Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Gratitude - 2009

I have had much to be grateful for this year. I am blessed with good friends, a smart, healthy son, some great guidance by an amazing teacher, and I was able to buy my condo this year. I am grateful for the gifts that I receive in the form of family, friendships, advice, all the small and big things that have given me the ability to grow, learn and love.

I have understood and made the distinction that, although we come across many instructors in our professional and personal lives, we come across so few teachers. A true teacher has the ability to transcend the discipline they teach and relate it back to our lives. They make their art truly alive and pertinent to our lives. I am grateful for the ability to be under the tutelage of my Aikido teacher, Bob.

Twitter and facebook have, remarkably, been a place that I have been able to connect, reconnect and meet new people with common interests. I am grateful for the many people behind the @names on twitter, and all those that I have friended on facebook. For some it may seem trite and irrelevant to have and cultivate online relationships, but there are people behind their twitter handles that have some great things to say. Some have become closer to me than I would have thought possible in such a medium. I stay grateful, happy and welcome for these friendships.

Moving into the new year and new decade, I wish you all much growth, love and happiness. I hope that we all can love the simple things: family, friendships and warm hearts. Happy New Year.

Onegai shimasu (Let us begin)!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Aikido, conflict and the basics of Tai no Henko

One of the things that attracted me to the art of Aikido early on was the metaphor it used to conflict resolution. In aiki terms we talk about getting off the line of an attack, this was expressed with the example of someone on a train track. While it would be foolish to either run toward the train to stop it, or run away from the train to escape it, the most simple thing to do would be to jump off the track so that the train goes by.

Recently, one of our students very earnestly asked the reason we practice tai no henko. The teacher offered his answer and I have thought a bit more about this. It was one of the first things I learned, not just the actual technique but the "why" as well, that attracted me.

For people that may not be familiar, tai no henko is a basic practice where you and your partner stand facing each other. Your partner as the attacker (uke) reaches out to grab your wrist. When your wrist is grabbed, you (nage) step slightly to the side, turn and extend your arms out in the direction your partner is facing. Your partner holds on, keeping the connection throughout the technique.

A video on youtube is worth a thousand words:

For me, tai no henko is a beautiful practice. Metaphorically, it encompasses all we know about Aikido in the exercise. Standing face to face with your partner represents conflict. The wrist grab represents intention. Stepping off the line of the attack shows the willingness not to fight back but to let the attack go by, and the turning of the body represents the harmonious blending with your partner.

A while ago, Sensei talked about Aikido being the "third option", the other opportunity to express besides the fight or flight modes we find ourselves in sometimes with work, our personal lives, etc. I see that tai no henko is a wonderful expression of this. It is a basic building block of our art for this reason and in our training, we should look at this exercise as a time to practice Aiki just as seriously as any other technique. It is not "that thing you do till you get to the good stuff." it's all good stuff!

Onegai shimasu!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Week 7 day 1 - back to the regularly scheduled program

I'm at week 7 of my routine. Circuit exercises for 30 minutes a day, 3 times a week at the local gym. I've seen a slow but steady increase in strength and endurance. Around week 3 I started going back to Aikido again, 3 days a week. I used some social networking tools like twitter and blogging as a way to make myself accountable for my work outs. This seems to have worked for me pretty well.

So, I have my routine now, built into my week. I feel that the next step is to not be vocal about it but just do it. I'm trying to forego the "it ain't real unless you post it somewhere" syndrome and allow myself the ability for accountability within my own head. For the 2 or 3 people that have read my blogs for the past few weeks, Thanks!

Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming.

Onegai shimasu!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Week 6 is done

I'm trying to catch my breath. I've been quite busy, but did want to jot down a quick post to note that I've finished Week 6. I didn't post on Wednesday or Friday. However, I think it's more important to actually do the task at hand rather than lament over why I didn't blog it. :D

So, Wednesday went well. Friday, not so much. I was tired. Long nite. That's ok. I'm out to Aikido in a few hours, will add an additional day on Sunday, and will start week 7 on Monday. All good! One thing I need to be more mindful of. My times at the gym are slipping. I wanted to get there in the AM starting at 6:30. I haven't hit that once in the last few weeks. I need to get better at that.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Week 6 day 1

OK, I made it. I think I'm coming down with a cold but I made it to the gym. After the first couple exercises I felt warmed up and was able to work at an almost normal pace. Last night I attempted some jumping jacks to start my calisthenics a few times a week and unfortunately heard a "click click click" in my shoulder. I still have some pain in my right shoulder from a fall I took at Aikido a little more than a week ago. I will ask my teacher to look at it on Thursday if I'm still in pain and by then, may go to the doc.

Till then, slow and steady is the way to go for me. If I can't go at full pace, I CAN go at a reduced pace. I'm going to add one more day too to fill in my tuesday. So hopefully by the end of the week I will have blogged "Week 6 day 4".

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflecting on the Esoteric Teachings of Professor Okazaki

After our Aikido class yesterday I had lunch with one of my Friends, Jim. We talked a bit about how we started in martial arts. I told him that my fist exposure was not in Aikido, but was in fact in Ju Jitsu when I was a kid, around the same age that my son is now. I asked him if he had ever heard about Danzan Ryu Ju Jitsu and he said that he had not. Danzan Ryu was founded in the late thirties by Professor Seishiru Okazaki and was the form of martial art that I started learning for a few years way back in my child hood.

