Category Archives: aikido

Shodan, and life goes on.

So, I tested for Shodan rank (1st degree black belt) in Aikido this weekend. The test went well. I’ve seen the video, and I wasn’t as horrified as I usually am. In Aikido, we normally test for black belt ranks at seminars — big gatherings of aikidoka from around the region and beyond. I tested at the Spring Seminar (Kagami Biraki) at Aikido of Dallas. I was honored to be tested by Harvey Konigsberg Shihan. His teaching over the weekend was subtle to say the least, and fascinating. Thank you to Aikido of Dallas and Bob Mason Sensei for again hosting the seminar.

You never “just take the test.” In aikido, they normally do the testing after at least a couple of hours of practice. In this case, after 4 hours, with a lunch break in the middle. So yes, I was tired. The idea is to see what the student can do when “there’s no gas left in the tank.”  Critical issues are not freezing up, forgetting how to do things, etc. It’s all about keeping your composure, from which you maintain your center, your posture, and your flow.

As I’ve said before, Shodan is really a beginner’s belt. It signifies you have what you need to really start learning. As I’ve prepared for this test, and now taken it, it is clear that my journey in aikido is getting a new start. Time to look at things with a beginner’s eyes again, and really evaluate the basics of distance, movement, centering, and everything else. Wouldn’t hurt to improve my cardio a lot either. And keep the weight under control.

I’ve thanked a lot of people, but I really want to thank my wife. Having a spouse that understands and supports my endeavors and shares in my joy and accomplishment means the world to me.  So thanks, Toni, for supporting me now and in the days to come.

Right now I’m on my way to a funeral. My aunt. My mom’s youngest sister. I will sure miss her. It will be good to see my extended family, laugh, cry, and celebrate her life. Smooth sailing, Aunt Trish. I love you.

Next week – Shodan?

A week from today I’ll be taking my black belt (Shodan – 1st degree black belt) test in aikido. I’ve been practicing for a little over 11 years. It has been a long but great journey — one I don’t intend to stop. As I may have written before, Shodan is really a beginner’s belt. At this point, I should know enough to really start learning. The closer I’ve gotten, the more apparent this has become. I’m 53. I had really hoped to do this by the time I was 50, but life had other plans, and that’s just fine.  I have 1 open mat practice, and 2 normal practices before the test, which will happen at a yearly seminar.

My friend Bachar will be testing with me. We have prepared together, with help from our classmates and our patient, excellent teachers. I’m glad he’ll be out there with me. I’m not nervous. It will just be nice to take the test alongside a good friend.

So this week is all about practice, rest, remaining uninjured, and getting my mind where it needs to be. The primary challenge of this test is mental. Keeping your composure. I know all the stuff fairly well. Now is the time to do it all calmly, smoothly, beautifully, to the best of my ability.

The Mike V Show, Kung Fu, and Emotional Content

This will be kind of a non-linear post, I think.

Just finished listening to Episode 3 of the Mike V Show, Mike Vallely’s new podcast. As most of you know, I am a Mike Vallely fan. I like it when people do their own thing, their way, and forge their own path.  That kind of thing fascinates me. In this episode, Mike is joined by Daniele Bolelli, of the Drunken Taoist Podcast.

As an Aikido practitioner for going on nine years, and a skateboarder for 40, I found their thoughts about “kung fu” – people who have kind of an emotional/physical presence about them – very engaging.

I am far from a master of Aikido. Aikido is so hard to do well that most people give up within two weeks. Even among martial arts enthusiasts Aikido is often misunderstood. That’s a huge topic and I’m not going to write about it. What I want to talk about is how it changes you. I think this is true of most martial arts, but I only know Aikido, so that’s what I will discuss.

