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.
Aikido is a Japanese martial art. It's not about fighting. It's about being aware and responsive, not defensive or reactive. We learn to work with others and with circumstances, rather than opposing them. I train with Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego.
I speak from my own experiences - technical and philosophical, physical and spiritual. I discuss training and writing, learning and teaching, seminars and meditation, freedom and discipline. Underneath it all, it's about connecting, with ourselves and others.
Everything I say here is just what I say. Don't believe me. Find out for yourself at a dojo near you.
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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 © 2009-2014, 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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Ukemi Notes from Camp
A couple of memorable thoughts about ukemi from the 3rd annual O Sensei Revisited camp last weekend (11-13 April, 2014):
"Uke’s job is to feel."
~ Robert Nadeau Shihan
"If you’re not falling, you should be attacking."
~ Richard Moon Sensei
Back from Camp
Back from the 3rd annual O Sensei Revisited camp in Occidental, CA. It’s an intense, intimate camp in a beautiful setting. The focus is on teaching/learning O Sensei’s developmental process through experiential work - both technique and other exercises. It’s a lot of training packed into 3 days!
A little achy here and there from lots of training (and sleeping on a weird mattress), but mostly rested and awake after a couple of good nights’ sleep. It was great to see so many friends, hang out with my dojomate/roommate, Karen, and Sensei, and to meet a bunch of new folks. Pushed a few limits, learned a few new things, and was reminded of many more learnings that had faded. Lots to think about, embody, and incorporate into daily training. More inspired than ever about training for my upcoming (someday) shodan (first black belt) exam “later this year,” and recommitting to studying (reading, reviewing notes, watching videos, and consciously learning), and to writing (both my blog and my next book), even in the midst of house renovation chaos.
Already looking forward to going again next year - I hear it’s scheduled for the end of April. Check with City Aikido (Robert Nadeau Shihan’s dojo) in San Francisco for details.
Contemplating What Stops People
Sensei is offering a new program at the dojo where I train (Aikido of San Diego) called Aikido 101. It’s a 5-week series of ten 90-minute classes, and the first session starts next week. I’m looking forward to playing with some brand new people just starting out. What a great opportunity to revisit the fundamentals with a fresh listening, not to mention the chance to work on improving my ukemi!
The course will provide a well thought-out curriculum of principles and techniques so participants get a broad overview that’s designed to introduce the basics. If it’s all they ever do, they’ll at least have a good beginner’s understanding of what Aikido is, and some fundamental skills. If they decide to continue, they’ll have a good foundation to build on.
A friend of mine asked me this morning “Looking for new experiences to enrich my life… Aikido 101 looks intriguing. Any input you’d like to share??" I was struck by her openness and curiosity. She’s understandably cautious, since she has some physical issues she’s concerned about, but she asked. She wondered. She allowed for the possibility that there might be value in it, and that she might be able to do it. Whatever she chooses, I appreciate and admire that about her.
Since I started training I’ve regularly invited friends to visit the dojo or participate in introductory programs we’ve offered. I’ve heard two kinds of responses from almost all of the people who decline - either they think they wouldn’t be capable of doing it, or they have a incorrect picture in mind of what Aikido is, and they aren’t interested in that. Both are so frustrating!
In the first group, I keep hearing folks say things like “I’m not very athletic,” “I’d need to get in shape first,” “I’m afraid I’d look stupid,” or “I’ve always wanted to try a martial art, but…” I hate to hear people limit themselves like that! I want to ask them what else they miss out on in life because of that kind of thinking. Getting past those voices telling them they can’t (or aren’t ready, or probably shouldn’t, or wish they could, someday, when the stars align just so…) might be the most important part of the course for these people. They might discover they have more potential than they thought.
Something this new program offers that might nudge them off the fence is that it’s specifically intended for brand new beginners. Out of shape, uncoordinated, clueless, whatever… If they were afraid of looking stupid or not knowing what to do, or holding more advanced students back, they will be in exactly the right place. No more excuses. They don’t even have to wear a gi, and don’t have to join the dojo - just sign up and show up.
From the second group I hear comments like “I’m not interested in learning how to fight,” “I took karate when I was 8, and I didn’t like it,” or “I wouldn’t like all that punching and kicking.” Aauuuggh! Frankly, I find this really annoying - a stubborn insistence on maintaining one’s ignorance. I’ve never heard anyone offering one of these reasons temper it with any hint of curiosity or glimmer of the possibility that they might not have all the information. Never “Isn’t that just like karate? I took karate as a kid and didn’t like it,” or “Is there fighting involved? I don’t think I’d like it if there’s fighting.” It’s like inviting a friend to try your favorite Thai restaurant with you, and they say “Oh no, I wouldn’t like that. Thai food is all really spicy, and I don’t like spicy food.” There’s no opening for learning more.