I told him about the esoteric teachings as described by Danzan Ryu's O' Sensei, Seishiru Okazaki. I believe that every martial artist should know and understand these principles. A translation of his esoteric principles can be found here:

To paraphrase and abbreviate:
  • Have gratitude to your teachers
  • Be gracious to your family
  • Be a productive citizen of your country
  • Do not be afraid of the strong or despise the weak
  • Show restraint and modesty
  • Be a good teacher to those who need it
  • Train hard and learn diligently
  • Remain calm in crisis
I love the fact that the art I started with is rooted in such love and respect. These are principles that can be used regardless of the art. These are principles one can use to cultivate themselves as growing and loving men and women.

In his esoteric principles he describes his art as Judo, elevated from Ju Jitsu and claims it to be a "finer moral concept called Judo, 'the way of Gentleness'". I am greatly moved by Professor Okazaki's esoteric principles. As he refers to "Judo" I do not believe he is referring to a series of techniques making up his art. Rather, he is referring to the more esoteric "way of gentleness" that needs to be cultivated to become a better person and live a better life. To end this morning, here is a quote from the esoteric principles:

"Remember always parental love and one's enormous indebtedness to teachers. Be grateful for the protection of Heaven and Earth. Be a good leader to younger men. To lead younger men well, will in the long run, mean to attain proficiency in the skill of Judo."
- Professor Seishiru "Henry" Okazaki

Friday, November 27, 2009

Week 5 Day 3 - Wahooo!

Alrighty, then. It is the day after thanksgiving and I've completed Week 5 day 3. I've made it to hte gym 3 times a week for 5 weeks. I've added Aikido 3x a week for the last couple of weeks, and have gotten a walk in a few times a week as well. I think that this is a good mile stone. I think it's time for me to add some calisthenics at home now.

An excellent resource for calisthenic exercise is here:

The exercises provided here are good basic core, arm and leg exercises. No gimmicks, just the promotion of natural movement. Back to basics as it were. Tomorrow, I think I'll start with that and then move on into monday where I will start week 6, day 1 and Aikido that evening.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 5 day 2 - short and sweet

OK, I got to the gym today and went through the circuit. I was at about 80% capacity weight wise, taking care to rest my shoulder. The take away from today... I made it, I got back into my routine, and my goal of consistency is still being met. Yay me!

For my friend, Linda Eskin

Linda has been writing about Aikido and states that she is a beginner. She is new on the mat. I do not believe she's been training longer than a year. She maintains a blog at and writes everyday.

Aikido is lucky to have such an enthusiastic student. It is sometimes easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the art, and lose the big picture. We sometimes use terms like "beginner's mind" as just some things to say and forget that we should keep this mind set always. Linda's wonderment of our art and appreciation of how it affects her personal, spiritual and professional life is nothing short of awe inspiring.

Recently, she wrote the following:
and it reminded me of a meeting we had at our work once. One of the chairs from our parent company came and talked about the stages of competence. Those stages are:
  • unconsciously incompetent
  • consciously incompetent
  • consciously competent
  • unconsciously competent
As an example of this, take someone who has always wanted to learn French. They go about their lives not realizing that there is a desire to learn the language and being unconscious about their inability.

Perhaps they go to a French movie and are moved by the tonal qualities of the language, see on the screen the expressive involvement that the attributes of the language allow for and realize that they do not know this language and want to learn it. They are now conscious about their incompetence in the language.

They go take a class, and another, and then another. They first struggle with "Oui" and "merci" but after a semesters worth of classes, they are now able to ask where the bathroom is, who put the pen on the table, and please pass the snails. They are now consciously working to be competent in the French language.

Then, after years of practice, studying, reading Voltaire, Baudelaire and Proust, trips to France, and discipline, they now can dream in French. They understand the small subtleties of the French Language. They can talk on a philosophical level with ease on the nature of man, God, and our universe. French, now has become as easy as breathing. They have become unconsciously competent in their mastery of the language.

This process happens in our art. I really appreciate Linda's blog, and I enjoy the metaphor from her recent post, "Scanning the instruments". When we do this more and more, we become more adept at our art, whatever that art may be. We can have that instrumental scan happen on a deeper level and as a part of habit verses conscious effort.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Week 5 day 1 - On persistence

Recently, Robert Nadeau Sensei did a series of seminars. The theme was "Don't ask what you have to do to get 'this' done. Ask who you have to be."

I regret not going, however, I can do some thinking about this theme and take it to my own conclusions. There is a saying in T'ai Chi, "The mind moves the chi and the chi moves the body." I think that both of these thoughts are extremely profound. I am finding that both of I can enact both of these themes in my life, then I can live better and healthier.

I am one for small examples. I think that it is much more worth our endeavors to have small examples of positive action and thought than one big one. We can create small examples many more times than we can create the big ones. So, my small example today is this:

I took a fall in Aikido on Saturday. We were doing some free form training (Jiyu waza) and as I uke'd for my training partner, I got tangled up in his legs as he threw me. Rather than roll out of the throw I came straight down on my shoulder. I had never hurt myself in Aikido before and felt upset that I let this happen to me. I quickly thought that all of my efforts for the last few weeks would be for naught and that I would not be able to go to the gym for a few days or train.

