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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Owww… My Brain…
If my brain had a warning like my iPhone does it would be telling me that it’s overheating and needs to shut down for a while.
Today I got my “Your Group Fitness Instructor exam is one month from now” email from ACE, the American Council on Exercise. Yikes. I need to be totally prepared for this. Failing isn’t an option (although it’s certainly a possibility.) It’s going to take some serious effort over the next few weeks, but I have to nail it.
At the same time, I’m training diligently for my shodan (first black belt) test in Aikido. While the test isn’t until mid-December (thank goodness), there’s a run-through coming up in just two weeks. Lots more training to be done between now and then - and after, of course. I’m refining my focus, and really working on polishing the things I will need to demonstrate.
On the home front, the weather is cooling off a little, so it should be possible to finish more projects remaining from this year’s spring’s house renovation project. Something about the temperatures being in the 90s and 100s just saps one’s enthusiasm for that sort of thing.
I’ve gotten away from meditation, and “keep meaning to get back to it.” That starts now. I really need it. I need that settling down. With so many important things drawing me in conflicting directions it’s easy to feel scattered and overwhelmed, not knowing which to handle first. I need to find that centered, calm place from which to act effectively.
Should be an intense few weeks.
Don’t Buy Into This
A random thought I had while chatting with a friend just now…
I think a really serious public health problem in our country, or at least our culture, is the constant messaging we get about how things get worse as we get older. It results in a fatalistic hopelessness, where people stop trying to stay flexible, stay active, stay strong, etc. they excuse all their aches and pains and weaknesses as “I’m just getting old.” Not to say age doesn’t have its challenges, but if we give up and sit on the couch, we are way more screwed than if we had kept active.
An Intense Intensive
I have just returned from George Ledyard Sensei’s 4-Day Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside in Bellevue, Washington, near Seattle.
For my non-Aikido friends, randori is a multiple attacker scenario, usually one of you, three of them. It can be intimidating and exhausting training (and a lot of fun). Four days of it… Whoa.
I first heard of this seminar shortly after I started training in Aikido. At the time it had been offered for 20 years! It sounded amazing. Four full days of weapons and randori work. One of the intended audiences for the seminar is people preparing for dan (black belt) exams. The word “Intensive” isn’t just in the title to sound cool on the flyer.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to go? A learning experience and rite of passage rolled into one. I always thought it would be fun to take the train up, too! 1,500 miles. See a whole lot of the country on the way.
For the first few years I didn’t have the required rank (or skill, obviously) to go. When I first met Ledyard Sensei in person I mentioned that to him - that I was looking forward to the time I would be able to participate in this seminar.
Then last year, when I did qualify to go, budget and timing interfered. Also, knowing more about weapons I became concerned about that aspect. My training is based on Saito Sensei’s weapons, and theirs comes from Saotome Sensei. I don’t know their forms at all - not even some of the terminology. I thought I would be lost and in the way. Underfoot, you know.
So with that combination of factors in the mix I didn’t go. I gave up the whole idea of going. I figured I’d do a different seminar with Ledyard Sensei one day, but none really called to me the way this one had.
Life went on… My teacher asked me to test for shodan (first black belt) this coming December (2014), so I’ve been training extra diligently. I’m not working regular hours now, as I lay the foundation for a major career change. Meanwhile, Michael and I undertook some home renovations, and I happened to put all the purchases on my formerly-unused Amtrak mileage credit card to keep them separate.
Then this spring I saw the event listing for the upcoming 2014 seminar: “4-Day Randori Intensive with George Ledyard at Aikido Eastside.” Wait, what? Randori only! No weapons! The 25th year it’s been offered. “The 2014 seminar will be specifically geared to ASU Yudanhsa Test preparation and is intended for teachers preparing students for testing and test candidates and ukes. However, it is open to students from any organization.”
I had time. I had a free train trip. I had enough rank/experience. I had a yudansha exam coming up. OMG! It was perfect! How could I not go?
But being, ahem, “between careers” means money no longer grows on trees. Staying in a hotel and renting a car would have been a problem. I asked a friend who trains there if she knew of anyone who would let me crash on their couch, maybe in exchange for my paying their registration. Bless her heart (and her husband, too), she invited me to stay with them.
I registered for the seminar back in May, and made the train reservations (2 days each direction). Then I got my gis mended, ordered a shinai (more on that in a moment), and packed everything I might need for an adventure on rails and at the dojo. Finally I was really going to go!
