Monday, September 6, 2010

Moving over to wordpress

I'm moving over to wordpress. I'm going to keep my content here but it's not going to get updated. If you are still interested in what I have to say, please find me at:

Monday, July 26, 2010

What I want out of life

what i want out of life is to live......think, discuss, explore, make something with my hands, learn something new, see something beautiful.....everyday
- Anonymous

This could just be my favorite quote. This will be my charge to my son and my son's children.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Finishing the Couch to 5K program

"If you can breathe in and breathe out, then you know for that moment you are ok."
- Thich Naht Hanh

I finished the Couch to 5K running program today. Contrary to it's claims I am not running 5K. I am running about 2.2 miles now continuously for 30 minutes. I have NO qualms whatsoever with the fact that I am not running 5 kilometers at the end of this program. I've not run consistently for more years than I could count on my fingers and toes. I am grateful to the people that came up with the program and the developers that brought the app to my iPhone. Seriously, this is the best 3.99 I've spent. Certainly the best decision I've made to stick with the program and be faithful to the incremental increases in running duration.

If you are interested in finding out more about the program you can browse to the following links:

I love metaphors and can find them in most everything that I do. What i found about running is that it is rich with them. I usually run with music from my iPhone. Today I ran silently. I was tired, and around the last 10 minutes of my run, I started getting overwhelmed. I didn't want to finish because of all the distance I had to cover in the last few minutes. I wanted to walk back home and go to sleep. However, I decided not to worry about the distance, I just had to worry about taking the next few steps. I'd set my site on just a few yards ahead, an acheivable goal, and make it that far. When I got close, my eyes would shift to another few yards. I did this again and again until my run was over. Small achievable goals. Bite size goals... i can do that. I don't have to look at the big picture.

I have started to do some transformation physically, losing weight, feeling myself get firmer. Through consistency over the last 9 weeks, I went from not being able to run 2 or 3 minutes, to being able to run 30. It's not a marathon, I know this. But if anything, it's a model. It proves to me that if I show earnest discipline, am willing to make changes, then I can in fact transform the physical. If I can do that to the physical, then I certainly have a model for my spiritual and emotional side as well.

This is some terribly obvious stuff, but for me, it's good to have these models around. Sometimes it's hard for me to see the forest from the trees. I get boggled down and mired in things that take my mind away from what is truly important. So again, I can look to my running, my Aikido training, my guitar playing and see that consistency, practice and discipline make a world of difference in producing good things in my life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Things I (re)learned on my summer vacation...(with inspiration and apologies to Pastor Bey)

I am writing this from Leah's Desk. She is at work and I am here for my last day in Marion, IA. On my last day, I dried hers and my clothes at the laundry mat, went to The Country Kitchen for breakfast (try the country fried steak benedict, if you ever get here!) Given that she is at work, I am doing exactly what I want to do on my last day: inhabiting her house, feeling her spirit, closing my eyes and seeing her and her kids running around the place, remembering all those moments, fun, crazy, tender, and intimate moments.

I had the opportunity this past week to share in a truly joyous event: the wedding of one of Leah's closest friends, Amy Lewis. Her husband Scott and she got married on a hot Iowa Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Cedar Rapids. I had only met the both of them once before, at an Art show a little more than a month before their wedding and had not met their friends. Spending time with them through the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and their beautiful reception shows me how obvious their love for each other is. I was thrilled and honored to be Leah's guest through this beautiful event.

Some of the things I learned (or keep on learning more and more as I get up into my late 20s):

Be chivalrous in all that you do. When your beautiful partner asks you to get in line again at the buffet line for her because she wants to try the pork loin, do not hesitate. (especially because their may be a nice pork treat for you.)

Love unabashedly. Love wildly. Look into your partners eyes as if you looked into them for the first time...everytime.

Never pass up an opportunity to tell her that you love her.

Never get sick of hearing the words, "I love you."

Be open, talk through things, grow and grow and grow.

Know in your heart that love knows no bounds, love can overcome distance, age, and time.

