Category Archives: aikido

I Survived

Survived my first aikido practice since the start of the pandemic.

Felt good. I was not in as horrible condition as I feared. I’ve been having a nagging shoulder muscle pain and a weird muscular or ligament problem in my inner hip area for a few months. Nothing horrible, but just annoying. I think the hip thing is probably the result of a skateboarding slam I took when I was 21.  Things got stretched out real bad but no breaks. I think it probably healed up with some scarring, and now at 56 the bill has come due. Aikido has been keeping it from flaring up all these years. One practice and it is better.

I’m not going to jump to any conclusions, but I think I just need to keep up my practice to keep this stuff from being an issue. Clearly I am not the kind of person that is going to do the things outside of practice to keep things good. I am not really a fan of “exercise.” Exercise is just a side effect of the things I like to do. So there you go.


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.