Showing posts from May, 2014

Making it Look Easy

I was in a guitar workshop once with Matt Heaton (don't ask me why I was in a guitar workshop since I don't play guitar...). He was talking about doing a really fast jig strumming technique, and said that the most important thing is to relax - think of making it look easy. He joked that of course, when you are watching your favorite musician play some incredible riff, the one thing you always think is, "And, he/she makes it look sooo difficult!"

Of course not! The great players make it look so easy!

But that's because the great players, athletes, and martial artists are able to relax when they do whatever it is that makes them great. And when they can relax their hands, face, shoulders, neck and back, they actually can do whatever they are doing: faster, more effectively, and more beautifully.

Practicing When You Can't Practice - III

Aikido students often ask me what they can do when they are away from Rutgers for the summer and they can't find a nearby Kokikai dojo to practice in.

Koichi Tohei taught that the practice of aikido technique was just one of five disciplines or aspects of practice, which include:
Aikido Technique Ki Exercises Kiatsu  Breathing Practice Meditation
Maruyama Sensei was Tohei's student until he founded Kokikai Aikido, and many of the concepts in Kokikai Aikido have roots in Tohei Sensei’s teaching.

I tell students that if they can't come to the dojo for an extended period of time, they can take part in any practice that will help them develop awareness of their bodies, increase their ability to relax while they are engaging in effortful activities, focus on one point and balance. This might include attentive practice of sports, music, yoga, and/or one of the activities listed above. 

Oh, Well!

In my mind, saying "Oh, well" is not quite the same as saying "whatever."

"Whatever" implies a kind of bored ennui with the outcome.
 "Shall we go to the mall? Or shall we stay home and play video games?" "Whatever."  "Oh, well" is about accepting that this is what happened and now I have to deal with it and move on.  "I practiced this song for 3 weeks and now in the middle of the performance I forgot the second verse!" "Oh, well!" "I was supposed to be tested on my response to a front kick but I got a side kick instead!" "Oh, well!" 
When I'm on the way to a meeting, I left early to make my best impression and there's stop and go traffic the whole way, when I make some horrible social gaffe at a party, even when truly difficult things happen in life, such as illness, job loss, family problems, it may be possible to say "Oh, well," to keep myself from getting caught u…

I'm Angry!

A fellow student told me this story:

"The other day I got angry. It doesn't happen often. I was in a meeting with a client, and I guess she found one of my "hot buttons" in implying I had been untruthful. I didn't lose my temper, but even so, I felt my response was not demonstrating calmness:  I was angry, and I found myself reacting "point by point" to the accusations. Of course this resolved nothing - it just made us all more tense. Thankfully we ran out of time and agreed to continue the discussion later. "In the meantime, I devoted some thought to what problems she might be having, that caused her to accuse me. I've often seen people in business situations express their frustration and anger toward vendors or their reports, when they're really upset about other things, like instability in the company or a difficult boss. I realized that this client had a lot going on. It may have been unfair that she took it out on me, but so be it. &…

Schooling my Face

Here's why I'm practicing "schooling my face":
Head Cues When playing together, musicians often give cues, like: "Yep, we're going to change tunes," or, "Want to take a solo?" with a head shake, a significant look, or a nod. I've been working on giving more unambiguous cues. My problem is that I have a bad habit of making facial expressions and head shakes as a reaction to my own playing. Not only does everyone know when I make a mistake, but the other musicians think I'm shaking my head because I don't want to take the solo! So, I'm practicing "schooling my face."

Chinese School Has Just Begun My husband is Chinese, and he has told me you can often tell whether someone who is Chinese was raised in the U.S. or in China by the intensity of their facial expressions. He's not sure why, but he says that growing up in a Chinese culture there was much less focus on how people feel. (Example: we greet by saying, "H…

Feeling Trumps Technique

I attended a violin workshop with the Irish fiddle player Martin Hayes a few evenings ago. Hayes is known for his lyrical and emotive playing. He has the ability to reveal unexpected beauty in the simplest Irish tunes, even those that are common to the point of cliché.

A lot of what Hayes said in the workshop amounted to:  Feeling Trumps Technique

Here are a few of the ideas I took with me. Most of these are things I have heard and understand well, but they are reinforced when a great musician repeats them. Interestingly, each of these ideas also applies to aikido practice, and therefore, I imagine, to other disciplines.

Taking the leap from playing technically well, to playing with your entire body and heart is a big one, and requires a lot of attention and effort. The result may seem very subtle, but it makes all the difference to the way the music affects the listener.In responding to questions about phrasing, slurs, bowing patterns in general, his advice was to sing the tune, and …


I need to work on precision in my playing.

Here's what I was told:
"When you arpeggiate the chord or play just some of the notes instead of playing all the notes at once, it sounds like a crappy cocktail pianist and makes it obvious that you don't actually know what the voicing is."

(I'm sure the actual words were much more friendly, compassionate and gentle but I got that message.)

The fact is, I'm sloppy.

I'm sloppy in my playing (all instruments)I'm sloppy in my aikido techniqueI'm sloppy in my speech, both in my enunciation and the words I useI'm a sloppy knitter, cook and gardener, and probably a sloppy driver
On the positive side, I'm reasonably accomplished in all these things. Except maybe knitting. So I'm pretty sure that once I shine the beacon of my attention on this issue, if I shine it with some consistency, I will start to see progress in all areas, not just one. 
Well, maybe not the knitting.

Practicing When You Can't Practice - II (Music)

There are times when I can’t practice my instrument(s). So be it. I try not to beat myself up until I get back to my routine, but meanwhile, can I keep from standing still or going backward? It may seem like these are simple things, too simple to actually affect your playing - but they really can.

1. Listen
2. Get an Ear Worm
3. Sing
4. Visualize
Listen I often listen to music without thinking about it. If I make the effort to listen to music attentively, I find that it has great positive effects on my playing. I listen for things like phrasing, what types of scales are used, who is playing harmony, what is the intro and outro. Generally I find I’m focused on the things that I’m also working on in my own music.
Get an Ear Worm Most people think of an ear worm as a bad thing: a tune you absolutely can’t get out of your head. But I've found that when I am practicing a new tune, especially for a gig, one of the best ways to learn is to play a recording of the tune and let it hum through …

Is Kokikai Effective as Self-Defense? (Part II)

In an earlier post I looked at some reasons why people commonly think that Aikido, specifically Kokikai Aikido, isn't effective as self-defense. Aikido isn't practiced in the way that most martial arts are, teaching strikes and counterstrikes. We choose a fairly small number of basic attack types (punches, grabs, strikes, kicks) and we learn defenses against them. We also learn to defend against more than one person simultaneously - this is very unusual in the martial arts, yet it is more common in a street situation. You Need to Practice For Years Before It's Effective...Right? Wrong. I teach 90-minute seminars that provide effective concepts that people can walk away with and practice their whole lives (hint: it's the four basic principles!)There are many, many stories of Kokikai students, even people with 6-8 weeks of experience, defending themselves against very real attacks. Those I know of include women being threatened or attacked, robbery attempts and kids bein…