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. The lessons from Aikido permeate my life. Our training applies as much off the mat as on it. My teacher is 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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If you ever want to make a year fly by, here’s how to do it.
First, anticipate that you will likely be testing for shodan at some point this year.
Next, sign up for a study course to be certified as a Group Fitness Instructor (GFI). Plan to be done with it by summer. Ready to rock in your new career. Along with your writing you can help people be healthier and happier. Buy a notebook, highlighters, and pens. Put everything in a big tote bag so you can study anywhere, even at the park. Dive into the material. For a week.
Now, decide that this is the right time to remodel the house. Drop writing studying like hot potatoes for 6 months and instead focus on choosing flooring, rearranging furniture, and picking paint colors.
Meet with Sensei, along with a friend who will also be testing, and schedule your shodan exam for December 13th. Many months away. Plenty of time to train and prepare.
Refinish the kitchen cabinets. Landscape the driveway entrance. Collaborate with the contractor. Throw a big party when it’s all done.
Check the calendar and note that if you don’t schedule your pre-paid GFI certification exam in the next 2 days you will have to pay again to schedule it later. Schedule the certification exam for Friday, October 24th - as far out as you dare without being too close to your ranking exam. Dive into the material again.
Discover that you don’t know anything that’s going to be on your shodan exam. You’ve seen and done it all before, of course, but it escapes you now. Kazushi is kaput. Ma’ai is MIA. Even your gi are all goners. Start training on Sunday afternoons with your testing partner, friends, and sempai. Take all your gi to a tailor. Train, train, train. Make progress, slowly.
Get back to working on your books.
Realize there is more to do on the house. A lot more. Only the contractor’s part is done. Try to divide your time 50/50 between studying-writing and house projects. Study and write Sundays-Wednesdays, work on the house Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Try to settle into a routine.
See that your elderly, arthritic donkey friend is getting worse week by week. Try everything you can to help. When that finally doesn’t work, let him go.
Get back to work.
After a few days adrift your brain starts churning out ideas again. Branding concepts, business models, marketing messaging… Blog posts resume writing themselves. Jot down ideas everywhere. Wake up inspired to write. Forget to drink coffee one morning!
Today will be about putting away all the stuff in the bedroom that’s still out after construction. And then there’s making a salad for the big dojo summer party after tomorrow’s kyu exams.
How is July almost over already?
Just the thought of checking the oil in the truck feels like I’m plotting the murder of a dear old friend.
And I am.
I rarely use the truck anymore, since I gave up horses. I need to make sure it’s safe to start it. The truck and trailer are in the way. At least he won’t have to go in the trailer. He hates trailers. I think most donkeys hate trailers.
Yesterday I called the neighbors, the ones with the grandkids and the pool, to be sure they would not be around. Bible camp this week? Convenient.
My chatty neighbor is full of kind advice. “You’re doing the right thing. With our old horse… I wish we had… It’s always hard. We’ll pray for you at camp.”
And then the vet’s office. I had to schedule around other commitments. “Thursday? 9 a.m.? OK then. We’ll arrange everything. We’re so sorry.” Simple.
I hang up and cry some more.
Convenient and simple, but terrible and hard.
For years he’s had a hitch in his get-along. Arthritis. He’d stand up in the morning and cuss under his breath for minute, then shake it off and get on with his day. Just a bit of a limp in the right hind. Happy for ear rubs, excited about treats, glad for company.
We all have our aches and pains, right? I do, and I’m not ready to give up. He didn’t look ready, either.
More and more often, though, he rests lying down in the shade. His favorite place recently is under a pecan tree up the hill, where he has a view of the yard and the house, and the ground is sloped, making it easier to get up from resting. His friend munches her hay nearby, not hovering over him, but never too far off. He looks like a cat, lounging with his feet tucked under one side. Sometimes he chooses an open place in the midday sun, and stretches flat out, sunbathing as donkeys do.
Is it so bad to spend one’s later years relaxing in the shade and sunbathing?