Like the first group, I wonder what else these folks miss out on in life because of this “cover-my-ears and ‘LALALALAALAA - I can’t hear you!!!’ refuse-to-listen” approach to the unfamiliar? They aren’t stupid people… I think they might actually be interested in participating if they knew what was available to them. I think it must be a subconscious defense, coming back to the same fear - that they might fail somehow, or embarrass themselves. They are afraid they don’t have what it takes, and rather than confront that possibility they turn their backs on opportunities that don’t feel comfortable. What else have they rejected with this reflexive, automatic “No, that’s not for me” reaction?
In both cases, It saddens me to see people afraid to even give themselves a chance. I hope they eventually do something that puts a crack in that shell. Whether it’s trying Aikido, taking a painting class, learning to play a musical instrument, going backpacking… I hope they take a leap eventually, and do something that shatters their own perception of their limitations.
Info and registration for the Aikido 101 course, if you know anyone in the San Diego area who might enjoy it, can be found here:
Moving Into 2014
2013 was a year of beginnings. Changing directions and laying foundations. It has been an exciting time. I started a lot of things, but I got stopped a lot, too.
I switched to working (very) part time for my employer, and launched my own publishing company. I wrote and published my first book. I meant to get a lot further with the next book I have planned, but writing got delayed by a few projects coming in from the day job, and then I lost momentum.
I started to put in a large vegetable garden area with raised beds. That was going well until two local cats chose to unexpectedly grace me with their litters of kittens within days of each other. For a few months entirely too much of my time (and money) was taken up with caring for them and trying to find them homes. Besides, I could not get the tractor out of the garage because we had one litter trapped in there while we tried to socialize them. By the time that adventure was over the ground was dry and hard, and hot summer weather had arrived. I accomplished nothing further on the garden, and it has been overtaken by weeds.
In the late summer I aggravated an existing problem with my left knee. Getting it back in good working order required minor surgery and a couple of months’ rest and rehab at the end of the year. So there were several weeks of discomfort, icing, physical therapy, and of course sitting out and watching classes.
It’s easy to look back on the past year and feel like I didn’t really get much done — like I was floundering a bit. Too many incompletions, too many distractions, and a few thwarted intentions.
But when I started thinking about it over the past few days I started to feel better about it. I did get a lot done, and setting things in motion is a kind of progress in itself.
I really enjoyed training through most of 2013. I tested for first kyu early in the year, and got to participate in several really special retreats and seminars. I feel like I have settled into training, like it’s not about the next test or the next seminar. Not that those things aren’t fun and worthwhile — they are — but every class is special, too. I don’t feel like I am striving or struggling… I guess how a marathon runner feels when they have gotten into a good rhythm they can keep up mile after mile.
I’m just starting back on the mat after my knee surgery. I am doing well, and thrilled to be able to participate again. I plan to be diligent about continuing the exercises my physical therapist gave me for my shoulders, neck, hip, and knee. Barring any new problems, I should be in good shape to get back to full training now.
Sensei has launched several new programs at the dojo, so this will be a full year with a lot going on. I am also planning to participate in a few outside programs. There won’t be any potential for boredom in 2014!
Assuming all goes well, I may be testing for shodan at some point later this year. Since my first kyu exam I have already been training with that in mind, and am glad to have the opportunity to train more intensively in preparation. I am looking forward to it, but don’t feel in any hurry.
One thing I completed in 2013 was a major revision of our dojo website. That was a valuable learning experience. I’m very happy with the result, and I hope it serves the dojo well for a long time. We have some new things planned throughout the year, but it should be easy going.
At home, I am starting the year with a half-completed garden area ready to finish over the winter. I have all the supplies on hand. And last year’s mother cats have both been spayed, so no kittens this spring! The garden should be ready for planting in time for summer crops.
I have all the knowledge, tools, and infrastructure that I need to write, format, and publish my next book. I already have a lot of the material written. I need to get it pulled together, write the remaining portions, and get it done.
In the past year I did not do as much blogging as I had wanted to. It was not for lack of material or inspiration — just the opposite. I was so often hit with so many ideas that I found it difficult to sit down and get started writing about any one of them at times. Now I plan to give myself permission to be more concise, and perhaps a bit more raw. I will try to err on the side of the blurting out a half finished but important observation, rather than keeping it on the shelf until I can express it exactly so.
Just a few weeks ago I started studying to be certified as a Group Fitness Instructor through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). It’s a self-paced program. I eased up on studies over the holidays, and am looking forward to getting back to it in earnest now. Movement, strength, and improved health have made such tremendous difference in my life over the past few years that I hope to be able to support others in experiencing similar transformations of their own.
In the background of all this, I am working to eliminate as many distractions and unfinished things hanging over my head as I can. In 2013 I began culling ruthlessly. I still have entirely too many things I do not use or need, so will be selling or giving away everything I can. We will be taking on some long-neglected home repairs and projects.