But, Nadeau Sensei asks of us, "Who do we have to be to be to get 'this' done?" I think I know the answer. I have to be persistent, determined, patient and consistent. This doesn't mean killing myself. This does mean taking care of my shoulder with ice, ibuprofun and arnica cream and waiting till I got up this morning to see if I could go to the gym. My shoulder still hurt. It wasn't as bad as Saturday or Sunday but it still hurt. Well, there are other things I can do there. I can jump on an elliptical rider for 30 minutes. So I dd. 30 minutes. I may do this again on Wednesday and then attempt weights again on Friday. Part of the process for me is just simply knowing my limits, and working with them. This means I need to neither over or underestimate them. I can't lift, but I can walk. So I'll walk.

OK, I have to start my day now. See you next time.

Onegai shimasu!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Week 4 Day 3 - patience

Today I completed my last work out of my 4th week. I am seeing the benefits of being more consistent in my training. I keep on adding weight, even just a little at a time. I'm also managing to get back to the dojo a few times a week. Currently, my schedule looks something like:

m - 30 min circuit, Aikido class at nite
W - 30 min circuit
Th - Aikido
F - 30 min circuit
S - Aikido

I've also started "brisk walks" around my campus at work. Walking is a simple thing that I keep on forgetting to do. Recently we added .25 mile markers. Once around is 1.2 miles and takes about 20 min walking briskly. I can fit that in too.

So things are good. Consistency helps in many different areas, my work, my social life, and lately, I've been feeling pretty good being more active. Next week, in the spirit of patience and not overdoing it. i'll just add a few walks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Week 4 day 2 - short but sweet

I finished week 4 day two. I didn't want to go today but made myself. As it turns out I'm still gaining strength, and am able to add 5 lbs here and 10 lbs there on some machines while maintaining good steady technique.

Onward to Week 4 day 3 on Friday!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Silent Conversation of Birds

Originally uploaded by markdeso

I was watching two crows fly around a pond a few days ago. They both flew as if they were one. Keeping the same distance between them, they knew when to turn, whether they were going left or right, how far of an angle or how much of a curve they would make on their flight path as they circled the pond, and whether they would ascend or descend. This happened with no audible signal, just an innate "knowing" between the two.

I wonder how I can cultivate that in my life. How I can tune in to my friends, coworkers, family, my partner with the same "knowing". Conversation is always a good thing. Knowing how to ask for something, how to receive it and being able to communicate verbally is a wonderful skill. The birds went beyond this though. I yearn to have that magic in my life, where a relationship can transcend the verbal communication.

As humans, we depend on verbal communication. I very much enjoy the act of sharing my thoughts, dreams, stories, jokes and fears with people close to me. Conversations of the heart are an important part of human interaction. There are other conversations though, and if we look, dig inside, and know us intimately we can have them as well.

We have learned a lot from animals. Scientists gain perspective on the nature of play by watching bear cubs frolick. They gain perspective of familial activities by watching apes tend to their young. They gain perspective on group think by herd animals. Shaolin monks copied the snake, the mantis, the tiger, to incorporate into their fighting styles. I look to the skies and am amazed and intrigued. I want to be able to have a conversation with someone I love dearly, transcending words and voice. I want to be able to gain perspective on the silent conversations of birds.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Week 4 day 1 - secret of consistancy

I'm figuring out that the secret to consistancy is to simply be consistant. I see people at my gym that live there. I decided a few weeks ago that I can do 3 days a week, and that I will do that faithfully. Part of the reason I blog is to keep a running tab on my work outs. When I look back at a string of tweets that say "Week x day y" i can feel that I've achieved something. I've added consistancy in my life, just a little bit more.

Last week I made it to the dojo three times on top of the three circuit work outs in the AM. I will commit to the dojo atleast twice a week for the next couple weeks and be happy if I can get a third class in too.

A good friend of mine is a personal trainer and is part owner of Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Carlos, CA. I remember a conversation a long time ago where he told me, that we shouldn't exercise to get stronger so we can go back to the gym and exercise and be stronger to go back to the gym and exercise more. He said that we should be going because being fit allows us to do run with our kids, play ball with them, enjoy a long walk, take a nice hike with someone we care about. Likewise, my Aikido teacher says that we should not live to train but train to live.

I'm glad that I'm reminded of this. So, week 4 day 1 is done. Just that much stronger and that much better on the stairs. Maybe one of these days I will be able to wrestle my son again and not be pinned inside of two minutes!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

After the third week

3 facts about the number 3:
  • This is the end of my 3rd week of being back to the gym
  • I've committed to 3 days a week and have fulfilled my commitment thus far
  • I've made it to 3 Aikido classes this week
So all in all this has been a good few weeks. I'm thankful for consistency in my life. I'm thankful for people who care about my progress. So, it is Sunday AM. It is cold in the house... I think it's time to turn on the heater and do some T'ai Chi.

Onegai shimasu!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Week 3 day 2 - corrections and trivia

I just realized the last post I put up said "Day 3, week 2" when it should have been the other way... Week 3, day 2. I will correct this.