But now I see the weeping sores on his legs from lying down so much. Generous layers of soft wood shavings may make him more comfortable - when he’s willing to lie in them at all - but they don’t help the sores.
Trusted friends give advice and sympathy. They’ve been here, too, and it never ends well. Ways to help, ways to let go. How to make it easier on his friend. Words of wisdom, shoulders to cry on.
Suggested sprays and ointments are rubbed off within the hour. Recommended bandages refuse to stay put. And he hates all of it. I decide he would prefer to be left alone and have sores than to be pestered with treatments that don’t help anyway.
Is it better to have life, with suffering, or to not exist at all? There’s a point where the scales tip. But where?
Every day I watch from the house as he buckles to his knees trying to rise from a nap in the shade, and hold my breath. He gives a mighty heave and gets to his feet, bracing wide against falling again. He makes it this time, and wanders off to nibble at his hay. But how many more times?
When will I come home and find that he’s been down for hours, exhausted from struggling in the hot summer sun? I’ve experienced that horror before. I want to spare him from it.
I see him crash to his nose one day, front legs failing him, too. I had wondered how he’d scuffed up his nose. Now I know.
He seems to do better when he takes his time. He rushes to jump up if he sees me come out the back door, so I watch out the window, waiting for him to stand on his own before going out to feed.
He stands and cusses a bit longer nowadays, tucking his leg tight to his belly. Are the muscles cramped? Is a nerve pinched? Do the sores sting?
He rubs his graying face on my jeans as he’s always done, and I’ve always let him. The seams and pockets are at just the right height for scratching an itchy forehead and eyes. He digs into his food with his usual combination of enthusiasm and desperation. He’s a fat little donkey. I think at some point in his past he went hungry, or lost the shoving matches at the feeder. He’s always afraid there won’t be enough food.
I hide his medicines in a delicious mash of soaked pelleted feed. He loves the treat, as long as he has some hay to eat along with it - it’s too mushy alone for his tastes - but the medicines might as well be inert dust for all the good they have done.
He has seen us through 3 horses and 16 years. We found him at the Humane Society in 1998, when we needed a companion for a herd-bound gelding. A family had lost their home and had to give him up. He was fearful and defensive. It took 3 hours and 4 people to load him my trailer. He was hard to catch, and harder to handle, but he never kicked. He wanted to be friends, and wanted to be good. With patience and kind training he learned the world could be an OK place, and that he could relax. We boarded him with friends when we took vacations, and he learned that trailers don’t always take you away from home forever. He surprised us years later by running to the trailer and jumping in when we evacuated ahead of a huge wildfire, embers falling around us. He knew he could trust us, and would be safe if we stuck together. He still doesn’t like trailers, though, and I won’t have to ask him to get into one again.
The sores have gotten worse. Sometimes blood drips down his legs, directed by the long fur, like rainwater. I kneel to take a closer look, and he threatens to kick me. “That hurts. Leave it.” I respect his request.
He walks down the hill to his water, and stands with his friend in the afternoon shade of the house, dozing. For years they’ve had the run of the yard, a sloping acre of fruit trees and dry weeds. No point locking them up in a barren pen. Neighbors have fed him grape leaves through the chain link, and he’s watched their kids grow up. Our citrus trees are all pruned bare to eye level - the leaves being tasty, apparently - and the fallen fruit makes a juicy snack. He’s had a pretty decent life. Now he wanders, picking at the short grass growing where the lawn used to be.
It’s been cool and cloudy for a few days. A welcome break from usual sweltering heat. Sometimes he doesn’t look so bad, walking slowly but purposefully back to his soft place under the pecan tree. But I remember the scuffed nose, the sores, the cussing, and the inevitable return of the blazing sun, and I know it’s time.
Now he is nosing through a half-flake of forbidden alfalfa - a legume hay too rich for donkeys, with its dark green leaves and flat, dry purple flowers. I’ll give him more this evening, too. Consequences be damned. Screw the nutrition and weight issues. The hell with long-term health risks.
