Showing posts from December, 2014

Simple Ideas, Challenging Practice

Recently after an aikido seminar, a bunch of us convened at a local restaurant with Sensei. As I was chatting with someone next to me I looked up, and Sensei met my eye across the table.

"Judy, what do you think of Sensei this time?"

 I laughed and said, "Sensei, you're even more amazing than before!" (First principle of ethical speech: Is it true? Yes. He was definitely more amazing.)

Somewhat tongue in cheek, since the answer is the point of all his teaching, I asked him, "Sensei, how do you do it?"

He pulled up his sleeve to show me (for probably the 100th time) the way he can keep his forearm and biceps totally slack and soft. And he said, (for probably the 1,000,000th time,) "Judy: the secret is, I never use muscle!"

A friend of mine once lamented, "Why is it you have to be in therapy for years before you hear the thing the therapist has been telling you ever since the first day?"

Looking back over my posts for the last year …

Admitting Mistakes Opens the Door to Change

At this time of year everyone's thinking about how to "be better" next year. Here's my thought:

So many of us want so badly to be better at something (musicians, aikidoka, life partners, parents...) but if we can't look at our mistakes straightforwardly, we can never identify the steps needed to change.

If we want to change, the most important step is to admit we made a mistake.

I think it's hard for us to admit mistakes because deep down most of us think we suck. If we admit to a mistake, it just proves the fact.

But this doesn't make sense, does it? If I think I'm bad, I should be happy to improve, right? For some reason, though, admitting a particular mistake is much more challenging than carrying the subconscious burden of "not measuring up."

It doesn't matter if it's realizing I'm having a hard time with a particular set of chord changes, or admitting that I actually do text while I drive and it's dangerous. Owning our f…

Five Tests for Ethical Speech

Some years ago I made a commitment to speak the truth, in other words, not to lie. Since then I have been working to refine my speech, so that, more than simply speaking truly, I speak in a way that is good for myself and others, i.e. ethically.

I came across these five tests for ethical speech in a talk by the Buddhist scholar and teacher, Gil Fronsdal.

They're posted above my desk. I try (!) not to open my mouth unless my speech meets all five tests. I'm afraid most of the time I end up administering the test after the fact...

Five Tests for Ethical Speech
Is it True?
Is it Kind?
Is it Useful?
Is it Timely?
Does it Create Concord?

For me, the last test is the toughest.

Creating More With Less

I recently attended a violin workshop with the renowned Irish fiddler, Kevin Burke (who's actually English and lives in Oregon). He was talking about adding rhythm to the music with certain notes that are repeated on the beat. Below is a snippet from Walsh's Hornpipe. Even if you don't read music, you can see that the same note is repeated rhythmically. (I made those notes red.) When you listen Kevin play it, (it's very the first tune on this video,) those notes really stand out.
How to Make More with Less
Kevin said that to give this tune more rhythm, you have to play these repeated notes more lightly. He said that most people make the mistake of playing them heavily, and then they sense the tune doesn't have enough of a rhythmic feel, so they play them even more heavily, and so on and so on.
Man, does that sound like aikido.

My Sneaky Scheme

Have you ever had this happen? You try to persuade someone of something, and they just won't listen. but three days later they read it in the news and it's as if they came up with the idea themselves - they tell you about their great idea. It's frustrating! But it's understandable. Sometimes we have a hard time grasping a new idea when it's presented "straight on." It's like it has to come at us from a different angle, and then we have to absorb it as our own.

I think it's like that with my practice. I have to absorb new ideas, think about them, and make them my own.

Sometimes I write about aikido and sometimes I write about music. Most of the time I think the concepts I write about relate to both, (though I don't always mention it). You may wonder, "What audience is she writing for, that practices aikido and music? That can't be more than 100 people on the planet!"

Here's my sneaky scheme: Both music and aikido are are disc…

Why I Don't Sexualize Interactions on the Mat: A Personal Account

Long before I was an aikido teacher, I made a decision to remove sexuality from my interactions on the mat.

It happened because I found myself inappropriately attracted to another student, and the way I acted as a result bothered me. I'm not sure that the change was obvious to anyone but myself, but for me the benefits were immediate and far-reaching.
I stopped unconsciously judging other students by whether they were attractive. I could more clearly see all their human qualities, including their aikido ability. I'm embarrassed to admit that until then, I gravitated toward people who were attractive or attracted to me. Now I have a much wider range of potential friendships and interactions.When I stopped flirting - either overtly or subtly, I stopped being concerned whether what I was doing looked good or was impressive. I started paying more attention to others:  what they needed, what they heard, what they did.I started to develop much more close friendships with women.  I&#…

Is it OK to Sleep with your Students?