I don't have much but still feel the need to post past 140 characters via twitter. I went to Aikido last night. Sensei teaches Thursdays and Saturdays. it was good to see him and the class. Apparently, the bulk of the dojo is up for their next rank at the next test in about 5 weeks. I'm happy for them but feel a bit put out that I was not one of the candidates. However, it's obvious why I am not. They put in the time and I have not. They have dedicated 3 or 4 days a week and for the last 6 mos I was averaging 2 days a week at best. I didn't show up at all for the month of October. So, while I'm a little put out, it's clearly my issue. The training is there and it's available for me, I need to show the discipline to at least show up.

By design, Aikido does not have competitions. O' Sensei believed that the only competition and only victory can be over one's self. So rather than put out, I will work on the competition within. "True Victory is self victory, right here right now." I wish my fellow classmates much luck in this round of Kyu tests and will be there to help them as their peer.

Onegai Shimasu!

ps. Week 3 Day 3 went pretty well actually.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Week 3 Day 2 - of faith and inspiration

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

I would rather learn from the multitude of small lessons that we can find hidden under rocks, inside a smile, in the gentle nod of a person walking by, then the bigger lessons. The smaller lessons can teach us much and are much more abundant if we look.

Today, I worked out, I was tired. I am still working at a good pace, but I was more tired than the last time. I will have faith that this will get easier. I in fact have seen it happen, so I will have faith that this journey isn't a constant arrow up, but rather a set of stairs that go in an upward direction, with the occasional step or two backward.

I like to think metaphorically, my work out is not isolated from other parts of life. It is an exercise in determination, just like my work day is, just like my Aikido, just like my relationships, and just like the inner work I do to be an open and loving man. Everything compliments. Compartmentalization leads to exactly that, a house that is not a house. A weird quirk of physics where it is a house, but all the rooms are separate from each other.

So I will have faith that my work outs will get better, which leads me to believe that if I can have faith in that, then I can have faith in bigger things... which leads me to the fact that I can have faith that this burgeoning, crazy love I have for a woman 2000 miles away will work out for us. We have to think (dare i say it... dare i say it...) out of the box, (ooooh snap, i hate that corporate speak, but i said it... shoot me) and unconventionally for our relationship to take root, grow and blossom. i am up for this, and so is she.

Of inspiration, I look to my beautiful friends Jennifer and Kirk. They were high school friends when Jen moved away, got married and spent 20 years in Canada. Somehow they found each other again. This inspires me greatly to see that love can thrive through the miles. I am touched deeply by their love of each other and inspired that I can in fact have that as well.

Till next time, Onegai shimasu!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Week 3 Day 1

I've decided that 140 characters are not sufficient to relay my thoughts for my morning work outs. Read it, don't read it... it's ok! :D These are for me to reflect on. So it's ok if you roll your eyes. It's ok if you don't read. I'm going to commit to these posts for a period of 4 weeks. That will put me at week 6 by the time I'm done. So...

Some things I noticed:
Today there was a beautiful sun rise in Northern California. The hue of red and gold and blue that God painted on the sky was truly spectacular. Before I walked into the gym I took a moment to look, breath in and breath out.

I do have been doing the 30 minute circuit at my gym. This is similar to the Curves set up where there are step stations and weight machines, 10 each, interwoven so it's machine, step, machine step, etc. They have a light that turns green for 60 seconds and red for 30. On the first station for 60, off for 30, onto first stepstation for 60, and off for 30 till you're done. My first goal in this is to do this consistantly. I've committed to MWF in the AMs. I did this for two weeks and now I'm on to my third.

This third week I want to add two more activities. I haven't been to Aikido in about a month due to work being so crazy but I'm yearning to go back. I will do that today with my son. I will try and get a walk around the building a couple times sometime this week as well.

My biggest two issues have been (not just for exercise but for many things) patience and discipline. This process is a good exercise in building both.

At many Aikido dojos, we greet our partners with the term, "onegai shimasu." It roughly translates to "Shall we begin?". I think about this today, because regardless of whether class has begun, is almost over, are training partners stepped on the mat today or have been training along side us for years, we still say, "Onegae shimasu." I hear this in my head to myself, "Onegae shimasu, Mark. Shall we begin, Mark?" I answer with a resounding yes!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Multicultural Food and Music Festival

I just came back from this and feel the need to try and reach EVERYBODY that is local to come and support this event. This is a two day event, it's free and the music was awesome. My son and I arrived when a duet was performing French folk music. We had a great local representation of restaurants including Bear Korean, El Malecon (awesome pupusas), Las Guitarres (bbq'd oysters!), Siam BBQ, and possibly the best corn dog I've ever had. Sukhawat Ali Khan performed with top notch musicians playing the sitar, tablas and digiridoo. There were probably 3 or 4 more acts before we came and one more htat was going to close the show.

The owner of Masala Jack's in Cotati and Zone Music helped with this event. The only thing that was sad to see was the lack of attendance. The festival is FREE people! The restaurants represented offered reasonable prices for lunch and snacks and there were some other very fun vendors selling everything from donkey books (yea you'd have to see them) to jewelry, to other typical festival fare.

I was most impressed at How Sukhawat Ali Khan performed in the midst of maybe 150 people at most. I saw him at the Harmony Festival in 2008 and he played his heart out. That was a full crowd. He played with the same energy and love for the 150 or so people that were gathered sparcely today.