Since he is up I take him a sweet slice of watermelon and some peppermints. He trumpets an increasingly rare he-he-he-haaaaawwww when he sees me coming with his blue plastic dish. Enjoy your treats, buddy, and a little shoulder-scritching, too. Enjoy everything you can - life is short.
I’ll move the truck and trailer in the morning - today it feels too much like treachery.
Today is about enjoying the day.
I have a short talk with him and tell him his troubles will be over soon, that he should relax and enjoy everything he can. If there are any things he had been meaning to do, unexplored corners of the yard, he should take care of those today.
I think of all the things he’s never liked, things he will never have to put up with again. He’ll have no more weather in the hundreds, salty from sweating behind his ears. No more huddling on the porch of the run-in shed for days on end during storms, with no dry place to lie out under the stars. No more gnats biting the insides of his ears bloody, and no more flies irritating the fronts of his legs. And no more fly spray, which is almost as bad as flies. No more loading or riding in the trailer. No more being tied to anything. No more hoof picking. And no more arthritis. No more pain.
Next is a good brushing, warm wash cloths to clean his ears and under his itchy tale, and all the treats I can think to give him. Marshmallows, peppermints, apple wafers, a banana — a new thing, which he enjoys, and a big handful of common sow thistle from the front yard, which I had been meaning to get around to picking and giving to him. Today is not a day for waiting for the perfect time, or putting off until later. Today is for experiencing everything right now.
I double up on his medication at lunch, which isn’t wise in the long run, but there is no long run, and it might make him feel better right now.
And I check the oil, which is fine, and move the truck and trailer.
Later, running errands, six huge Fuji apples, and three bags of fresh, crisp carrots from the farmers market shop. Just five dollars and ninety-one cents. Why haven’t I done this more often? Oh, right… Too much sugar. Not good for donkeys. Well today that doesn’t matter.
At bedtime I hand out bowl of the carrots and apples, a few pieces at a time to avoid choking. They were worth pinning ears over. I find myself wishing I’d fed him more carrots and apples.
I remember his vet’s words from a couple of years ago, when I’d mentioned that maybe I should put him on a diet, get some weight off… “Just let him enjoy being a donkey.” I pretty much followed that advice. He got treats, and a bit of alfalfa with his responsible grass hay. I wonder, what if I’d given him more carrots, more apples…? A happier, but shorter life? Is the trade-off worth it?
There is just one more arthritis pill left in the bottle. Good timing, I suppose, to run out exactly to the day. I didn’t plan that. In any case, it isn’t going to do him any good to take it tomorrow, so I give it to him now. Because why the hell not? So what if it causes kidney damage?
They get more alfalfa than usual for the night, and I head back to the house.
Before turning in I confirm my checking balance to be sure there is enough to pay the vet and hauling company, then set the alarm for daybreak and try to sleep.
The day begins like any other. Michael has already made coffee by the time I get up. I have to figure out what to wear. The cats are excited to go outside.
He is out at the barn, eating. Eeyore. Our little brown donkey. Like his namesake, he is a mopey sort of character. Capable of delight and mischief, but for the most part pretty sure the world is not quite a safe place.
I leave him be and have some coffee and a handful of Brazil nuts for breakfast.
There are so many details… I will need to have two checks ready, one for the driver, and one for the trucking company. I will probably need Kleenex, so I fold a few into my pocket. Must have a manure fork handy — I wouldn’t want to have him go down in a pile of poo.
And now he’s lying in the shade under his pecan tree. I let him rest.
There’s 200’ of water hose lying around out front, and I reel it up so it’s out of the way. Check to make sure the gate key is where it belongs. If I couldn’t unlock the gate… We will need both halters. I can’t ask Clementine to wear Eeyore’s halter when I take her out front afterward.
He’s on his feet now, so I go out to say good morning.
