Showing posts from September, 2012


I attended a meeting for all Rutgers club sports coaches about concussions. Since the Kokikai Aikido club is a "Club Sport," I am considered a "coach" even though we don't have competitions, teams, meets, referees, etc.

So I wasn't expecting the subject of the meeting to have any application in aikido. We don't ever meet force with force in our practice: there is no blocking, and even when we do kick or punch, there's no contact with the attacker, who gets out of the way before the attack lands. We heavily emphasize safe falls and control of our throws.  When we fall properly, our heads do not touch the mat, even when we are thrown fast and hard.

As the meeting progressed, however, I found that there's a lot I didn't know about concussions, and aikido practitioners are enough at risk that it's worth educating ourselves.

Here are just a few things I found out:

Most concussions do not involve loss of consciousness.Concussion can occur wit…

Making Mistakes

Recently while watching musical performances both in person and on YouTube, I've noticed performers wincing at their perceived mistakes. An experienced performer won't react while she is playing, but afterwards you can see the disappointment in her face. Yet these same performances received heartfelt accolades. Are the audiences ignorant, or do they realize something that the performers don't? 

This got me thinking about aikido (of course). High-ranking students are often asked to give impromptu demonstrations. Usually this happens at a camp, when 100-250 aikido students are watching. We'd all like our demos to look perfect, with every technique controlled and crisp. Such is seldom the case, however. Uke are unpredictable. We don't always get attacked the way we expect. We think a bit slower on our feet than we'd prefer. And, if we start to look too comfortable, Sensei adds a second, or third, attacker! And yet, as with musicians, knowledgeable observers compli…

Calm Face

I am often tasked with going through the photos of Kokikai Aikido winter and summer camps to find a dramatic one to use on the t-shirt. It's incredibly frustrating, because the more intense the throw, the more calm Sensei's face is. To most observers it would seem like nothing's really happening. Sensei refers to this when he says, "Looks real: fake. Looks fake: real!" It may be great for aikido, but it doesnt make for a very exciting t-shirt!

I learned a lesson several years ago when a good photographer took photos during my test. Comparing the photos of myself to photos of Sensei, the difference was obvious. In every case, Sensei was upright, his body looked controlled and collected, and above all, amazingly soft and relaxed, at every point during the throw.

As in aikido, so it is in life: the more chaos that comes our way, the more we need to train ourselves to relax, stay calm, keep centered, stay focused and have positive mind.

How to Stop Students from Arriving Late

One day I asked a yoga teacher if she could try to finish class on time. I had often been late for a regular appointment because I had expected that class would end on schedule. The teacher gave me a noncommittal answer, because, she said, people were still arriving for class one minute before class was to start.

It's thoughtless of students to arrive late (and I'm as guilty as anyone else here), but they will slip into the habit if they know the class will start late, and a vicious cycle begins.

When I began practicing aikido our dojo had this problem in spades. The teacher arrived either barely on time or 5-10 minutes late, and even when on time he would chat and dawdle until class often started as many as 20 minutes late. As time passed the students realized there was no point in arriving on time, so they started arriving later. Many students became frustrated, particularly as class that was scheduled to finish at 9:30 pm now stretched till 10.

In the end, the students sol…

Stiffness and Aging

In the course of my work I had occasion to interview a prominent cardiologist. He had developed a theory about reversing the aging process, based on the overall idea that as we grow older, we become more stiff.  I got very interested, thinking that physicians might be pursuing something that I see on a daily basis.  It turned out that he was talking exclusively about what he called "stiffness" at a cellular level: the walls of the arteries becoming less flexible, and how this leads to higher blood pressure, etc. (I had to remind myself, he's a cardiologist, that would be his focus...)

This cardiologist was correct, of course: as we grow older we become more stiff in obvious, and some less obvious, ways.  But what's great is, we don't need to focus on medical intervention to reverse the aging process.

My mom, for example, finds it appalling that people her age (82) and even younger tell her they don't really know anything about computers, saying, "Oh, it…

I'm not doing that!

Often I see students in a yoga or aikido class who, while they hear what the instructor is saying, have decided not to do it. As a teacher, of course I always wonder why.

There are legitimate reasons for choosing not to do what the teacher asks you to do: you have an injury or other concern for your safety, or you feel that you're being asked to do something way beyond your ability. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about when the student says to him/herself, "No, that's the wrong way," or "I prefer to do it a different way," or "My other (better) teacher said to do it differently so that's how I'm going to do it."

I have to admit to having these thoughts myself sometimes.  But I realize that they are the result of inflexibility in my thinking. I know I tend to think my first teachers were the best. I tend to stick to old habits and avoid trying new things. And I will go through all sorts of mental gyrations to convince myse…