They are going to have another day of this tomorrow, October 11th from 11am to 6pm. The festival is located at Old Redwood and 116, right across the street from Zone Music in Cotati, California.

People, this is a great opportunity to enjoy some music you don't hear everyday. It's also a great FREE thing to do, especially in tough times like these. I feel so proud of the local businesses that helped put this together. My hat goes off to Zone Music and Masala Jack's for doing this. If you don't get out there, then please support these guys:

Zone Music -
Masala Jack's -
Bear Korean -
Las Guitarras -
El Malecon -

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lessons from a master

Our Aikido school took a field trip today to the Asian Arts Museum in San Francisco. Currently, they are running an exhibit called "The Lords of the Samurai" that had artifacts depicting the cultural and combative aspects of fuedal Japan. It was a beautiful exhibit and amongst many beautiful displays, they had a calligraphy piece from Takuan Soho, several paintings from Miyamoto Musashi and one of the earliest editions of the Book of Five Rings.

We specifically went for an iaido demonstration given by one of the worlds foremost masters of iaido, Sensei Seigen Esaka, Hanshi 10th Dan, who practices the Muso Jikiden Eishen Ryu style of iaido. The demonstration was very modest. Sensei Esaka spoke for about 50 minutes through a translator describing Iaido from a historical perspective, gave some insight of his own involvement and growth in his art, and spoke about the tenets he has found through his sincere and dedicated practice.

It is an interesting thing to have a master who has dedicated his life to his art offer up these thoughts. We tend to think that we are going to hear some secrets of the universe when a man of his caliber offers up his thoughts after so many years of training. In fact, we did hear them. I will boil them down to four (and paraphrase badly). They are very simple:
  • Live and let live
  • Strive to get along with everyone
  • be dedicated to your art
  • Chose to always grow in your education of life
This is a beautiful confirmation of what we learned as 5 year olds, as 10 year olds, as 20 year olds, as adults. It is a glorious fact that we do in fact have our answers right in front of us. We do not have to go to mountain tops and fast for 40 days, we do not have to dedicate our lives to practices. We have our answers and they are the same ones we were told when we were children.

Esaka Sensei's demonstration was beautiful. There were only a handful of actual sword strikes he performed. They were not particularly fast, but there was something so beautiful about his expression of Iai. His movement was so fluid, so second nature, that his sword strikes are akin to how he breathes or how he walks. I was truly moved by the mastery of his movement, the distillation of his art and the simple essence of his sword.

Watching him reminds me of the prelude to the book "The Mastery of Music" where the author writes:

Isaac Stern was on the phone, speaking in advance of an appearance with the Detriot Symphony Orchestra in which he was to play the Bruch Violin Concrto. This was the fall of 1997. The great violinist was now seventy-seven years old, and it was no secret that his once impeccable techical command of the violin, purity of tone, and intonation had all deteriorated significantly from his prime. And yet Stern's performances still often managed to startle audiences with a dpepth of emotion and intellect that put to shame many of the whis kids that populate the concert scene, whippersnappers who can breeze through the entire standard literature without many any mistakes - and without making any music either.

How, I asked Stern, did he do it? How did he manage to retain ihis artistry when the calendar had robbed him of his hard-won dexterity, stamina, and perhaps even some of his power of concentration? Stern, who could be as charming as a kitten or as gruff as a grouchy hound, sometimes in the same breath, paused for a moment. "Of course there's a difference from how I once played," he growled. "That's not the point. The question is how I use what I can do." Then his voice softened, as if he was about to share a secret. "Technique is not music," he continued. "Music is the thousandth of a millisecond between one note and another; How you get from one to the other - that's where the music is."

Esaka Sensei's performance, not the start or the end of his strike, but how he got from one to the other showed a brilliant, elegant mastery of his art. It was truly an honor to be able to witness such a wondrous display. The message he left us with today transcends cultures and history:
  • Live and let live
  • Strive to get along with everyone
  • be dedicated to your art
  • Chose to always grow in your education of life

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Beginners Mind - Reflecting on my son's first Aikido test

My son is taking his 5th Kyu test in Aikido today. Although there will be other tests in his life on the mat, in school, in his career, this is his first in Aikido. He already has major accomplishments in Tae Kwon Do, currently ranked as a 2nd degree black belt, active in his school, displaying leadership skills, training hard and training joyfully.

I see him on the mat and it thrills me to no end to watch him grow in another art. It also makes me happy that his first test, gives him another avenue to explore: humility. I have no doubt that he will grow quickly in Aikido. He's athletic, coordinated, and picks up things extremely fast. He has a wonderful attitude and is always helpful. I hope that his test today is a reminder to always take with him a beginners mind, he keeps his mind open to new things, he continues to train joyfully, expresses the things in his heart. I hope that the short 5 minutes on the mat act as a simple reminder to him of all of these things. I also hope he doesn't beat up his uke (me) too badly during those 5 minutes. :)

Onegaishimasu! (Let us begin)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

So now I'm on the far side of my 40s

A couple of days ago I celebrated my 46th birthday. The day before my sweet friend Tania took me to a wonderful dinner. I contemplated a couple of things I wanted to do on my birthday, and decided that I wanted to celebrate it alone, in my new home. For anyone that follows me on twitter or has friended me on facebook, they know that I have recently purchased a bank owned property, spent a couple of weeks painting and cleaning, and finally moved over the 4th of July weekend.