He chomps through the first apple and handful of carrots, all diced into bite-size chunks, in no time. There are more in the fridge, and why shouldn’t he have them all? For an instant I can’t find the apples. The big, crunchy Fuji apples I bought at the farm store just for Eeyore. They can’t be missing! Not now! There’s a brief frantic search, and then there they are right in front of me.
We can lose our centers so quickly. I take a deep breath, and exhale. It’s OK…
I cut up another bag of carrots and three more apples, in a bigger bowl this time, saving one apple and another bag of carrots for Clementine. She will be on her own after this morning, and will need plenty of attention and pampering.
8:01 a.m. An hour until the vet is to arrive. What might a donkey want to do with his last hour? What if I only had an hour left?
I cut a tiny bad spot out of a carrot slice, because no one should have to eat even a tiny yucky bit of carrot in their last hour.
The pragmatic voice in my head tells me to drink plenty of water so I don’t pass out. “Go to the bathroom now,” it says, “so you don’t have to leave anymore once you go out back again.” It’s always there, arranging things, being logical, unaffected.
A few friends who have advised me throughout this process text me now to wish us well. I reply, and realize that in all this time I never taught my my phone how to spell Eeyore’s name. I probably meant to get around to it. Someday.
With just a few minutes left I halter him, and lead him out through the front gate, and he drags me towards the nearest grass. Just then the vet’s office calls. He’s delayed 30 minutes. A lucky thing, too. I wonder for a moment if they don’t “accidentally” delay all euthanasias by 30 minutes, knowing everyone needs a little more time.
Eeyore spends the extra time out front, grazing and eating more treats. He used to be afraid to go out there. Today he was dragging me around looking for the best grass. I finally just toss the lead rope over his back and let him enjoy his freedom. What is he going to do? Limp off down the road? He’s not particularly interested in company. He’s busy with his donkey business.
Actually, he’s looking pretty good, walking around, grazing under the trees. But I remind myself that he’s on triple the normal dose of pain meds, and that he doesn’t have the strength to reliably get up from lying down. And he’s been getting steadily worse. He gives a good impression at the moment, but can’t go on this way.
It’s a lovely way to spend his last morning, grazing freely, eating all the forbidden treats he enjoys so much. I’m glad he can go on a morning like this, not down and struggling, frightened and hurting.
Meanwhile, Clementine is furious. Locked in the back, behind the gate, while Eeyore eats all the grass and all the treats. Not fair!!! I give her a few carrot and apple pieces (still mindful of her long-term health, at least). She takes them greedily, and goes back to pawing at the ground, kicking the air behind her, and banging the gate back and forth in her teeth. Not!!! Fair!!!
The vet, Dr. Chandler from East County Large Animal Practice, who has helped us all these years, turns into the driveway. He explains everything, and gets out what he needs. Sedation first, then an overdose of anesthesia. Yes, “blue juice” really is blue. You never want to mix that up with anything else. He is kind and skillful. Eeyore goes easily - drowsy, and then no more. Less traumatic than having teeth floated. I try to get up from squatting down after it’s over, and things go fuzzy. Even with all that water I drank. Back down to the ground, until after a minute I can stand.
Dr. Chandler gives me a hug. I thank him for helping Eeyore out, and he thanks me for giving Eeyore a good life. More tears. Sadness, but also relief.
I have arranged for an hour’s pause in the day before the truck comes, so that Clementine can come to her donkey-mind understanding of what has just happened. She can see from her spot at the gate - he is just on the other side. I let her stand there and look. The pragmatic voice says “Take a break. Have some Gatorade. Get your checkbook and a pen.” I do as instructed.
Back outside, I lead Clementine through the gate for a closer look. She looks, sniffs, and walks right past. Grass! I let her eat for a while. She shows no concern or interest. She’s out front, and there’s grass. That’s all that matters.
It’s getting near time for the truck. I ask her to come back up near the gate, but true to her donkey reputation she refuses to budge. I screw up my courage to drop her lead rope for a moment, and run back to the gate for the bowl that’s still half full of carrots and apples. Finally she’s willing to follow me back. I give her another chance to see her friend, and although she clearly notices him there I can’t discern any reaction. She lets herself be coaxed through the gate, following the bowl. The padlock is slimy and spit-covered from her earlier escape attempts. I click it shut so she can’t shove the gate open and get in the way.
