out and asked to turn around.  I was a little worried about the descent but Jim grabbed a walking stick for me and suggested a meditation on the way down… concentrate on right foot, then left foot.  That was it.  I found that by really thinking of right foot/left foot/right foot/left foot, it helped me slow down, be grateful for the solid footing when I had it and gave me the ability to be very mindful about the many muddy turns on the way down.

When we came back, there were a lot of people that started to come down.  EVERYONE that walked by and noticed the stone tower took pictures.  It was truly a remarkable piece.  Jim rocked it!

We came back into town and had a bite to eat. At the coffee house we got a couple of egg sandwiches.  There was a saxophone player we were talking to outside the coffee shop and he was setting up for a set with a guitar player.  I decided to stay in town, listen to some music and mingle for a bit.  I listened for a bit, did some gift shopping and found a little gallery that sold ukuleles, guitars and other musical instruments.   Outside the gallery was a young man with a huge beard playing the ukulele and singing.  I asked the shop owner if I could grab a guitar off the wall to play with him and she gladly agreed.  So, on the outskirts of town, I got to sit and play with an awesome ukulele player.

We finished the day quietly, a board game with the family (sorry Jim, it looked interesting but I think I may need to go to a class for this game.), nice tacos and now my blog entry.

This was such a beautiful and wonderful day.  Again, the people I encounter here… they are heart felt and genuine.  The rain is coming down in buckets right now.  I’m thinking I want to go out there and enjoy the storm…. Till tomorrow, aloha!

Hawaii Day 3 – The Farmer’s Market

I spent the early morning and afternoon with Jim and his family at the Farmer’s Market in Hawi.  We started early, a little after 5am packing up the van and the trailer with various tables, heating and serving implements and food stuffs.  Jim has a booth and he and Leah serve up wonderful Puerto Rican food made with all organic and locally grown veggies, meat, rice and beans.  He whips up a mean plantain!  I was happy to help.  I didn’t know what I was doing but I was able to check on customers, clear plates, serve and wipe down the table.

The people here are stellar.  I got to meet some very spectacular and special people.  A chocolatier, a couple that made raw vegan pastries, a guy who marinated his pork for 4 weeks to make the best char sui I’ve had in a while.  I got a chair massage from a crazy beautiful massage therapist (swoon), and just loved practically everyone I came in contact with.  There was a man who had picked awupahi ginger and came over and talked to me about it’s cleansing qualities.  He took one of the bulbs and squeezed it into my hand for me to feel what pure awupahi ginger felt like right off the bulb.  People seem to be much more genuine to strangers here.  Their warmth and generosity of spirit inspires me.

I talked to the chocolatier a bit throughout the day.  I enjoyed her company.  When I said good bye to her, she said to me, “Our lives have been enriched by you being here.”  Normally I would think that that was just something people said.  But I felt that she deeply and authentically meant what she says.  It makes me think about the people that come into my life in the fleeting moment and how my life is enriched that much more by those small but ever so meaningful interactions.

I was grateful for the opportunity to help Jim’s family out with their lively hood.  I hope that I didn’t get in the way too much.   The kids would play with the others, the baby would sit in her seat or be held by one of the kids or adults.  I got a chance to hold the baby quite a bit today.  I loved holding her and can’t remember the last time I held a baby that small.   Today, day 3, was all about my friends here:

This was an awesome day.  Leah and I went back to the kava bar.  She brought the baby with her.  It was nice to spend time with Leah and the little one there.  I am happy for my friends Jim and Leah that they’ve found each other.  She has so much love for him and it’s evident in how she talks about him with every word she says.

Tomorrow, Jim and I will go on an adventure.  We will go to the Pololu beaches for a hike.  This is some gorgeous terrain and I’m looking forward to photographing it, as well as some beautiful and primordial spots along the way.