I wanted to make this a creative environment, so I took the time to paint the down stairs a combination of Butterfield Yellow, Jalapeno Red, and Sage Green. That, combined with a burgundy couch sold to me by my friend Rochana, an 8' x 11' rug I found on craigslist, my photos and a couple guitars hung on the wall (also aided by above mentioned friend Tania), and I think I have a nice place to come home to.

A big part of this was having my son help me. I wanted him to build some sweat equity into this place and feel that he worked to create the environment that we have. He really stepped up and did a great job. He was focused, willing and a very hard worker. I hope that he remembers this for the rest of his life.

So back to my birthday. I really wanted to spend the time at home. I planned on going to Aikido class, but had a few more things I needed to do at home. So my birthday was spent like any other day. Sorting some things, hanging out on facebook and twitter. It was also spent in quiet contemplation of some goals I've achieved, thanking God and being grateful for the friends and family I have, the job that I go to, and the many wonderful teachers in my life. My birthday was spent like any other day, or at least most days. If I can do that on most days, then my life is pretty wonderful.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day is done

And today pretty much couldn't have been a more perfect day. Breakfast at Tubby's in Cotati is something my son and I do once or twice a month so it was fitting that we started there. We drove out to the coast and rented Kayaks from John at Lotus Kayaks (707 865-9604). John is a really friendly guy and has ridiculously reasonable prices for his kayak rentals. $20 bucks for the half day for singles.

The mouth of the river was actually closed at this time of the year, unusual for the Russian River. We kayaked toward the beach area and pulled our boats up onto the beach. Did some T'ai Chi in the sand and wind, and practiced for Steven's 5th Kyu test in Aikido. We had a chance to play a little hide and seek, take in more of the beach, and then kayaked back. We paddled around the island in the river and made our way back to dock. John met us there and helped us pull up our kayaks. The people in Jenner are very friendly. I stopped briefly to talk to a couple selling tie dyed shirts and they were pleased as punch to talk.

On our way back we stopped by the touristy area in Duncan's Mills. There are some nice stores and artist's galleries there. In particular, the nice gentleman at Jim and Willie's Antiques was friendly and cheerful. Willie didn't say much. He preferred to sit on Jim's lap and have his belly rubbed. (Willie is a bichon frise that is almost as cute as a certain Shi tzu I know named Lilikoi.) Worldy Goods is a nice store with fun fair trade oddities. We spent a bit of time there looking at the art and antiques and talked for a few minute with one of the woman at Worldly Goods. She was very sweet and helpful last year taking a special order for me and calling me when it was ready. The item was a flying pig that I bought for my mom on her birthday. Goofy? yep!

Cafe des Jemelle in Monte Rio is a great little place for lunch. Once or twice a year I throw my diabetes to the wind and have lunch there and finish it off with a deep fried banana split. They had just about the best rueban I've ever had and after we got to play pool in the bar while enjoying our dessert. Coming home we cranked up Third Eye Blind, Oasis, The Replacements and The Police.

Steven is a great companion to go on trips with. He is always helpful, always seems to have fun when we go places and, well just makes it so perfect to be a dad. I'm totally glad to have had this time to share with him today!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's day

The eve before her daughter's birthday, my friend Alicia commented online about how she remembered that night. How she remembers the music, the labor and the beautiful anticipation of welcoming her daughter into the world. As a man, I can't possibly know what it's like to go through the throes of labor. I can absolutely remember the anticipation I felt welcoming my son into this world. On the eve of his birthdays, I can the hospital, the joy and anticipation both he and his mom had. We wondered if he was going to have a huge head of hair or if he was going to be bald. (He was bald). He didn't cry a lot. Only when he needed to be fed.

I've have been honored with the opportunity of being a father, offering my son love and guidance. I've had the supreme pleasure of watching our infant son grow to the young, respectable, funny, thoughtful boy that he is today. I remember telling his mother, that i didn't care if he had a face only we could love, I didn't care if he was slow to learn in school, if he couldn't catch a ball, if he wasn't coordinated. My only wish was that he be nice and kind. He has grown to be a nice and kind boy. He's also very smart and handsome. I saw him excel past the other children when he took up baseball or soccer. I saw him bloom and grow when he took up Tae Kwon Do. I saw his determination when he decided that Tae Kwon Do was his main passion and he put his heart and soul into his art, dropping baseball and soccer, achieving his first degree blackbelt when he was 10 and his second degree when he was 12. I see him always helpful to his mother and respectful to me.

Father's Day is a day when us men who have had the opportunity to be blessed with the title "father" be honored. I am honored as a dad. I am honored because of my beautiful son. The life he lives daily honors both of his parents. I in turn, honor the memory of my father by striving to be a dedicated father to my son. i am forever grateful that I had a hand in bringing my son into this world, and try everyday to be the best dad I can.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Third Option

Every six months or so our Aikido dojo holds a beginners day. We open up the dojo for our sensei's energy class, Yang style Tai Chi and Aikido to the public. This gives opportunity for our Sensei to talk about not just the fundamentals of Aikido, but one of the fundamental essences of the art; dealing with conflict.