Be kind to those around you. Sow the seeds of friendship wherever you go. Allow your differences to be known, accept them as such and rejoice in them. I have had the opportunity to sow the seeds of friendship with people in the Midwest now that will hopefully span many beautiful and fulfilling years.

Be a man... a real man, and know that strength does not come through comparison of others, but through the act of polishing your spirit, everyday, every moment.

Be a man... a real man, and let the tears flow when they come to you. Do not hold them back. Know that it is okay for your loved one to comfort you in your times of trial and in your times of need. Know that it's okay if she's not around to still cry and know that if she were there, she would come to you, kiss away your tears and give you strength when you need it.

In a few short hours I will leave
will leave the brick lined neighborhoods of Marion. I will leave the rolling hills and greenery of Iowa and go back to California where my wonderful son Steven, my home, and my Job is. Once I am off the plane, I will drive through the middle Peninsula part of the San Francisco Bay Area. I will drive through San Francisco, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and drive through Marin County. Then I will be back home in the heat of Sonoma County, it's traffic, vineyards and redwood trees.

I will be back here in a month. Until then I will think of her and consider her in all that I do. I will love her from afar until afar becomes no more. I will love her unabashedly, love her wildly, and never miss the opportunity to say those oh so sacred words to her, "Leah, I love you." I know that she will never tire of hearing it.

The day before I left, we sat on the couch, Pink's "A Glitter in the Air" came on. I have thought that it was a pretty song but never spent time listening to the lyrics as I did then. The last verse will sit with me through my trip back home:

Have you ever wished for an endless night?
Lassoed the moon and the stars and pulled that rope tight
Have you ever held your breath and asked yourself
Will it ever get better than tonight? Tonight

Monday, June 7, 2010

Life doesn't Happen in Hanmi

The shomen at Centerfield Aikido

On Sunday, June 6th I had the amazing pleasure of training at Centerfield Aikido in Occidental California with Mary McLean Sensei. The dojo is a tent structure surrounded by the wooded hillside and at certain times of the day, the trees silhouette the ceiling and sides of the walls. Birds flying overhead provide moving silhouettes as they come over the ceiling. There is a magnificent shomen built by one of her students and lends graciousness and beauty to an already magical environment.

We trained and worked on yokomenuchi koto gaishi. First we we worked on the strike, then the throw, practicing getting off the line first and connecting with our partner and finally executing the technique. There were quite a few things I really enjoyed about her aspect of training:

As uke (the attacker), she suggested that while it's ok to give your partner something to work with, try to stay balanced so that I can receive anything my partner can choose to do and be ok with it. This means that although I'm giving forward intention, if my partner chooses to do another technique that brings me in a different direction, then I can go there equally as prepared as if he were to do the called upon technique.

She likened this to a conversation. Both as uke and as nage, if we get too enmeshed with the wrist or the throw itself, it's like opening up a conversation with someone with the only interest of proving your point. When we get too entangled, we don't listen to our partners and we cannot have a clear conversation. We don't hear the arguments because we are too embroiled in our own direction to go any other way.

All of this was great. However, I really enjoyed a quote she mentioned from one of her teachers, Terry Dobson, who said "Life doesn't happen in Hanmi." Hanmi is a stance used in Aikido and other martial arts. In the most literal translation, if we are about to be mugged or physically harassed in a street situation, we cannot ask our attacker to wait so that we can find our center and get into a defensive stance. By that time we are wounded, robbed or worse.

More often than not, we do not have that opportune moment to prepary ourselves to hear a hard conversation, to get accused, unjustly reprimanded, or be told something unexpected. Hopefully our training helps us be ready for life to come at us in any direction and allows us to find that balance so that we can go with it and act, rather than react, crumple or simply fall.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Uke, Nage, and the "what if" factor

In Aikido, our practice is primarily done with a partner. In a typical Aikido class, the teacher will demonstrate a technique, call out the attack and the students will pair up. "Uke" plays the role of the attacker. "Nage" plays the role of the person responding to the attack. Usually, uke will attack times and then the partners will switch roles.