I feel the need for quiet, open space, with freedom to move and create. This year will be about focusing, simplifying, and completing. So far, so good.
Thank goodness that’s over. I was barely inconvenienced or annoyed by The Holidays. I enjoyed a nice, low-key visit with family, and that was it. But man, the things I saw some of my friends going through. Living up to family expectations, suffering from loneliness, going mad trying to decorate and cook… Feeling bad about not sending cards, for heaven’s sake. And some of these friends are sick or healing from injuries, dealing with fresh grief, or just Not Wanting To Bother… All of this against a background of endlessly cheery music and TV shows and signs and greetings telling us how lovely it’s all supposed to be. Feh.
So now we can put it behind us for another year.
Time for the New Year. *whew* For me the end of the year is a time for reflection. Did I do what I meant to do in the past year? Was it time well-spent? Am I moving in the right direction? I’ll be doing a lot of thinking about those questions over the next week.
One thing I’ve gotten somewhat better at in recent years, due in combination to age, experience, and my Aikido practice, is noticing where my actions are out of alignment with my intentions. Sometimes I’m able to correct, sometimes not. It’s said in budo - the martial arts - “true victory is self victory.” I take this to mean making conscious, non-habitual decisions - moving forward with intention. it’s not easy. I have a lot of work to do in this area.
It’s a subject worth examining in all areas, at any time. I just got to thinking about it in the context of the holiday madness. Maybe something we can all take a look at, and apply the learnings to coming years. Are we really spending our money, effort, attention, and time (the most precious of all our possessions) in the best way? And where we aren’t, can we summon the courage to change?
Solstice Haiku for Mark Harrington
I was recently chatting with my one of my Aikido buddies on the other side of the country, Mark Harrington. We’ve been checking in from time to time as we both progress through our respective ranks in different organizations. Mark is a bit ahead of me. Anyway, we got to talking about holiday gift giving (or not). If I recall correctly, I promised him a solstice haiku. So here it is, on the first day of Winter. Enjoy.
"Hey! How’s it going?"
We call across the distance.
Friends on the same path.
'Tis the Season to be Disingenuous
There are no snowy lanes where I live. Icicles don’t dangle sparkling from steep rooflines. No red cardinals perch in evergreens. Holly doesn’t grow here.
Pines and firs are trucked a thousand miles away to act as Christmas trees. Cranberry sauce is a cylindrical gel. Snow on windowpanes comes from spray cans.
Electric stars adorn hilltops. Plastic wise men, young families, and farm animals gaze eternally at plastic mangers. Joy.
Here we are again at that wonderful time of the year, The Holidays. Several weeks of non-stop bullshit and pretense.
Chestnuts roasting, Jack Frost nipping, roaring fires - all figments of some imaginary frozen land back east. Kids don’t play in piles of fallen leaves because our trees (none of which are native) don’t lose their leaves. Sleigh bells don’t ring-a-aling because there are no sleighs. None of it is real for me. The stuff of children’s picture books. Fiction.
I’ve lived my whole life in the San Diego area. It’s warm and sunny today. Things are starting to green up after last week’s rain. Sometimes the Santa Ana winds bring dry air from the desert, it gets blazing hot. We’ve had huge wildfires as late as New Year’s Day. Sandcastles, perhaps. Snowmen? Not so much.
Most of the season’s festivities come from someone else’s distant memories. They celebrate a time and place that holds no relevance for me. I don’t worship any deities. I don’t eat turkey, ham, and prime rib, nor stuffing, rolls, and pie. I’ve never hung my socks from the mantle to dry.
A few things do ring true. We have poinsettias! Our 6-foot tall bush in the front yard decorates the view from the kitchen window year-round. The pecan tree gives us just about enough nuts to make pie or two. Apples grow in our local mountains, and fall is the time to take a drive in the country to buy some, just picked, from the farmer’s roadside stand. I’ve seen mistletoe at higher elevations. I like sweet potatoes, nuts, and chocolates. And I enjoy spending time with family.
I get it about celebrating the harvest with a feast, and brightening the long nights with candles and colorful lights. I enjoy the music, even if I can’t relate to the songs. Still…
I think this is why the holidays can be such an awful time - so much feels false. We have to lie to ourselves and lie to others, or risk being shunned or even vilified. To thine own self be true? Oh no you don’t, not around The Holidays. Even if we don’t actively participate it goes on around us - the decorations, ads, music… It can feel like we don’t belong. We are outsiders, weirdos, the other.
From our first years we’re taught to ignore what we really think and feel around The Holidays, and instead be “good” and “nice” and “happy” like others expect us to be. We might spend time with people we don’t like, wear clothes we hate, eat food we don’t care for, and buy, give, and receive things that nobody needs or wants. And we’re supposed to act like we’re just tickled about every bit of it.