Like most activities, when you start you don’t know shit. It’s the simple truth. When you walk into the Aikido dojo, you may think you know something. You may have seen some videos on youtube and thought “that looks easy and soft.”  You may think you are in good shape. You quickly find out that 1)It isn’t “soft”, 2)it isn’t easy, and 3)you are not in good shape.  Then, if you are among the small percentage that come back after limping away from the dojo that first practice, you go through a couple of other transitions…

  1. You realize that you don’t know shit. Everything you thought you knew about what you were getting into is totally wrong. What you thought was happening in Aikido isn’t happening at all.
  2. Some time later, after a significant amount of practice,  you realize you know even less than you thought you did when you first realized you don’t know shit.
  3. After more time and practice, it begins to dawn on you what you are actually doing. You don’t really understand it, but you have a glimpse. Something happens in class that gives you a small “a-ha!” moment.
  4. Then you see more new people come into class, and you see their confusion, and see that they are where you were months or years ago. Then you look at your Sensei, who has been practicing or 30 or 40 years, and realize it is a long road, and you will always be learning.
  5. At some point,  you start to notice that the long-time students have something that you don’t. They are more “there” than you are. Then you take hold of their wrist, even though they are light people, they feel like they weigh 1000 pounds. A half-ton, but a half-ton that can turn to liquid in an instant, move with quick fluidity, or exist in both states simultaneously. Then you realize that to the new student, you feel like that. You are on the path, but it’s a long path. You need to stay on it. But it has to be your path.

So, back to my original line of thought. People who have that presence. When I heard Mike and Daniele talking about this, I remembered the feeling of being at an Aikido seminar, with black belts of various degrees all lined up in front, sitting in seiza, taking up the first 3 rows as we bow in at the start of class. That is heavy. That is emotional content. When that heaviness and presence first dawned on me,  I understood what you actually get from Aikido. You can get it from other things. Some people, remarkably, seem to be born with it, but that is what you get from Aikido. You begin to appreciate and cultivate a centered strength that you can depend on and eventually others start to notice, and you learn to bring others up, as others lift you up.

 

Test Preparations

I am preparing for my 1st Kyu test in Aikido. This is the last test before black belt.

In December it will have been eight years since I started. That seems like a long time, but it’s a hard art to learn, and we don’t give the belts away or “sell” them. When I hear about someone earning a black belt in an art in a few years, I now laugh.

Anyway, this is a pretty long test. I lost 3 weeks of prep due to a case of poison ivy, but now I’m in the groove and feel pretty good about it. I have 2.5 weeks to finish preparing myself. There’s nothing on this test I’ve not done before, but more is expected of me. More flow. More centered. More finesse.

The longer I practice, the more I realize what they say is true. Black belt is a beginner’s belt. When you get black belt, it means you have enough knowledge to really start learning.

Our lead instructor has now been practicing for 30 years. He is a 4th degree black belt. Our other teachers, 2nd and 1st black belts, have been practicing for 16 years each. We are lucky to have them. Each presents aikido in his own particular way – each fantastic, sharing a common core, but emphasizing different aspects.

It’s a long road, but I like it.

Sometimes I feel that if I’d started this when I was younger it would be easier. That is possible. But I also think that by starting at 42 it has forced me to learn a more efficient aikido, not so reliant on muscle and brawn.

Need…some…Aikido…

I need some Aikido.

Went to Aikido practice Saturday morning, then taught kids class.

Then went home and spent the afternoon – until 7pm – helping a friend bust up about 60 feet of concrete sidewalk and haul the chunks back to the rubble pile he’s going to get hauled away.

I felt pretty good afterward. Not hurt, just tired and a little sore.

Two days later my legs really need some Aikido. My legs need it. Need to get them going, get the muscles stretched out, and get the nice back massage that falling down and rolling for 1.5 hours provides.

You know you’ve been blessed when…

A good friend of mine is moving.

This is a guy I’ve done Aikido with for the past five years.

When you do something like Aikido you develop great trust in your training partners. Over the course of years, as you grow in the art, as you lend them your body again and again to help them learn, and they do the same for you, and you each learn to receive the techniques with more power without getting injured, a unique relationship develops.

You may not see these people outside the dojo. But for the hours you spend in practice, you share something special.

Something about Aikido attracts a very diverse group of people. I live in a fairly diverse community, but our dojo is even more so. Lot of different national origins, religions, professions, and ages are represented.