The hauler arrives on time. He introduces himself - Jesus. Nice guy. Soft spoken, courteous, thoughtful. I can see at least two horses through the narrow gaps of the sides of the truck, which is tastefully enclosed to shield folks on the road from this harsh reality. I thank him for doing a tough but important job. He tells me he’s been doing it for 20 years, and it’s hard work, long days, but he likes it. I write out both checks and go inside, leaving him to his work.
Even as I’m hearing the truck engine and wench motor in the distance I discover an injured bird in the garage - a juvenile Phainopepla. It must have escaped from Miss Kitty after she brought it inside. Its wing is injured, but it’s bright-eyed and lively.
I put it in a cat carrier for the moment, and after the truck leaves I go out to check on Clem. She has been knocking a trash can around, dumping old hay everywhere by the side of the house. She’s perturbed, but it’s hard to tell if it’s about Eeyore, or about being kept from all that grass out front.
I put everything away, give Clementine a few more treats, and get the house closed up, grab my car keys, and take the little bird to the Project Wildlife triage center. They are hopeful about its recovery.
Later Michael jokes that we can say Jesus took Eeyore away. There is humor even in difficult times.
Vale, Eeyore. 17 July, 2014
Listen: “Aikido, Empathy, and Neurodiversity” with Sensei Nick Walker, M.A.
I have a podcast to recommend to you. I’ve listened to it a few times before, and just listened to it again, twice, while doing some gardening at sunset out in the front yard.
The interview provides an excellent, clear, accessible, and thought-provoking introduction to Aikido. If you are not yet familiar with Aikido you’ll learn a bit of its history, and how it’s distinct from other martial arts. Even if you’ve trained for years, there’s probably something new here to consider about your practice.
The podcast is just over an hour long. At about 16 minutes Walker Sensei makes a very interesting point about the practice of Aikido, in contrast to non-contact practices like (most) yoga and meditation. He also discusses his work in neurodiversity and autism rights activism.
The source is Shrink Rap Radio, with interviewer Dr. David Van Nuys, Ph.D. (AKA “Dr. Dave.”) He is Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Sonoma State University.
According to the brief bio on the site (from 2012), “Nick Walker received his M.A. in Somatic Psychology from California Institute of Integral Studies, where he now teaches in the undergraduate Interdisciplinary Studies program. He holds the rank of 6th Dan (6th degree black belt) in aikido, and has taught the art of aikido to adults, teens, and children for over 30 years. He is founder and senior instructor of the Aikido Shusekai dojo in Berkeley, California.”
I will be looking up other podcasts from Shrink Rap Radio, too. There is another with Walker Sensei, and #268 – Visual Thinking in Autism with Temple Grandin Ph.D. Hundreds of interviews. Good stuff. They also have apps for iOS and Android, plus you can download the podcasts from iTunes.
My Sister Would Have Turned 50 Today
My sister would have turned 50 today. Alcoholism and drug addiction killed her 8 years ago, after a decades-long struggle to reclaim her life.
As a little kid she desperately wanted to be liked, to fit in. She’d come home from her early grades of elementary school crying that she had no friends.
For a while she found belonging in softball. Our family all went to her games to support her. At some point she failed to make the team, which was devastating for her.
Around the same time, at about age 14, as far as I know her history, a friend shared a stolen bottle of wine with her behind the local movie theater. I don’t think she ever stopped drinking after that, except for one time, when she was pregnant with her son. She stayed clean and sober during her whole pregnancy. Aside from then, from 14 to 42 were hard years, and everything was a struggle.
She could be nice, fun, and caring. As adults we got along well, and talked often. I didn’t trust her; she wasn’t trustworthy, but I did like her.
