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?

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 4 Day 2 – The Tea Master and the Samurai

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One of my favorite short stories is the one of the Tea Master and the Samurai:

A master of the tea ceremony in old Japan once accidentally slighted a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous soldier demanded that the matter be settled in a sword duel. The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a fellow Zen master who did possess such skill. As he was served by his friend, the Zen swordsman could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility. “Tomorrow,” the Zen swordsman said, “when you duel the soldier, hold your weapon above your head, as if ready to strike, and face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform the tea ceremony.” The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The soldier, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a blow being struck.

 There is a hidden moral of this story that I didn't get for a while, and that is: we all come with a certain mastery about us.  Because we start one discipline doesn't negate that we have talents in a broad number of other areas.  There are a couple of people that are new on the mat at our dojo that bring talents from other areas.  One is a chiropractor, the other is an architect by vocation and a dancer by his avocation.  As we start new ventures, new disciplines or tune up the ones we've been practicing for a while, we can draw upon our experiences in a vast number of other areas to help us with the frame work of the new disciplines we partake in.

For me, I find a lot of similarity in music to Aikido. I’ve been a guitar player for almost 35 years, and an understanding of rhythm, timbre and harmony, help me understand Aikido on the mat. Conversely, Aikido, and all of the things we learn on the mat about being present, being in an embodied state, and a sense of timing help me with as a musician.

Tonight was a good night. We had 12 people on the mat, a lot of folks for our space, and I really enjoy training with a full mat. We may not have the freedom to throw as fully as with less, but I like the energy that happens when you get that many bodies in a room. Before class, Sasun, one of our instructors met with me to work with me on some techniques for the test. He will be my uke for my kyu test and so we went over a few of the techniques that I will have to perform come test time.

So, time to hit the hay now. Till next time!

Road to 1st Kyu – Week 4 Day 1 – Grab My Wrist why don’t ya?

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My mom asked where my monday blog was. It’s um, Tuesday, so hence, we will not be having a Monday blog. let me submit my Tuesday blog post in it’s stead 😀

Today was a rousing class. There were only three of us and our teacher Charlie this evening. This evening we worked on variations from “ushiro” attacks. Ushiro translates loosely to “from behind”. The attack happens in the following manner: Uke (the attacker) starts to walk around nage (the person being attacked) and first grabs nage’s right wrist with his right hand. The intention is that as he walks around, he will attempt to grab the left wrist as he is behind you, and then do something nasty like throw you out of the bar you are in before last call. There are a host of techniques that nage can apply to defend against an attack like this. On the first kyu test I will be expected to do 5 variations both from standing and kneeling positions.

At this point I don’t think I’ve talked too much about “why the wrist grab?” And further, there are people who say that there is no practical application to learning techniques from a wrist grab.

Aikido and many other related arts like ju jitsu practice techniques from a wrist grab to understand the bio mechanics of how the body moves. From the wrist grab, we can do techniques and get a better understanding of our bodies and how we can move our bodies, connect and blend with our partners and get a feel for how we can move our partners bodies through the act of connecting with them. This is a fundamental building block of Aikido and an important one.

If you are wondering where this originated from, keep in mind that Aikido is a synthesis of some older arts (daito ryu ju jitsu). The wrist grab in fact was a practical defense on the battle field. If someone found themselves unarmed against an opponent that still had their sword in their scabbard, they will attempt to grab the wrist to attempt a joint lock. Their opponent would have techniques that they could draw upon to escape the joint lock, draw their sword and dispense the enemy.

We also practice techniques on our knees. This had practical application back when the Samurai would be sitting in their house and all of a sudden the marauding hordes would storm the house. The Samurai would have to defend before he was able to stand so there was practicality in training on one’s knees. These days, we practice kneeling techniques as a training device. Any technique that we have trouble with from a standing position will be amplified greatly when you are on your knees. If you can work techniques on your knees and get the kinks out, then it makes the standing techniques that much easier.

Why do I write this? Hell, I don’t know. I love Aikido. Maybe the two or three of you reading this already know this stuff. Maybe you don’t. I love to share information, and by expressing this, it helps me gain a better insight and knowledge into my own path. So, thank you for allowing me this indulgence!