My friend who is leaving is a Muslim. I am going to miss him. Through Aikido I’ve gotten to know him and I’ve taught his young son in our children’s class. I think many Americans don’t get to know many Muslims very well.  My friend is such a deeply good man, and is raising a good family. I am happy for this new opportunity for my him. I’m so thankful for the happy accident of blundering into an Aikido dojo where I could meet such extraordinary people.

In a recent email, my friend closed by saying “May God bless you and your family”.

I have never been so moved by such words. People throw around talk of “blessings” and “being blessed” all the time — so often it becomes part of the background noise of American life.  But coming from my friend, it had such impact. It was appreciated. When a Muslim wishes blessings upon you, you know you have been blessed.

Thank you, my friend.

 

Aikido Testing

I don’t write much about Aikido these days, though I’ve been practicing steadily for 6 years now. I guess I just don’t have a lot to write about, or rather, perhaps I don’t know how to properly convey what I’ve learned.

Anyway, Aikido is a long road. In the US Aikido Federation we don’t just hand out belts (or sell them). In mid-November I’ll be taking my test for 2nd Kyu. I feel pretty good about it. At this rate, assuming I have learned what I’m supposed to, I will be ready to take my Shodan test (1st degree black belt) when I am 52. And of course, then I’ll be starting over. They say that Shodan is a beginner’s belt. At that point, the aikidoist has enough of the basics to really start learning.

Working with Sensei

There’s nothing quite as educational at Aikido practice than working directly with your sensei on a technique. Several Mondays per month, our brown belts get to teach a class to prepare them for that role in the future, so Shiba Sensei gets to simply work out with the rest of us. It is always great to practice a basic move that you have been doing for several years with him, and have it not work at all, and then he shows you the way to make it actually work on a less cooperative training partner. It is usually a way that expends even less energy on your part too.

I have a lot to learn.

Various stuffs

Aikido was good the other night. Got to work with the tanto (wooden knife). It’s always interesting to work with these techniques. Bare-handed there is room for mistakes, but when dealing with a weapon you must control the weapon or get stabbed (in real life, not at pratice). After practice I watched some clips of Tomiki Aikido tournemnts where they use a padded tanto and try to do techniques at full speed. Much harder. Of course, I think the missing element is atemi. During the contest, the guy with the knife can slash and stab, but the other guy doesn’t get to really use atemi. Things might look different if Nage slid in, avoiding the strike, and punched the attacher in the ribs real hard before doing the technique.

But I guess the point is this — in the street things are different.

Been cycling as much as possible. Have a nice 17-mile evening route that I do.

That is all.

Good Aikido Practice

Last night’s Aikido practice was really good, and a lot of fun too. Sensei had us work on some techniques with an emphasis on flowing through the technique rather than taking a step-by-step approach. He is also trying to teach us not to try to force techniques with strength, but rather take what the attacker gives us, redirect it, and use it.

Looking forward to tomorrow night’s practice.

Aikido report

After 5 months of rehabilitating my hurt knee, and a month back at Aikido practice, I’m happy to report to my millions of readers that this weekend I passed my 5th kyu test. That is the first test you take in aikido. It doesn’t mean I’m good, but it means I demonstrated a basic knowledge of the required techniques. I’m assuming that since Sensei passed me, I’m not too much of a spazmo. Really, I have no idea if my technique looks halfway good or not. But the important thing is making this mile stone — something I’ve wanted to accomplish for many years. 

I can say this. When I started Aikido, it was so alien. Now it is starting to make more sense to me. I can see why it takes years to get good, and lifetime to really start to understand. When I do good it really clicks — it is amazing. When working with Sensei or the advanced students, it is startling how much power and flow they can apply all the while seeming to exert little or no effort. Something to aim for.

Tired

OK. Went back to Aikido tonight. It went well. No knee pain. Seemed to remember most of what to do, which is cool.

So, 1.5 hours of Aikido, after riding my bike to and from work (16 miles — about 1.25 hours).

I am tired.