As a teenager she stole, both from me and from businesses. She lied about anything and everything. She ditched school regularly, and snuck off to surf with her cool friends. It was a huge crisis for her when she didn’t have the “in” jeans (Salt Of The Earth, in red) one year. She was dragged home, drunk, by the police. Once she and a friend ground up and snorted aspirin (to look like coke) at the beach so they could look cool in front of boys they liked. She would do anything to belong, be liked, and be cool.
She drove, of course. The “don’t drink and drive” message doesn’t work on alcoholics. They have to drink, and they have to drive. They have to get to work (or they’ll lose their jobs), to the grocery store (or they’ll lose their kids), and to treatment (or they’ll lose their jobs or go to jail). People ask why we didn’t take her car away. You know what they call people who take other people’s cars? Felons. You can’t just steal someone’s car because you know they shouldn’t be driving.
I had a talk with her about a year before she died, appealing to her medical sensibilities. She had a disease that made it unsafe for her to drive. She couldn’t not drink, just like someone with a seizure disorder can’t just stop having seizures, so she should not be driving. She should move to a place where she could use public transportation, and get rid of her car. That seemed to reach her - she saw the logic in it, and she was moving in that direction when she died.
Maybe we need support for these people, like free bus passes, or taxi vouchers. Admonishing them not to drive just doesn’t work.
My sister was a knowledgeable and talented nurse, employed and respected all of her adult life. She was a charge nurse in ICU, responsible for running whole floors. It was a point of pride with her that she only used drugs they were discarding anyway - she never took drugs from a patient. Eventually she had to limit herself to non-direct patient care positions (like medical help phone hotlines) so she wouldn’t be around drugs at all.
It was a fortunate thing that she was in the medical field, because that profession is much better educated about addiction. She was sent to rehab programs over and over, without losing her livelihood. I would go visit her, in 6-month residential programs. She would be journaling, participating in group therapy, walking and working out, eating healthy foods - really putting her heart into the program. She would be enthusiastic and positive, and when she got out she was going to make it work this time, really she was! And then on the way home she’d steal a bottle of whatever she could get her hands on, and be wasted within hours of being released.
If you think addicts and alcoholics are merely low-life scum with no brains and fewer morals, who deserve the life they have for drinking or using drugs, then I’m here to tell you that you are wrong. Arrogant, ignorant, and wrong. It’s a mental illness. In the right circumstances, it could happen to you or someone you love. I hope it doesn’t. It’s hell for the addict and everyone around them.
Still think addicts should just stop? Tell me, how’s that diet going? Still smoking? Working out regularly like you know you should? Trying to cut back on sodas? Yeah… Glass houses, and all that. Try not breathing for a while. That’s how she described trying to stay clean. She simply could not do it. It’s true that only the addict can make the choice to get clean. Nobody can do it for them. But it’s also true that sometimes even they can’t do it. They can try and try, and still fail.
What I’ve seen more than addicts or alcoholics being “losers” is that they are sweet, gentle, sensitive people. In my experience they are kind, caring, and helpful. They want to be accepted and loved. We all do, but I think it’s a stronger need for them, to the point they will destroy themselves to get approval from others.
We need to take the shame out of alcoholism and addiction. It’s something that’s gone very wrong in a person’s brain, like any other mental illness. When something is shameful, people feel they need to hide it. How can anyone ask for support and get help if they can’t let anyone find out they have a problem? They are damned if they do ask for help, and damned if they don’t. We need to remember that they are people in need of help.
They say “talk to your kids about drugs and alcohol,” but I think we need to go deeper than that with kids. Get ahead of that, and talk to them about keeping their own integrity, being true to themselves, and not being so concerned with what others think of them. Teach them to trust their own good sense, and value their own opinion of themselves. Teach them that anyone who would encourage them to do something wrong or stupid isn’t their friend - isn’t worthy of their friendship. Teach them that having only one or two good friends, or no friends at all, is better than belonging to a group of the wrong people, however awesome they might seem. Of course teach them how to say no. But so much more important to teach them to be OK standing on their own. Help them find belonging and community in positive ways. In my experience the lesson barn and the martial arts dojo are two very good options.