We normally deal with conflict by either fight or flight. We fight back directly with the thought that if we meet force with enough force, we can overcome. We sometimes take flight thinking that if we can avoid conflict or close our eyes real tight, the conflict will eventually go away. Sometimes these techniques work. Sometimes we can meet conflict with conflict and overcome. Sometimes we can in fact avoid conflict by closing our eyes or stepping around it.

Our sensei talks about the third option. This option trains us to still maintain our integrity, be present in the face of conflict, but rather than meet conflict with force, we move off the line and allow it to go by us. We keep focus of what's behind the conflct and try to resolve the bigger picture, not the initial strike or blow. We deal with conflict in an honest and loving manner.

I have a long way to go in my training. I am better at dealing with conflict. I can always improve though. Sometimes I rise up still and meet conflict head on. Sometimes I close my eyes and hope that conflict will simply go away. But I find that I can take the principles of Aikido off the mat and into my daily life. We measure our lives through progress, not perfection. I am appreciative and grateful that Aikido can give me tools to find progress and growth in my life.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How KodenKan spirit helps my Aikido training

I've been tired lately. i'm attempting to buy a condo and it's.. well it's draining. Lots of things to think about, what do these reports mean? I have to pay what to which appraiser? All of this, along with a back that's been bugging me and work kicking my ass is taking a toll on the time I spend at the dojo. i'm averaging 2 days a week now on a good week.

I thought a bit today, not about the Aikido training I do at Aikido of Petaluma, but of the KodenKan school Jujitsu I did as a kid. Kodenkan (ancient tradition school) stresses that the senior students teach the junior students. This tradition is something that is informally practiced at our dojo, without affiliation to the Kodenkan school. Everyone at our school has a voice and is encouraged to speak their voice, from sensei to sempai to the person that just walked on the mat five minutes ago.

What I'm thinking is simply this: We are a community. It honors our teacher to show up to class. It gives us the opportunity to have another mind and body and allow those that we train with the opportunity to train and experience a different person, a different way of attacking, a different way of taking a fall and a different way of throwing through this person on the mat.

"But what could I possibly offer? Surely there must be others that are better equipped to teach someone?"

As a student senior to someone else, I can simply offer my experiences and my way of moving through a technique. Since I'm a bigger guy (Think Sumo lite) then I can offer inspiration to someone else that may be hesitant to get on the mat because of his size. As a student junior to others, i can offer my humility and willingness to learn something from someone else. These are the ways we can honor ourselves, our school and our Sensei. Although the Danzan Ryu system is much different than Aikido, the concept of the KodenKan school can transcend to how we view our participation in the dojo.

I think that this is a much different concept than just paying your tuition, showing up and learning techniques. I've learned compassion, patience, kindness, openness of body, mind and spirit. Aikido was created by a man who could not be defeated. He decided that there must be more to technique and winning, and thus, came to create our art for two main reasons: the loving protection of others and the polishing of spirit. Through our training we learn to live in teh world happy, fearless and joyful. These are well worth me coming back with more regularity.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo - Trip Report

A couple of coworkers and I went to the Web 2.0 Expo at the Mosconi Center in San Francisco, CA today. Although the turn out seemed to be rather sparce. There was still good information to be had. Here are the highlights of what we saw today.

Session -
How to leverage Social Marketing for Search Engine Marketing
We started out with a session called "Optimizing Search Results with Social Media" sponsored by Verio Web Hosting and featuring Heather Lutze, Internet Marketing consultant. She had a wealth of great information. She started off with the important point about search engine ranking and using longer keyword strings to find users that are not casually browsing but in fact ready to perform some kind of action, whether buying a product or service. She contends that a search for "web hosting" while yielding millions of hits, is not as valuable as "web hosting for small business". There are much less hits for "web hosting for small business" but the people that are doing searches using a longer more focused string of keywords are much more likely to buy a service or product than someone using a less descript keyword search. Wehn writing for the web, phrases like that should be put in title tags, meta data and the body of your document whenever possible.

Links from the presentation: - Sponsors of the presentation - Heather's professional site - Slides from W2.0 presentation

Keyword search tools

Book Suggestions
Don't Make Me Think - Steve Krug
The Long Tail - Chris Anderson

We then went to the main expo hall where we interacted with several vendors. There were some good and some not so good presentations. Here are the highlights:

Denodo Technologies - Mashup company that claim to organize structured and unstructured data for use by the enterprise.

Yola - Web building service that allows drag and drop web building that is done in the web browser. Yola's services are targetted towards small businesses and personal web pages. They offer an amazing amount of web tools in the stie construction process.

Jive - Jive provides social media software packages to businesses. Out of the box, their packages include scalable and configurable tools for blogging, forums, and other collaboration.

Financial Content - Providers of businesss news, stock quotes, company and profiles, executive profiles, currancy rates for display on internet and intranet sites as standalone widgets, xml or rss.

Blue Kiwi - Offers software and services for the creation of collaboritive/social sites and tools.

Twinsoft - provides enterprise mashup technologies. We were most impressed with them. Their edge over the other mashup technologies is that they can utilize both screen scraping technologies as well as web services to produce their mashups. They can even utilize the green screen from legacy mainframe technologies in their mashups.