What's the Attraction?

When I first started aikido we used to go out after class and stay out pretty late. A client, hearing about this, said, "Oh, aikido? You have to watch out for those aikido people..." He said where he was from (San Francisco), aikido instructors were notorious for having affairs with their students. I started wondering: why would aikido teachers have this special reputation?

Any teacher is in danger of "falling into" sexual relationships with students of the opposite sex*: students look up to teachers, teachers enjoy the adulation, and so it goes. But I think there's a reason why aikido has a "reputation."

First: aikido isso cool! When you're start taking aikido you realize you're developing a kind of power you never imagined. It's awe-inspiring. And there's your teacher, who has that power. It's really easy to confuse that great feeling with a sexual attraction.

Second: most of the teachers are men, and s…

The Four Minute Mile - Shattering Psychological Barriers

In 1954, Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than four minutes. It was hailed as an "epic human achievement." The world record of 4:01.4 seconds had held for over 10 years, and some wondered if it was humanly possible to break that 4-minute barrier. Yet six weeks later Bannister's record was broken by John Landy. Today, running a mile in four minutes is considered the standard for all male professional middle distance runners.

Whether we realize it or not, we all struggle with barriers in our practice. To what extent are these barriers purely psychological?

Shuji Maruyama Sensei, is a role model for me in this way. In his lifelong practice of aikido, he has not been constrained by concepts of what "should" be possible. He does things that shouldn't be possible, and makes them look so easy that it takes an effort to recognize how remarkable they are. Sensei is slight in stature, and yet he throws big, strong martial artists - people he has trained to resist h…

What's Next?

One of my biggest challenges in playing piano is remembering to think ahead. When I don't, it usually ends badly. I have a habit of going on autopilot. I'll be playing everything smoothly, my left hand is right on with the rhythm, my fingers are moving by themselves, and my mind drifts. Then here comes that unusual chord and...Crash! Or, I'm improvising and I'm in the groove, and I start listening and drifting, til I realize I'm repeating my ideas. I think, "OK, what now? "Crash!

I have put a post-it on my music stand. It says, "Think Ahead."

We all go on autopilot when we get comfortable at something. It's a natural that when we become competent at something we stop devoting so much attention to it. But in order to be creative, I need some things to be on autopilot and yet at the same time I need to be consciously aware and ready for what's next.

I wondered how to practice this.

I know I need to practice it a lot. My aikido sensei ofte…

Excuse Me, But You're Doing It Wrong....7 (no- 9!) Reasons NOT To Correct Your Partner in Aikido

In Aikido practice, I often see a less experienced student "correct" an experienced student. I'm sure these people genuinely feel they're offering something of value. But it's inappropriate, incorrect and detrimental to your own progress to correct people who've been practicing longer than you.

A while ago someone asked Cecelia Ricciotti (7th dan), "What do I do if I'm working with someone who has more experience, and they just plain out-and-out are doing it wrong?" "Well," she said, "You have to make a decision: Do you want to take on the role of teacher? Or do you want to continue to be a student?"

7 Reasons Not To Correct Your (More Experienced) Partner In Aikido
Respecting each other is one of the most important parts of our practice. You demonstrate respect for someone who has more training than you by listening to what they have to teach you. Especially if you disagree with them, it's a great opportunity to practice f…

Clearing the Path of Resistance

Weirdly, sometimes when you stop fighting back, It's easier to get what you want

In Kokikai Aikido we often say that when practicing, the more you encounter resistance, the more you have to relax. When an attacker feels you resisting, they fight you even harder, hold you even tighter. 

Your own resistance acts like brambles clogging a path. They cling and slow you down. To get where you want to go, you have to clear them away. 

It takes a big leap of faith to believe that we can really defeat an attacker by using less muscle. We say we believe it, but when the time comes to do it, our brains just seem wired to the idea that tensing our muscles will work.

An aikido technique comes to mind. Called ryote tori kokyunage saio undo, it starts with the attacker grabbing one arm with both hands. As you can imagine, it's very hard to move your arm when someone is grabbing it with two hands. I'm not tall or particularly athletic. In addition to being female and over 50, I weigh about 12…