A typical question that comes up when we practice this way is "What if?" As in, "What if instead of coming in with a straight punch, I fake with the left and come in with the right." or "What if the person is stronger/shorter/taller/better/more fragile than you?" When we practice, uke's job is to give a good solid attack. That means that if we are instructed to throw a mune tsuki (a straight punch to the solar plexus area), then we follow through. We don't stop half way and change the attack as nage starts the technique. This allows nage to receive the attack fully and then perform the technique prescribed by the teacher as a response to this attack.

Aikido has been criticized by some for this approach. Some say that this does not present a realistic situation. I reserve my comments on the realism or lack thereof and would like to discuss another aspect that I feel is important aspect of practicing on the mat, but an even more important aspect of living our lives. That's trust.

In Aikido, we have to trust that our partners are going to do what we expect them to. If we do not trust that they will follow through on their attack, then we will not build up the confidence to respond in kind. There are many carry overs in life off the mat (aka the real world) where this is true. We have to trust that we can depend on our partners to be honest and trust worthy. We have to trust that our partners can and will come to us in our time of need, and ask us for help when they need help. We need to trust that our partners love us and support us as we love them. When we do this, it gives us the confidence to open our hearts and live our lives to the fullest.

It is human nature to ask "what if". In the myriad of experiences we have in our lives, there are an endless combinations of this question. As we see that our partners do what we trust them to do though, we allow ourselves to still the voice in our heads that ask, "what if?" and as we trust and show our partners worthy of trust, love happens, miraculously, beautifully and unending.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dire Straights - How Aikido Saved Jean Maggrett's Life

Although Jean Maggrett does not practice Aikido anymore, she frequently sits on our testing boards. At 81, Jean has practiced Aikido for 30 years. She is a student of Bob Nadeau, and a contemporary of my Sensei, Bob Noha. I have had the wonderful benefit of her perspective and guidance on both my second and first kyu tests. She is enthusiastic and encouraging to all who practice our art and is an advocate for the benefits that Aikido can bring you off the mat.

The story presented in this post is Jean's, published with permission from her on my blog. I am honored to be able to share this touching and poignant story.

Dire Straights - Jean Maggrett

From the time we were born, my brother Bill and I spent our summer holidays at a cottage built by our grandparents in Northern Michigan, near the top of the mitt where the great lakes of Huron and Michigan connect. Day-long beach picnics by Lake Michigan were a family ritual for four generations. We'd swim in the fresh, cold water, then gather around a bon-fire of driftwood to cook weiners and marshmallows while we watched the "million dollar" sunset over the water.

One summer when my brother was fifty-two, he suggested that we hike out the Waugoshance Peninsula which extends out into Lake Michigan, separating the straits of Mackinac from Cecil Bay. Appropriately, the area is called Wilderness State Park. There are few roads , no buildings or modern improvements, only a small parking lot at the end of a long gravel road.

With us on our expedition that day were Bill's eighteen year-old son Carl and Link, an old fraternity friend from college. My brother told us that he had flown over the straits and state park in a small plane and then dreamed of walking out to the point someday.

It was a beautiful summer Sunday in early August. Skies were blue, the water calm and clear, gently lapping the shore. On the bottom, brightly colored boulders seemed within easy reach but were deeper than they appeared.

We started hiking along the shore. It was a familiar environment though we'd never been at that particular beach. Sand pipers darted and tottered ahead of us at the edge of the water. A few sea gulls sailed above. The dry sand made a vibration noise as we trudged toward Waugoshance point. To the North, we gazed at the straits, to the South, Cecil Bay. The beach above North, we gazed at the straits, to the south, Cecil Bay. The beach above high water supported grasses and shrubs.

Eventually we discovered the peninsula was cut by a small, shallow inlet. It was fun to wade across. Soon after, we came to another similar inlet, wider and deeper then the first, but still easy to cross. At the next one, which was much wider than the first two, we gazed in dismay at the distance. We agreed to stop for a break, a snack and some discussion.

While sharing cheese, crackers, peanut butter and apples, Bill talked about how the land looked from the air. He assured us he remembered where there was a sand bar that he was certain we could find. He removed his long pants and I remarked about how his brightly patterned swim trunks that seemed to reveal a secret side to his ordinarily conventional engineer's exterior.

As we headed out into the water, the youngest of us plunged ahead, electing to swim the entire distance. The cold water quickly became deeper and I began to feel reluctant. When it reached my chest, I felt movement around my feet, then calves, rising to my hips.

At once, I yelled to the others that i was turning back. As I was bringing my legs up to the surface, I shot a quick glance around toward the shore and at Bill. He was shouting and fighting the water. His words were garbled but I made out the last one.


I felt panic close off my breath. Then suddenly, my Sensei (Aikido teacher) Bob Nadeau's teaching came to me as a transforming tide of ease: "Be okay with yourself, breath and flow." The panic was gone and I heard my inner voice say, " can be all right here for as long as is necessary," and I stretched out flat as a lily pad above the hungry undercurrent.

From that position, I wasn't able to look around or kick my feet. Only my hands moved me back toward the shore. I just gazed at the blue above, breathing and acknowledging for myself that I was okay.

After a while, I wanted to test the depth: If I had headed in the right direction, I should be near shore by now, I thought. Venturing to touch bottom, I dropped a leg down. Immediately, I felt the undertow sucking me down and the adrenaline rising in my throat. I retracted my leg and vowed to make no more tests but remain a lily pad until I brushed the shore. Moments later, I did touch land and stood up, looking out over the water. I could see Link twenty-five yards out and Carl a bit further.

Raising my arms above my head, I felt like a lighthouse signalling sailors in distress. I knew my brother drowned. Then I thought, no, he was swimming under water, and would surface any minute now. Then I realized the real truth was that Bill never came along with us on this hike.

Then in my mind's eye, I got a vivid picture of Bill emerging from the kitchen door of the cottage saying, "Hi! How was your hike?" Next came the thought that I had somehow got in the wrong location because the words were: I'm from California. I don't belong here and I must be leaving right away!"

Soon the other two survivors came out of the water. Carl's words cut my fantasies when he asked, "Where's Willie?" I said, "I'm afraid we've lost him."

Link described how he was near Bill when he hollered for help. He said he couldn't do more than advise him to take it easy and float on top of the water. Bill's panic paralyzed him, he sank and he was swept out with the current.

Link went back to the car to go for help. Carl and I stood on the beach and cried. Some other people appeared, walking nearby, unaware of the drowning.

Wouldn't they die if they knew what just happened?" Carl said. We walked in shock back to the parking lot. A medical emergency vehicle arrived and the driver gave us hope by saying frog men were about to fly in on a helicopter. When he was brought back up it might be possible to revive him due to the preservative quality of the cold water.

Four hours later my brother's body was found and flown to St. Ignace Hospital. We rushed there by car. A Doctor greeted us with the news that Bill could not be revived. His body had been moved to a funeral parlor across the road. We were to go identify the body.

There in a small room off the main office lay my brother looking very purple. His eyes seemed to have X's in them, like the dead birds in cartoons. He certainly was gone.

We drove home in silent dread. Upon our arrival back at the cottage, we would be calling Bill's wife Diane and our mother. I asked my aunt to make the call. The more people I told, the heavier I felt, until I finally just sank into sleep.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shomen uchi

In Aikido, a basic sword strike is called Shomen uchi. It is performed by raising the sword directly up above the head, and then striking down directly in front of you. There are many other arts that have a similar strike, kendo being one of them.

Our Sensei relays a story about a friend of his going to a seminar where visiting 9th dan kendo master was teaching. His friend was eager to find out what secret techniques he could glean and snuck in early to watch the kendo teacher warm up before the seminar started. He was surprised to see the teacher warming up by performing Shomen Uchi over and over again.

It's important to remember the basics and keep them in our practice always. Some of the basics in life:
  • I love you
  • I'm sorry
  • You can depend on me
  • I need help
  • Thank you
  • You're welcome

He ended class today with a zen quote that I really liked:
At first, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. Then, I saw mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. Finally, I see mountains again as mountains, and rivers again as rivers.

Everything comes back to our own versions of Shomen Uchi.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Inevitability of Gravity

One of the things I love about the Aikido dojo I attend is how Sensei relates certain themes and weaves them into several different classes. Lately he's been working with a theme he calls "dimensionality". The process is as follows:

We do a technique to establish a baseline. After we perform the techniques a few times with our partners, we start to process the following:

Lineage - what is the lineage of this technique? Lineage has some deep connotation in martial arts, so to clarify, it's simply "what do we do to prepare for this particular technique?" We could ask the same question, "what is the lineage of preparing for a meeting?" In essence, Sensei simply asks, how do we think of and prepare for this technique. How do we think differently about this technique than another.

Energies - Sensei will then ask us to think about the energies that we invoke to perform the technique. Do we feel earth, spiral, center? Can we relate it more to circular, triangular, square? Can we feel fire, water, or the energy of the void as we perform the technique.

Space - What is the space that we build in order to perform the technique. What does it feel like? Is it big, small, thick, airy?

The "I" - Because we do not practice Aikido in a vacuum, and these bags of bones and organs and blood have a spirit that provides guidance to the physical, what does adding the presence of what Sensei calls the "I", our unique physical experience as individuals, bring to the lineage and energies of the technique we are performing.

Innate Knowledge - As we go through this technique, what do we know about it that transcends words? How do we move from a perspective of innate understanding of a technique that we've worked time and time on the mat?

Citizenship - What is the sense of citizenship and ownership that we have as we have our partners inhabit the space we have created? Does it encompass and engage our partner? Is it inclusive? Is it exclusionary? Is it playful? Violent? Aggressive?

Saturday morning, he gave us a framework to work in, in this process. He asked us to view this from the perspective of earth energy. I had some interesting revelations going through this process. Earth energy for me begat gravity. I started to think of the inevitability of gravity. I started thinking of how, because of gravity and the limitations it brings, I will not fly, I'm weighted down, I'm burdened by this physical fact and cannot escape it.

As we processed and went through the class, my perspective changed to that of framework: rather than gravity being the inevitable, I started thinking not in terms of burden or limitation, but rather framework. Given the physical fact that there is gravity and gravity affects my existence in a very real way, how can I move through and what are the qualities of gravity that I can use, learn from, and grow with.

Finally, gravity simply just "is". It lost the forboding connotation of the inevitable, and lost the academic or opportunisting connotation of framework. It is a fact of life. It is all around and something to accept. I can feel limited by it, I can learn from it, but until I accept something that simply is, I will not benefit and grow.

The reason I'm talking about this has not a lot to do with Aikido, but rather some things that are going on in my life right now. There are somethings that I need to accept as fact. I can fear it, I can learn from it, but until I simply accept, I won't grow. In order for me to live my life to the fullest, I need growth in my life. Growth comes sometimes through painful realization, and is not always guaranteed. I wish that growth was inevitable, like gravity, but I am ok with the process as it stands...and I'm up to the task of growing my spirit and caring for my soul.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Road to 1st kyu is complete

Originally uploaded by markdeso

And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
- 1 Corinthians 13:3

For the past 10 weeks our dojo has been helping two of us prepare for our belt tests. Linda tested for 3rd kyu and I tested for 1st. I decided to blog about my experience, more from a perspective of what kind of insight this experience gives me.

There were 3 things I wanted to accomplish:
consistency, gentleness and good technique. I think with out the first and the second, the third does me no good. I need to be consistent and I need to be gentle in my approach and manner in all that I do. After the test the testing board brings us out to talk about our test. I was very pleased when Sensei specifically remarked about my consistency throughout the test.

I had been training with a san dan at our dojo who agreed to be my uke. At literally the last moment, (we were in the middle of rolls warming up for our test) he said to me that his back was bothering him to the point where he could not be my uke. My uke has talked about doing the best with what's given you. This was an opportunity to do just that.

We are a small school so to replace him, I went through most of my dojo mates that came that day to watch. My son Steven even uke'd for me on a few techniques. As we reviewed my test, Sensei remarked that I showed good flow regardless of who I worked with, and adjusted my techniques to be appropriate to the uke's experience. I was very touched by his support and words. The board all had good things to say and I felt good about my performance.

I have posted my test on youtube. i'm wondering if I will have an onslaught of "that stuff just won't do against MMA." comments. Here's what I think about that: There were two peopl on our testing board that are up in their years. We have a woman who is 82. She does not train anymore but Sensei thinks enough of her to have her sit on our tests anytime she can. She is a testament to consistent training. We also have one of our black belts that still trains. He is 79, and still rolling around on the mat and throwing us with ease. I'm fairly certain that neither of these two fine people have had a fight in their life. However, when we see football players, wrestlers, and boxers who cannot train because of bad knees, hips or other casualties of their sport, we have people well into their 60s, 70s and 80s still training and still vibrant. This is of great inspiration to me.

If you teach someone to fight, then that's all they will do. However, if you teach someone to resolve conflict, become a bigger person, show love in the face of adversity, then you teach someone to tap into the greatness we all have.

I am grateful to my Sensei, my school and uke for their gracious support. I'm grateful to my son for his wondrous and unflinching support of his dad. Last but not least, I'm grateful for having a wonderful and amazing woman that has been there for me, cheering me on, inspiring me and loving me through this experience. Leah, you are my sun, moon and stars.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - the final stretch

Originally uploaded by markdeso

This has been a whirl wind couple of weeks. We have been really busy at work and I did not have a chance to train this weekend. I am taking advantage of the classes yesterday, tonite and thursday before my test.

I had an interesting revelation last nite. I don't really have to think. I just have to do what Sensei asks of me on my test and it will be alright. For me, it's not "can I" but "how well can I". I've thought a lot about the things important for me to express when I'm testing this Saturday. Ultimately there are 3 things I want to accomplish:

Good technique - I want to be able to demonstrate good form in my throws and techniques. The basics of any artistic or physical expression stem from good technique.

Flow and consistancy - I want to feel a connection with my partner and exhibit zanshin, awareness throughout the test. This means that as I finish one technique I still keep focus on uke and hold that focus till we bow out from our testing.

Most importantly, the spirit of loving protection - I've read once that the spirit of loving protection means that when we are in a conflict situation, we not only strive to protect ourselves from harm, but we strive to protect our attackers, even as they seek to hurt us. I want to encompass the spirit of loving protection and exhibit how this can be done on the mat. If I can practice these things on the mat, then I can learn to work this into my life, just that much more.

Tonight was an interesting and wondrous night at the dojo. I came in to find Charlie, one of our teachers, standing at the window. I asked him how he was doing and he said he had come down with a bad cold. He felt that he didn't want to touch the mats or have any human contact for fear that he would be contagious. He said, "You get to teach the class tonight...Lock up when you're done..." Wow... I was scared and at the same time very appreciative of the opportunity. So, we had five people come today including myself. We bowed in, and started. As it turned out, we worked quite a few techniques, we did some suwari waza, worked in a line and worked some interesting earth and heaven energy, did nikkyo into irimi nage, and I think that I did a pretty good job on short notice! I tried to stick to the basics, and show what I knew, not what I thought I knew or what i thought Sensei or Charlie would teach, bu what I knew. The end result: I can see why people like to teach! It was a great and amazing opportunity!

So, as I finished my second to last class before my test, I feel that tonight was a really great gift. I'm appreciative of my dojo mates for putting up with me, and I am still high from the experience as I type.

Onegai shimasu!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Road To 1st Kyu - Week 8 day 1 - With open arms

Originally uploaded by markdeso

I've been thinking about some of our techniques that we do. They are truly unique from other arts. Most grappling arts concentrate on joint lock manipulation and pain compliance. Aikido, having transcended from Daito Ryu ju jitsu has many similar techniques.