I was pretty nervous, I’ll admit. Being on unfamiliar turf is always challenging. I tried to keep an open mind, remembering to enjoy and learn from whatever we did, but my hopes were so high there was a lot of potential for disappointment.
I was not disappointed in any way.
I knew the group would be small. It’s limited for maximum personal attention. But you know how sometimes the first day of a weekend seminar is even smaller because people can’t get Friday off work? Yeah… For the first morning we had four participants on the mat. Me, three sandans (if I recall correctly), and Ledyard Sensei, a rokudan instructor with 25 years experience teaching this particular seminar (and way more than that, overall). That’s some serious hands-on personal attention. There was no hiding in the back row here! As the weekend went on, more people arrived, but there was still constant attention to each student, with immediate and specific feedback, corrections, and coaching.
We worked on (among other things, and in no particular order) strategies for starting randori, direct techniques (dropping people where you wanted to), managing the relative positions of the attackers, using one attacker against the others (throwing them at each other, and using them as barriers or shields), seeing the lines of attack, judging (and creating) spacing and timing, executing techniques quickly (so as not to get bogged down with any one person), and getting out of trouble. We also worked on good (useful) ukemi for randori and with shinai, and safety in training at speed in groups.
Something completely new to me, but it’s on their tests, was randori with shinai. Three attackers wielding padded bamboo sticks. The techniques are like our bokken work (sword-like), but with shinai you can actually aim to clobber someone and not do any damage if they fail to get out of the way. That means the attackers don’t need to hold back when they come after you. We did several exercises in dealing with attackers coming from different directions, and I got to see a few full-speed shinai randori with people who were preparing for their exams.
On Saturday afternoon one of the dojo members took her shodan exam, too. I was lucky to be there to see it. It was a very impressive test!
I meant to do daily blog posts after the seminar each evening, but I was too mentally and physically exhausted, plus we had to get dinner, and needed to be up early the next morning, so that didn’t work out.
On the train ride home I alternated staring out the window with writing notes from everything I’d learned. It’s actually kind of hard to write on a train - too many distractions and too much being jostled about. But I wrote a bunch anyway. Assuming I can read my handwriting later I have a big chunk of a hardbound journal filled with notes, sketches, and ideas to play with and refer back to in coming months and years.
Something that has been particularly touching for me is everyone who made it possible for me to participate in this event. This was not just some random thing I thought it would be a hoot to do on a lark - it was a long time dream and goal to be there. I try to be a pretty independent, self-reliant person, but I simply could not have done this without a lot of support.
I’m so grateful to my friend and her husband for making it possible for me to be there. I’ve been on that side of hosting people during seminars, and while it can be fun it’s still a major disruption to deal with a house guest when you’re already quite busy enough as it is. They and their cats were awesome hosts, and I really enjoyed my time with them. I hope I can repay their gracious hospitality someday.
Much appreciation to my husband, Michael, for making it possible for me to be away from home. He took over care of feeding of our donkey, an assortment of cats, and a friendly raccoon who expects dinner each night, not to mention keeping our acre of thirsty trees happy during hot weather. Plus he did a bunch extra yard work while I was away! Oh, and got me to the train station at oh-dark-hundred, and then picked me up again in the wee hours when I came home.
I so appreciate everyone at the Intensive. Some folks had participated many times before, and are teachers in their own right. I was the newbie in the bunch, and the lowest-ranked, but they never let me feel like an outsider. They made me feel right at home at the dojo, and were generous and gracious in their coaching on the mat. But no taking it easy on the new kid - they were determined that I should do my best, and worked with me with warmth, compassion, and high expectations. And for that I humbly thank them. :-)
Most importantly, many thanks to George Ledyard Sensei for his attentive, demanding, thoughtful teaching, for leading such a great community of aikidoka. Oh, and for some pretty funny stories over lunches, too. I hope to have many more opportunities to train with him.
Whether you have heard of this seminar for years and just haven’t gotten around to going, or are learning of it for the first time here, go. Put it on your 2015 calendar now, and just go. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Every aspect of the event exceeded my already high hopes. It was challenging, technical, fun, useful, supportive, demanding, friendly, detailed, clear, funny, and intense. It definitely lives up to its name.
