Hi, my name is Linda Eskin. In May of 2009, at age 46, I came to Aikido to improve my horsemanship. It's become about much more than that for me.
I train with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego.
Everything I say here is just what I say. Don't believe me. Find out for yourself.
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A LITTLE ABOUT ME
Most of the posts here are duplicates of my posts from my blog on AikiWeb.com, a very active and friendly community of Aikido students and teachers. If you are a member of AikiWeb, and would like to comment, please do so there.
I am a beginning student of Aikido, a martial art that, like horsemanship, takes a lifetime to master. These posts are only my own observations on my own experience. You should not rely on anything I say here. Any inept or incorrect information is my own responsibility, and should not be a reflection on others.
I am grateful to Dave Goldberg Sensei for being an extraordinary teacher, and for creating an engaged, thinking, and compassionate community of students and teachers at Aikido of San Diego. If you are in the area, visitors are always welcome to observe classes. If you are a student at another local dojo, keep an eye on our dojo calendar for upcoming seminars and other events.
Copyright 2009, 2010, 2011, Linda Eskin. Please feel free to share any of my poetry, online, or in print, keeping my name and any other acknowledgments with it. I will almost certainly be happy to let you use anything else I've posted here, with proper attribution, but please ask first.
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Seeing Through a Different Lens
We are fortunate to have the largest state park in California, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, right here in San Diego County. It’s a great place to camp and hike, and an easy day trip by car. I spent many family vacations there, decades ago, scrambling up rocky trails in flip-flops, watching the wildlife, and playing card games. Kids at the campground would swim in the small hot spring-fed pool, where at dusk, bats would swoop down to drink, eliciting panicked shrieks from some of the children. The ranger at the campground check-in kiosk always had a tarantula on his sleeve. My sister and I would walk to the small campground store to get a soda or some chips. At night in the desert the sky is pitch black, sprinkled with a million brilliant stars. There is something special about the air — the wind howls, and gusts threaten to blow you over — even sound travels in a different way. There’s a kind of stillness and quiet that’s unique to the desert.
Every spring people visit the park’s 600,000 acres to see the wildflowers. Depending on the rains, some years are better than others. Like with weather or surf, there are websites where you can check to see how the flowers are doing, and find the best places to view them. It’s not something you can schedule by the calendar, because their blooming varies with the recent rainfall.
In a good year, if your timing is right, you might see a few hillsides dusted with purple, or quite a lot of amazing single plants here and there. If you are not so lucky, you might look across the dry landscape at the coarse brown and gray granite sand, with dull green plants scattered about, and mountains like enormous piles of rocks, and think there is nothing there, just inhospitable desolation.
This past Sunday Michael and I went to see the wildflowers and do some photography. There were a few patches of low-growing yellow flowers in the high desert areas, carpeting the areas between Manzanitas charred by a fire a few years ago. In the low desert the Ocotillos bloomed consistently everywhere, their tall graceful arms tipped by clusters of red honeysuckle-like flowers. But aside from those obvious sights, there wasn’t much going on. Or at least that’s what one might think at first glance.
To see wildflowers in the desert, you often have to look very carefully. You need to get out and walk. Stand still. Look down. Many plants are tiny, only inches high, with equally tiny flowers. Sometimes you will see hundreds of examples of one plant, and only one will be blooming. Perhaps you’ve missed the others, or maybe this one was in just the right place to get a little more water this year. Often the flowers are inconspicuous, hiding among the branches of an unassuming silver-green shrub
Cruising through the desert looking for photo opportunities can be a slow and tedious experience. Michael was driving, and cheerfully endured my dozens of requests to “pull over here.” In addition to many quick roadside stops, we went for a few short hikes. In just this one afternoon we saw a lot of beautiful scenery, and many animals, including lizards, chipmunks, something that might have been a prairie dog, a coyote, several jackrabbits, and a Red Diamondback rattlesnake resting in the shade of a plant alongside a trail. Birds flitted here and there, particularly uncooperative photographic subjects, and sprinkled the soundscape with their high whistles and chirps. On the way back, winding south through the Cuyamaca Mountains, we also saw two large herds of mule deer grazing in the meadows after sunset.
But it wasn’t until late that night, when I was going through the hundreds of photos I’d taken, trying to find the best few for an album, that it occurred to me that doing photography gives you a really different perspective on things. If we had just been driving through the desert, getting from point A to point B, it would have been easy to gaze out the car window at the dusty emptiness and think “This is boring. There’s nothing here. What an awful place.” But when your goal is to get stunning photographs, you look at things in a whole new way. You look for beauty. You look for tiny things. You look for the awesome. It might mean getting down on your hands and knees, moving to line things up at the right angle, or waiting for the sunlight to change just a little. It’s there, but it’s not obvious. You can see it if you’re looking for it.