Tired, and feel like being alone for while? Just want to curl up and read a good book, go for a hike in the desert? Excited about working on some project you’re engrossed it? No! Wrong answer.
We sing songs we don’t believe, reminiscing about experiences we’ve never had. We rush around buying things we know we don’t need, spending money we know shouldn’t be spending. We eat food we know we will regret, and then regret having eaten it.
For some, whose experiences and beliefs mesh well with the tradition, it’s probably a delightful time. I can see how that could be so.
In my early 30s my work sent me to Cambridge, Massachusetts for the week before Christmas. There was actual ice and snow accumulated in the corners of the windowpanes. (Wow! That actually happens!) There was a group of carolers singing on the street. They were bundled in scarves, gloves and mufflers, hats, and long, warm coats - not because they were Dressed Up Like Carolers, but because it was 29 degrees out!
Here you might see groups of people singing in the same attire because that’s the costume they are supposed to wear to look like carolers. But on a hot, sunny day at the mall - and our malls are open-air malls - standing next to the hill of manufactured snow for kiddies to play on, singing about a Winter Wonderland, they just look ridiculous.
Over the years I’ve come see this incongruity more clearly, and have stopped participating in much of it. I don’t eat the foods I don’t want to eat. My family has dropped most of the frantic shopping and gift giving. I don’t go to parties that don’t sound like fun. Nothing against anyone who likes those things, but I’d rather see you another time, when we can have a quiet conversation or go for a walk.
Aikido training also helps bring the insincerity of it all into better focus. Our practice teaches us to perceive the reality of a situation. We learn to stay present and feel what’s really happening. We notice our own alignment with circumstances, and correct ourselves when we are out of whack. That constant practice of feeling what’s true for us and taking action in accordance with it makes insincerity and pretense stand out in sharp contrast.
Devoting so much attention to keeping it real has made it that much more intolerable for me to act in ways that aren’t true for me. It doesn’t mean I’ve refused every social obligation, or that I grumble at the tired cashier wishing me “Merry Christmas.” But I know where I stand, and I know when I’m going along just for the sake of getting along. I can watch it from a more centered place.
When we can’t articulate this there’s a vague, heavy sense of that last straw being added to our load at The Holidays. After a year of pretending to be an enthusiastic worker, dedicated parent, or whatever it is we’re supposed to be we find we are expected to redouble our efforts. Everywhere around us we hear what a beautiful and happy time of year this is, while our experience is one of obligation, falseness, and overwhelm. We’re supposed to be thrilled about it all, but we’re miserable, and we don’t see a way out. I think this is why people finally snap.
Some people have created their own traditions that work for them. Having a group of friends over each year, going on a cruise, isolating themselves in a mountain cabin until it’s over. My immediate family’s Thanksgiving tradition for the past few years has been to meet for dinner at a bayside restaurant, overlooking sailboats bobbing in their slips. Later we regroup at Mom and Dad’s for desert and to enjoy each others’ company. No maniacal food preparation, no travel, no heroic efforts at hosting a hoard of house guests. We only do what really makes us happy, and have refused the rest of it.
If you are looking for the perfect gift for family and friends this season, maybe that’s a good one to give. Drop an expectation, refuse an obligation. Be an example, and encourage others to join you. Invite a friend to go for a walk. Give up on gifts. Stop sending cards, if that’s not fun for you. Take a hike. Start a tradition of celebrating (or not) in a way that’s meaningful and positive for you.
And with that thought, we’re off to go enjoy a local lake… If we can avoid the traffic going to the malls.
New Dojo Website: AikidoSD.com
A little announcement/brag!
For over a year I’ve been working (off and on) on a new website for the dojo where I train, Aikido of San Diego. I did all the photography, design, and development - hand-coded in HTML/CSS. It’s the biggest web project I’ve taken on, and the most important (to me). We have a tradition of giving something to the dojo or making some lasting improvement to the facility when we test at dan ranks. This is my (early) shodan gift:
This site is responsive (works on desktops, tablets, and phones), and includes more content, all new photos, and more videos than our previous site (which was pretty darned good already). We even have Member Spotlight features, where you can read about how people got started, and what Aikido means to them.
For the techies out there, I started with the Zurb Foundation framework, and then did all the layout and design through HTML and CSS. (It’s not a CMS or templated site). It’s highly optimized for SEO, so people can find us easily.
There is a lot of information on the site. We will be refining and expanding over time, too. Our dojo handbook is available only as a PDF now (from the Membership and Resources) pages. We will be creating an HTML version of the manual too, for easier online reading. We will also be adding pages to address specific concerns or demographics, too, so that people searching for that information can discover us more readily. We’ll be continuously improving and keeping things fresh with new photos, videos, and more.
Check out the site, and come train with us whenever you visit San Diego!