Showing posts from August, 2014

Making Time for Play

I have to work hard to carve out time for practicing, and sometimes I lose track of the fact that I play music because I love playing. I don't know how it is for other people, but, especially when I'm playing alone at home, I have to remind myself sometimes to just play. Play for fun. Play for playing's sake. Sit on the front porch with my instrument and mess around.

It makes me feel guilty to have free time and not use it to practice. So I tell myself that, yes, it's fun, but it will also help me improve. That makes it OK.

Maybe I should just pay more attention to my cat...

And Now, for Something Completely Different!

Seeking a Curriculum  I've been struggling for several weeks with a new approach to playing piano jazz tunes. It involves taking an approach I was comfortable with and extending it: more notes in the left hand, adding more color tones, bringing out the bass lines, etc., etc. My brain was exploding. That's when my teacher said, "OK, let's work on something completely different." One of the things I like about my current teacher is that he follows a curriculum — it's one that's tailored to me, but still, there's a plan. But sometimes, I guess, completely changing gears is part of the curriculum.
When I started practicing Kokikai Aikido, I wasn't paying much attention to whether or not there was a "curriculum." Lost in a beginners' fog, I never expected to feel accomplished at any single technique, since we seemed to practice new techniques in every class. Like most Kokikai practice groups, the class had everything from first-nighters…

Making Mistakes - with One Point

I roomed with a fellow accordionist at a recent music camp, and she asked me about my favorite subject: Kokikai Aikido and how it helps me in playing music. I think I said something like this:

We sometimes practice a partners exercise or drill in aikido, using wooden practice swords (bokken). The concept is somewhat like the tai chi practice of pushing hands. I've described it before, but here it is again:

Two people face each other holding crossed bokken in a guard position. Each person applies some pressure. Theoretically, they are at a standstill: If one tries to thrust, the diagonal positioning of the other's sword will foil the strike. If he takes the pressure off his opponent's sword (for example, to go around the guard), the opponent can thrust. The only way out of the impasse is to quickly slap his opponent's sword aside, and thrust before she can recover.

But, with correct technique, his opponent can defend against this attack. The key is to retain a relaxed,…


Recently I took a few violin classes with Patrick Ourceau. Most of our time was spent learning bowing.

When I first took up the violin I soon learned that the way you use the bow is the way you bring out the soul of the instrument, and bowing techniques are very distinct in different styles of music. Good bowing requires a really delicate touch, and a lot of practice. Actually I think if I had known how daunting the bowing aspect would be, I might have been frightened off.

Patrick talked about bowing and musical phrasing in relation to breathing: up-bowing is like breathing in, and down-bowing is like breathing out, a release. He talked about the down-bow being extremely relaxed, letting gravity draw the arm and the bow downward. Making your bow strokes with minimum effort brings out the best sound, and allows you to play in a more relaxed way, so you can play for hours without getting tired.

In a recent aikido seminar with Shuji Maruyama Sensei we practiced a sword exercise from the…

Correct Posture (In Everything)

In Kokikai Aikido we use four basic principles as a way to express the core ideas of our practice, in a way that's easy to remember. One of these is:

Correct Posture (in everything)
Good posture makes everything easier. In class we usually teach correct posture while standing or sitting. But the wording of the principle is Correct Posture (in everything). How many of us forget to have good posture as soon as the instructor stops talking about it? I think the part in parentheses is the most important part! 
Sensei often says, "Habit is second nature." We want to make good posture a habit, so that it becomes second nature. For me, it took many years of practice to unlearn my habit of poor posture. 
Making good posture a habit meant thinking about posture on the mat and off:  while walking, sitting, talking, playing music and working. I make use of any trick that may help me be mindful of my posture. An experienced aikidoka friend used to unobtrusively reach over, as I watc…

Beware of the Dark Side

Traveling in Montreal, my husband and I ate at a noodle shop called Saka Ba! We sat next to the window facing the kitchen (our favorite seats when eating in a ramen shop) and there was this little Jedi warrior. I got back to my room and started looking up Yoda quotes.

"Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the force, but beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression: the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark side, forever it will dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice."

It's so easy to agree with this, and to claim that this is how we practice. Yet, when we find something that really makes us angry, how difficult it is to let go of that anger. As Yoda says, "Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight." How easy it is to believe that our anger is fueling a righteous motivation to act and that without it, we would not rise up to do good in th…

Learning Violin-Playing Posture in Kokikai Aikido

I'm at Kokikai Aikido Summer Camp this weekend. I'm very happy to see people I've known for many years and to work with instructors, including Maruyama Sensei, who are able to give me advice that really applies to my body and my practice. One great nugget of teaching came early in the weekend, when Veronica Burrows Sensei, (my teacher's teacher) talked about a way of moving my arms that makes throws both softer and more powerful.

It's a bit hard to explain "on paper," but I'll try. I learned in yoga that if you hold your arms over your head with your thumbs pointing towards the back of your body, and then rotate your arms so that the elbows come toward each other, you are externally rotating the shoulders. When you do this you can feel that your shoulder blades settle over your back. Most of us sit, stand and walk with our shoulders hunched i.e. internally rotated.

So, as you stand normally, if you lift your arm with your shoulders externally rotated…