It struck me that a lot of life is like this. It’s easy to stand around complaining and whining that things suck. But if our commitment is to seeing what’s beautiful around us, our experience changes. As with the wildflowers in the desert, we might need to get down on our hands and knees, move to change our point of view, or wait a while for the light to change. But the beauty is there. We just need to be open to seeing it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Whether you are on Facebook or not, you should be able to view my album of photos from this trip.
“A Rising Tide” and Other Columns on AikiWeb
If you aren’t already in the habit of reading the columns on AikiWeb, be sure to head over there and check out my column about my experience of our recent open mat / exam prep sessions. I write as part of a group of women calling ourselves The Mirror. This month was my turn to write, and we all collaborate on editing and revisions. :-)
“A Rising Tide”
And while you are there, read the other columns as well. There is some amazingly good writing and information there every month.
~ David Shaner Sensei
(from “Aikido - The Way of Harmony Podcast” 2008)
Happy New Year (kinda)
It’s been about a year - actually a year and two months, since my 2nd kyu exam. My 1st kyu exam will be this morning. I think of each exam like New Year’s Day - a time to look back, and to look ahead.
This year has been one of transitions. Bringing things into alignment. Getting behind center. Grounding. Being clear.
I changed the way I work. With my employer’s and husband’s support, I cut back on my hours, and now work exclusively from home. This has meant a huge reduction in stress and a better physical workspace for me. It allows more time and flexibility for my Aikido training, and lets me focus on writing as my primary activity.
Over the past few months I have upgraded my office, with a new computer and printer, and all new software tools for writing and design work. There have been a few steep learning curves, but now I’m off and running.
I established my own publishing company, Shugyo Press. I wrote and published my first book, “A Bowl of Love - How to Make a Big Green Dojo Potluck Salad.” On Monday morning I will be moving directly into my next two books, one of which is to be my “Black Belt Project,” something we each take on at our dojo, before our shodan exam. (The other is a secret, for now.)
There have been a lot of little things, too. A long-delayed household improvement is finally on track. My blog on AikiWeb just went over 200,000 views. I turned 50.
I’ve happily spent over 250 training days on the mat. I have helped out in the kids’ classes, and even taught a few. There were seminars and road trips, projects and parties. It’s been a full 14 months!
Starting last October (2012) I seemed to have a never-ending string of health problems: I injured my shoulder taking a roll in an awkward way. A bad cold turned into weeks of bronchitis, followed by gout in my right foot. At some point during all of this my neck and upper back muscles seized up and caused trouble for the radial nerve to my left arm.I was finally able to train fully just in time to get busy preparing for my exam.
While I have enjoyed training, it’s also been a painful year. Ukemi, the aspect of Aikido I am most dedicated to, the part of the practice where I find the most value, and where I need most to improve, was also the most difficult for me to access. I watched a lot of my friends grow and progress throughout the year, and felt left behind. I recently had a good conversation with Sensei about this, and am looking forward with renewed enthusiasm to focusing more on improving my ukemi.
It’s been a time of changes and new opportunities. Even the time will be changing tonight. Longer days and warmer weather are coming. Everything is looking brighter. I can’t wait for Monday night’s classes!
That Still Counts!
Yesterday I completed one entire month on the mat. I’m preparing for my first kyu exam, which will be this Saturday, so I’ve been training even more than usual. I did it just because I could, and because it seemed to help me keep up the proper momentum, and stay loose physically. The nerve problem I was having with my neck and arm has been improving with constant activity, and I’m generally feeling very good. So why stop?
I trained every day, even Sundays. Every class, even the kids classes, and every open mat session. :-)
When I shared that milestone with my friends, one suggested that I must be experiencing an “awesome growth spurt.”
Actually, no. Although I have been enjoying training and having a lot of fun preparing for exams with my dojo mates, I’ve actually been fairly perturbed by my lack of progress. Sometimes it’s felt like I’m going backward. It’s been discouraging. For for each new “aha” moment there are three more things I see I seriously need to work on.
Here’s what I said to him:
“Not really feeling like it… Well actually, yeah… But the kind of growth where you become more acutely aware of where the holes are, and what needs work. Humbling - in the classic sense of the word.”
In writing that answer I saw the situation in a new light, and suddenly felt a lot better about things. I really was making progress, it just didn’t look the way I had been thinking it should. So I guess that does still count as an “awesome growth spurt.”
- Opening my eyes to a thousand details and endless room for refinement still counts as opening my eyes.
- Discovering how I process and remember information (or fail to) still counts as discovery.
- Becoming more aware of the holes in my technique still counts as becoming more aware.
- Starting to see some of the bigger picture — the patterns and relationships in techniques — still counts as starting to see.
- Learning where my blind spots are still counts as learning.
- Knowing what I need to work on still counts as knowing.
I will do my best on Saturday, and I’m sure I won’t be satisfied with that. But I will be moving into the next phase of my training better equipped to learn and develop further, with a broadened perspective on the art, and deeper appreciation for what’s available through training in it. And that still counts as progress.