If you are a very young person reading this, please don’t try addictive drugs or drink - at least not until you are well into your 20s. Not even once. Your brain isn’t ready to deal with it. You might make the choice freely the first time, but after that it might not be up to you, ever again. Some people just get hooked. If you are one of them, you are screwed, possibly for life, which may be very short and very unhappy. Don’t take the risk. If all your friends are doing it, find new friends. If all the cool kids are doing it, be uncool. Loneliness and the scorn of the in crowd won’t kill you. Really, it won’t. Drugs might.
Ideas for Seminar Organizers: Weapons
Having been to a good few seminars where weapons (wooden sticks, that is) were part of the training, I have some thoughts to share.
First, if you’re organizing a seminar, for heaven’s sake please be clear about whether participants should bring sticks or not. I have been left wondering many times, and either had to bring them just in case, or leave them home and hope they wouldn’t be needed. I’ve been wrong both ways.
Please give abundant notice. I’ve been part of a large group flying to a seminar where we were all scrambling two days before the event to buy and/or build airline-appropriate carrying tubes. Given that we were trying to get other things handled before traveling it would have been a lot easier to have dealt with the stick-transportation problem weeks ahead of time instead of at the last minute.
And after all that, we didn’t use them anyway. *headdesk*
Not everyone has their own weapons. Sometimes there are loaners available, sometimes not, and often not enough to go around. The first seminar I went to was actually a retreat, and was to be fairly weapons-centric. I rush-ordered an inexpensive set of weapons (and basically had to refinish them on arrival - the night before the event) to be sure I would be able to fully participate in the weekend’s training.
It’s great to have extras for participants to borrow. It’s a pretty iffy prospect for the participants, though. Maybe they’ll get one, maybe not. It seems there are always a few folks pantomiming what was shown, stick-less, during a seminar. It might be nice to specifically arrange loaners when people sign up. Another check box on the form: “Will you be [ ] bringing your own sticks, or [ ] need to borrow a set?” Members could help out by bringing any extras they have.
Also, as a participant, I bring whatever spares I can carry from my own small collection. Someone has always needed to use them. Encourage people to bring any they can share. Just be sure they are clearly marked. No one would deliberately run off with another student’s weapons (right?), but they could get them mixed up with the loaners or something. Make it easy for people to see who they belong to and return them.
Bringing sticks on planes can be expensive! On a recent trip my sticks tube, which counts as a checked bag, cost $25 each way. I split that with a friend (it holds two sets, plus one extra jo), but still… As an organizer be mindful of this when asking folks to bring their sticks along “just in case.”
There’s also the risk that they could be damaged or lost. I have a decent inexpensive set for “away” seminars. My good ones don’t go on planes. Good thing, too - on this last return trip my sticks took an extra day getting home, and for a while there the airline seemed to have no recollection of them at all.
Here are a couple of “out of the box” ideas for seminar organizers:
Provide a local address (the dojo, a member’s business…) where out of town participants could ship their sticks (or other heavy, big, or awkward things like sleeping bags, extra blankets, etc.) so they don’t have to schlep them on a plane.
If your dojo could use more sticks for general use in class or seminars, consider offering the option for participants to contribute to their purchase. For instance, buying this 10-pack of jo means they cost about $30 each. If a visiting seminar participant could “rent” a bokken and jo for $25 it could potentially save them (net) $25 in checked baggage fees, plus a lot of hassle in getting their own weapons to the seminar, and you’d have loaners for next time, and for your regular classes. After a few seminars they’d be fully paid off. Win-win!
At one big seminar locally, where lots of people travel to be there, they used only tanto. Easy to pack, no special luggage required. I thought that was a really thoughtful idea, and it was interesting to see how each of the instructors approached teaching with tanto.
I’d love to hear any other ideas for making it easier for people to get sticks to seminars, too!
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: