Showing posts from July, 2014

How Aikido Helps Me Practice...The Piano

A lot of people ask me what aikido has to do with music and here's the essential reason:

Musicians, understandably, spend a lot of time thinking about music - learning tunes, listening to their tone, practicing technique. But in aikido I learned that there is a hugely important element to practicing and playing, which is to practice mind-body coordination. This is nothing esoteric. It has to do with paying attention to your body in a specific way while you are playing.

Go to the gym any day and you'll see rows of people on the treadmill, elliptical and stair machines, doing exactly the opposite. Many of us who are trying to learn a physical skill, whether it's a musical chord progression, throwing a perfect curve ball, or a tango "ocho," assume that doing the drills/exercises is primarily a physical activity. In practicing aikido I learned how to coordinate my mind and my body. And I learned why it leads to much better results.

To improve mind-body coordination …

Do You Measure Up?

One of my musician friends is always making sarcastic comments about her own playing:
"Of course, when I play with you guys, I can never keep up," or
"My embrasure is so terrible, I just don't practice enough," or
"That would have been great solo if I had played it in he right key," or
"I'll just play quietly sitting next to you, so you won't hear my wrong notes." She constantly compares herself to others and finds herself wanting. The thing is, she's a really good musician!

I used to pride myself on my witty sarcasm. I knew that sarcasm can be hurtful, but I thought it was ok as long as I aimed it at myself. I thought it made me seem clever, discerning and appropriately humble to put myself down.


My negativity restricted my ability to play well, not to mention my joy in playing. As adult musicians we're all doing this because we love it. Maybe we're getting paid, maybe not, but were definitely not in competition wit…

The Price of Taking Sides

The Increase in Divisive Communication Recently a friend shared a post on Facebook - one of those posts that “proves” that one (usually political or religious) viewpoint is right and the other is wrong.

“This makes my blood boil!” she wrote.

In 35 years as an adult, I have seen a trend toward more and more communication that is divisive in nature: More taking sides, more demeaning language, and less and less tolerance of different viewpoints.

I connect the trend with the advent of 24-hour news, masses of TV channels, Facebook and social media sharing. It could be my bias as a television and advertising professional, but it's also something I know a lot about. Strong emotions like anger have a kind of addictive appeal. That appeal is not unknown to Internet and TV media. Getting people excited, angry and upset is good for advertisers, television programmers and social media companies: more viewers=more ad dollars, more Internet “eyeballs” and more shares=more ad dollars. We know h…

Ki Development Exercises - Part III - Finding a Focus in the 4 Basic Principles

My instructor, Dan McDougall, often suggests that beginning students try picking one of the Four Basic Principles to focus on during ki development exercises. Here are a few specific ideas that may help during ki development exercises:

Keep One Point:  Find your one point.Try imagining that this point is very heavy and is grounding you, making you balanced and strong.As more movement is introduced into the ki exercises, see if you can keep your sense of one point just as strong. Unlike gravity, one point is an idea, and maintaining it is totally under your control, so if you want to feel heavy, you can, but you can also feel light if you choose. You may want to try imagining your one point to be very small, or imagine it to be infinitely large. Or you may feel its enough to simply feel it is there. Entire treatises have been written on one point. It's best not to get too carried away, just keep it simple.Find Correct Posture: Are your feet under your shoulders? Are you leaning forwa…

Ki Development Exercises in Kokikai Aikido Part II - What is Ki?

In a previous post I wrote about why, and how, we practice ki development exercises in Kokikai Aikido.

What is Ki, Anyway??? So, we're supposed to be developing our "ki" during "ki development exercises," but what is ki?

Ki is an concept that is shared among many Asian traditions. While Google translates it unhelpfully as "ki", the word is used in many ways in Japanese to signify everything from spirit or life energy to air and atmosphere. There are many common Japanese expressions that use ki such as "O-genki desu ka?" ("How are you/Are you well?")

"Ki" is part of the word "Aikido" and "Kokikai" as well as some other health-related practices you may have heard of such as "Reiki." In Chinese it's "qi" (pronounced "chi") and is part of Qi-Gong and Tai Chi Chuan. In Sanskrit the word prana means much the same.

One of my favorite descriptions of ki was in our old testing …

Ki Development Exercises in Kokikai Aikido - Part I

At the beginning of every Kokikai Aikido class we practice ki development exercises. Beginning students often wonder about the purpose of these movements. I sometimes sense students are waiting to get the ki exercises over with so we can get to the fun part of class. Don't make this mistake! Ki development exercises are really important!

I was lucky to have an instructor who devoted a lot of attention to ki exercises, and I learned to give as much attention to them as to all the other aspects of my practice.

Ki Development Exercises: PurposeSensei often compares ki exercises to strength training exercises for athletes. Quite simply: they help make us stronger. No one claims they're a substitute for technique when it's time to defend yourself. A boxer may do push-ups to become strong, but in the ring nobody's going to be doing push-ups!

Mindful practice of ki development exercises helps us form good habits of mind/body coordination. One of the first things we learn in …

Ill Will

I recently wrote a post about judgmental thoughts and the way that they actually make me feel badly about myself. An essay by Gil Fronsdal about ill will really hits the nail on the head.
"Being caught up in ill will is itself painful [my emphasis]. It constricts the mind and heart. Our viewpoint can become narrow and hostile. Ill will can predispose us to focus on whatever is undesirable or going wrong. We become more reactive and are more likely to act impulsively. For some people, the discomfort that comes from having ill will is fuel to keep it going; aversion to aversion perpetuates aversion."  - Gil Fronsdal, The Hindrance of Ill Will Negative emotions are self-perpetuating:  they feed on themselves. Like drinking coffee or eating too much sugar, they produce a kind of excited feeling, and your brain/body tells you "this is good." It's odd, isn't it, that we can have an aversion to something, and our response is to keep thinking about it, to keep bri…

Judgmental Thoughts...and Practicing Compassion

I have long believed that we pretty much construct the world we live in from our thoughts.  I can't blame people brought up in an objective materialist tradition for thinking that sounds kind of "New Age-y." It makes a certain amount of sense that if you mistrust people, they will mistrust you in return, and vice versa. But constructing your entire reality? Bah! OK. It's just a theory and I'm testing it through personal observation.

So, here's one experiment:
"If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." - Dalai Lama For a while I have been working on compassion by noticing my negative thoughts about others and...well...substituting alternate thoughts. I have a lot of thoughts about others that I definitely would not want to share. Certain situations are really fertile for nasty thoughts: trying to find a parking space; in line in the grocery store; in the changing room of Target...So, I try to …