JackBe - Provides enterprise mashup technologies. They provide some interesting point/click drag/drop tools for visually creating mashups.

HiveLive - Provides collaboration tools for the enterprise.

This was a good event for us to go to. Hopefully this will spawn some interesting discussion at work on the implementation of enterprise 2.0 technologies in the near future.

Monday, March 30, 2009

What I didn't say in class

Author's note: Agh, I've been woefully neglectful of my blog. I started this last post in late February. I've decided not to change anything in the original post, but simply finish it. Now I can self evaluate my process and get better at this.

I've been sick and haven't been able to practice aikido much in the last week and a half. it will be good to get back on the mat this evening, The last class I went to was taught by Sensei, who comes in to teach on Thursdays and Sundays. We've been working on O'Sensei's concepts of the manifest (physical), hidden (dream/imaginary state) and divine (the place where love, connection to the bigger picture, and spontaneous creativity "takemusu" come from), and expressing each of these levels in our techniques. This was a beautiful and intense class for me.

Throughout the class, Sensei would ask us to check in and describe how our technique was feeling in the context of these levels. At the manifest level, I felt very solid and broad based and I described the feeling I had as a mountain. As we worked through the next level, the hidden, my thoughts changed to "how would a mountain act if it was a living breathing soul?" My technique changed, it got more deliberate, as mountains take their time to do anything, my technique slowed down, I relied on the tenacity that a mountain would have that eventually something would change. And it did. I felt the same connection to the ground, felt the same connection to my center but felt that my techniques were slowed down, they became more effortless. Finally, at the divine level, things changed. I myself on top of the mountain. I felt alone, but not lonely. I was the mountain, but I was it's owner as well. I felt love, compassion, and embraced it. My technique felt lighter, there was less need for external movement. I felt a beautiful connection to my partner, the dojo and my Sensei.

Sensei does an interesting thing that I've not experienced in other Aikido classes. He goes around the room and solicits feedback from us. This is a practice I've had to get used to. Most other dojos will let the student come to their own conclusions off the mat about how they connect with Aikido, and what meaning it holds. However, in our dojo, it's an integral part of our process. It's not for everyone, and it wasn't for me for a long while. Since I opened up to this I feel that my Aikido has grown immensely though, as have I. As he went along and asked us for feedback, it came to be my turn. I started to speak but quickly found myself overcome with emotion. That's never happened to me before. It wasn't a bad thing. My love for the class at that moment was overwhelming though, and I didn't properly say what I wanted to say. So now I will say it.

The predominant school of thought in martial arts training is to train yourself to not think, but rather be instinctive in a conflict situation. There's nothing wrong with this, lest I be admonished by other martial artists that read this. I would hope that if I ever had to defend myself that I wouldn't be plagued by hesitation due to how I "think" or "feel" about the situation, but rather just do what I needed to. This mind set is needed everyday by police officers, doctors, firemen in truama situations. The thing that I'm most grateful for however, is the way Sensei asks us to use our uniquely human qualities of thought and evaluation to look at our technique and evaluate. This is something that is so much bigger than martial techniques but yet embodies the spirit of Aikido in all that we do. As a spiritual person, it is my duty to evaluate my actions in order to get to deepr levels within myself. @aikidoMAC, someone I follow on twitter, tweeted the following quote from O'Sensei recently:
Begin the week with AGATSU - O Sensei says,"True victory is self-victory; let that day arrive quickly!” Self victory comes from the human process of self evaluation. Self evaluation is sometimes a double edged sword. Too much, and the inner critic raises it's ugly head. I need to keep in mind two simple things about self evaluation: It is a tool for getting better at something, and it does not change what has happened. Onegai Shimasu!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

My Journey for the New Year

As a part of our New Years Eve celebration my son and I practiced T'ai Chi a little before 12:00 until a little after. I got the idea from hearing that many Aikido schools have a new years class that starts at 11:30pm on New Years Eve and ends at 12:30am. This signfies ending the year and starting the year with aikido. Since we both practice different martial arts, but also, both practice t'ai chi, I thought that we can take this thought and carve out our own ritual. As firecrackers went off, and neighbors hooted and hollared, we were doing "single whip", "waving hands at clouds", "white snake creeps down" and "golden pheasant stands on one leg". It was a great time of reflection and looking forward into the new year.

My friend, Ana Ammann recently asked me what my goals were for 2009. I liked her question a lot. It made me think about my goals I put forth for 2008. I decided in 2008 I would explore more of my creative side and I set forth upont those goals by getting back on the Aikido mat, keeping with my T'ai Chi practice, doing ball room dance, sharpening my photography skills, and keeping the mindset of creativity as much as I can. These actions allowed me to look at my work life, my family life, my friends, and my relationships with a creative and artistic eye.

For 2009, my goals have changed slightly but still on a creative path. The important thing that I'm adding is how I'm going to be creative. For me, 2009 offers a chance to do some internal creative work. This means looking at the light and dark corners of my mind, and doing some tried and true exercises like journaling, reading, and turning a little more inward. I'm not sure how this looks but I believe that I can find a path and a journey to begin by looking inward a bit more than I did in 2008. I am excited by the prospects.

To all, I wish you a wondrous new year.