Photos from the 2014 Randori Intensive on Facebook:
Randori, Day 1
Today was the first day of the Randori Intensive with George Ledyard Sensei at his dojo, Aikido Eastside, in Bellview, Washington. This is going to be a short post because I’m tired, and tomorrow starts early and will make today look easy. :-)
I had a great trip up on the train. I will post photos eventually, but it may not be until I get back. It’s a pretty busy weekend here. I’m lucky to be staying with a friend whose also doing the seminar (she’s done it several times before, too). We had a lovely day yesterday, out walking among trees and along a lakeshore.
This morning was a relatively small group on the mat, so tons of personal attention. Immediate, specific, detailed feedback and coaching. Some of it is familiar, some is similar to “how we do things back home,” just presented in different ways, and some of it is flat-out new or different. No pretense of “beginner’s mind” here — I really have to stay open, watch and listen closely, and try to do what I see and hear without thinking about it.
Attending to so many things at once is the most challenging part. I remember to irimi behind my partner, and forget to keep my base. Or I keep my base and forget to drop down into the technique. A lot of it is new info, but a lot is also stuff I know, and forget while I’m focusing on something else. So that’s a fun challenge.
It’s mentally and physically exhausting. Mostly mentally. I always have this experience when going to a new dojo - everything is different.
I’d best be rested for tomorrow. Off to sleep. :-)
On the Road Again!
I’m off to a seminar in the morning. This time I’ll be taking the train from San Diego to Seattle (39 hours each way!) to participate in George Ledyard Sensei’s 2014 Labor Day Weekend Randori Intensive at Aikido Eastside. Funny… My last train trip was also to train with Ledyard Sensei. Cool!
I’m just ridiculously excited about it! I’ve been wanting to do both this seminar, and a long train trip, for years. Now I get to do both. Plus I get to meet and hang out with another of my fellow writers on The Mirror team from AikiWeb, Katherine Derbyshire, plus a bunch of other folks. Woohoo!
I will be posting a lot for the next week or so. Some of it won’t be directly about Aikido - lots of photos, random observations, etc.. Follow along!
Inner Peace, World Peace
I really enjoyed today’s seminar with Richard Moon Sensei and Dave Goldberg Sensei at Aikido of San Diego. The subject was “Aikido is Medicine for a Sick World.” We may not have solved all the world’s woes, but generated some good insights, and maybe made a few connections and shifts within ourselves. Afterward, at lunch, we decided it was a good training for mind, body, and spirit.
In related news, I’ve been feeling really overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure with everything I need to get done before leaving for Seattle at oh-dark-hundred on Tuesday morning. I’m determined to have all my preparations done by Monday afternoon before class. Months ago I had a long, complicated nightmare about missing the train, in spite of last-minute scrambling to throw everything together. I’m determined not to live it out in real life. LOL I’ve been feeling pretty stressed about it, actually - sure I’ll forget something critical, or run into some problem that will screw up my trip. Now, after an intense 4 hours of working on dealing with pressure, blending with multiple attackers, and moving into the open spaces, I’m feeling a lot calmer and more capable of seeing and managing the big picture instead of staring in panic at ever little detail (attack). I can see the whole system, and it’s something I can handle just fine. It’s not world peace (yet), but it’s my peace, and it’s a start.
Aikido is Medicine for a Sick World
We have a seminar coming up at our dojo a week from Sunday, with the teaching inspired by the O Sensei quote “Aikido is medicine for a sick world.” A couple of weeks ago when it was announced it seemed very appropriate in light of the fighting between Israel and Palestine. Right now Ferguson, MO (and many other places in the US) seems to need the same healing and reconnecting.
We cannot have police forces that see people as the enemy, who aim weapons at peaceful protesters. We have to get back in touch with our shared humanity. There is no “us" versus "them.”
I found this quote from a news article telling, and chilling:
“We’ve done everything we can to demonstrate a remarkable amount of restraint,” St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said in an interview outside the command post.
Restraint? Restraint from doing what? It implies they would like to be more violent, more forceful, but are trying to hold themselves back. It comes across to me as if a large, angry, powerful man had just backhanded a child, and then expects to be congratulated for showing restraint for not beating the kid further.
Police must not act out of anger. They are supposed to care for and protect their community. They should act appropriately, and with the least amount of force possible under the circumstances. If they need to “restrain themselves” something has gone very wrong in the underlying thinking.
It sounds like “Don’t make me have to hit you again!”
We have lost our collective minds - or maybe our hearts - when somehow two young friends walking down the street at night, bothering no one, escalates within seconds to one of them being shot dead by a man who was supposed to be protecting them.
There’s a lot that’s right in the world, but this sickness needs to be cured, and “we” have cure it. We.
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?