This evening, we worked on suwari waza (more knee techniques) and variations. I'm still working at about 85% but everyday I feel just a bit better. For this test, I'm trying to concentrate on softness and gentleness. This does not come at the compromise of technique but rather an enhancement to it. It feels good to feel things flowing more and more easily, and it certainly feels good to meet a strike or punch with openness and gentleness. All of these things translate to affairs off the mat; not just conflict situations with bosses, family and friends but also with the ever growing need to expand these relationships and grow them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 7 Day 1 - The Dojo Hath Conspired...

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Oh my my... I've been sick. I don't think I've been this sick in a while. I had a brief reprieve last weekend, but relapsed for the next week. Aside from 2 hours at an Aikido seminar last sunday today was the first time I have trained in 2 weeks. Normally, every last Saturday of the month we have weapons practice. I thought that today would be a perfect day to come back and ease back into training... HA!

Sensei decided that, since we are 3 weeks out from my kyu test, if I showed up, he would skip weapons, put the mats down and focus on test preparation. So much for an easy class to get back into the swing of things. I'm actually very touched that he would forgo our weapons practice to support our testing efforts. It's one of the many reason I am a student of his.

Today, we worked on koshi nage (hip throw) as well as techniques from hanmi handachi. In Aikido and some other traditional Japanese martial arts, there are a series of techniques that are performed on the knees. Suwari waza is performed where both partners are kneeling. Hanmi handachi is performed with the attacker standing and the person performing the technique on their knees in tradiitional seiza position.

I've blogged about this a while ago as to the origins, but in brief these series of techniques where designed to defend against attackers coming in suddenly while the defender is conducting business, eating or sitting on the tatami mats back in the day when the traditional seiza position was the norm in Japanese culture.

The practicality of defending one's self against marauding hordes while in the middle of tea ceremony has past, but there are other reasons that we still practice these techniques. Techniques done from the kneeling position helps our standing techniques tremendously. Whatever weaknesses that we exhibit in a standing technique will be multiplied on the knees. Thus, if you can work better on your knees it will help the technique overall.

Today we worked irime nage, and the omote and ura versions of shiho nage. In anything we should measure our success by the progress we make, small or large. Shiho nage has been a strong technique for me standing, but in hanmi handachi, I seem to be all left knees. Today, I was getting it. I felt strong and sure today. It felt like technique flowed really well.

My son, who has his second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, was happy a while ago because he just nailed his first 540 degree spin kick. Today, I was happy that I could feel shiho nage, so it's all relative. The point being, progress is always good at any level.

OH, and btw:

Dear Son,
Please, the next time Sensei demonstrates a throw on you, please refrain from saying "Oh snap." :D

Annnnd, Leah, you are my sun, moon and stars...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - week 6 Day 1 - if you can still inhale....

...I will keep on practicing, not for the prowess in self-defense, not for rank or prestige, not even for the wonderful and life-changing lessons that flow from this art. I will practice Aikido for the sheer, unmitigated beauty of it.
- George Leonard, Way of Aikido

OK, I'm sick. My son brought home a cold the week before and I caught his. I got bad Wednesday, felt better Thursday, better yesterday and relapsed today. Apparently a frog has decided to possess my vocal chords and i'm hacking and coughing. Hence, I did not want to infect the dojo so I haven't trained all week . I'm unfortunately missing a seminar today with Nadeau Sensei and Heini Sensei that I really wanted to go to. If by some strange circumstance I feel better tomorrow I will take Steven and head over. They have a session from 10 to 12.

I'm at a really good place in my training right now. At this point, I'm not worried about my test. Regardless of whether I pass or fail, it will be fine. This does not mean I'm not concerned with performing to the best of my ability. It's nice to not have anxiety around this though. When our Sensei was asked with how he deals with a less than optimal day on the mat, he simply said, "it's only Aikido. No one got fired as a result of a bad performance. No one lost money, had tragedy, etc."

It's a nice place to be. I believe that the lessons we learn on the Aikido mat help us in other aspects. Thich Naht Hanh said, "if you can still inhale and exhale for that moment, you know you are OK." I've said before that Aikido is a microcosm of the world, so if I can be still and OK with however way my test goes, then I can be OK with other aspects of my life. I can know that regardless of the situation, I've given it the best of me.

So, hopefully I will feel better tomorrow. It would be regrettable to not get some training in this weekend but it's not the end of the world. I've not been on the same mat as Nadeau Sensei in probably 20 years. There's always another seminar though. If not tomorrow, then sometime soon.

Oh, and by the way. I'm trying out the kindle app for Windows Vista on my laptop. Before I bought anything crazy like an Apple Ipad (out next week) I wanted to see as to the readability of the kindle app. The quote I found was from George Leonard's book, "The Way of Aikido, Life Lessons from an American Sensei." I like that he has such a simple and down to the point writing style. More so, I really enjoy the quote. Aikido is a beautiful thing; whether realized on the mat, used to evoke a creative outlet, or to calm a not so calm situation.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 5 Day 3 - all caught up

Originally uploaded by markdeso

"The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit." - Morehei Ueshiba

I seem to be playing catch up this week. Last nights post was for Thursday. Today's post is for our Saturday class.

We worked katate dori shiho nage, both the omote and ura versions, as well as more koshi nage techniques yesterday. I had the good fortune of working with a couple of the black belts on both of the shiho nage versions; one of which will be my uke for my upcoming test, the other will be on the testing board. I respect and welcome their critiques. They both are upping the ante as it were, and helping me pick up the finer points of these techniques.

Sensei is also very supportive of the testing candidates. He works with us so that we are performing these techniques at our appropriate level. "Mary had a little Lamb" sounds different when a piano student first starts on the piano keys, versus a few years in, where they can support the melody with chords and bass lines, versus when he turns into a master pianist, that can throw jazz chord substitutions, syncopate the melody and still have it be very recognizable as "Mary had a little Lamb".

So, Sensei and the other yudansha works with me at the level appropriate for my rank. Yesterday on the ura version of shiho nage, he was working with me to not turn my head and luck before I turned into the technique. There is a slight lapse in connection as I turned my head so he was trying to correct that.

The thing I enjoy most is the constant refinement. We can always polish technique and get it to be better and better. If this is the case, then we can polish and refine ourselves. God knows I need the refinement!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 5 Day 2

Originally uploaded by markdeso

One of the things I love about Sensei is that he is an excellent story teller. He has had the opportunity to meet a lot of people in the martial arts community. His first T'ai Chi teacher was Robert W. Smith, who was a direct student of Cheng Man Ch'ing, and for a period of 2 years he studied with Cheng Man Ch'ing in New York.

Every so often Sensei will relate an anecdotal story to us. This evening, he talked about a story Robert Smith told him. Robert Smith had a friend, John. John was a gigantic Swed, 6'8" 280 lbs and a hardened war veteran. John was a hard core tough guy. One day Robert Smith arranged a demo from a Chinese martial artist. The martial artist proceeded with his demo and after, John turned to Robert and said, "Quite frankly, I'm not impressed."

At this point, Robert walked over to the person who gave the demo. He simply told him "My friend John would like to see something." His friend walked up to John, put his hand at his stomach, and made a cork screw motion. At first John just kind of wavered, and then he fell to the ground vomiting. At this point, Robert Smith walks over to John, leans over to him and says, "Did you want to see anything else?"

I love that Sensei has these stories he can pull out of his hat. He has many different sides to him, and story teller is definitely one of them.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 5 Day 1 - Harmony,, Life Lessons and Mr Fogerson

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Harmony is an interesting thing. Musically, there are notes that are hit that, because of the frequency of vibration, appeal to our ears. We hear a major third, a minor sixth, a perfect fifth, and those two notes, played at the same time sound right to us.

So as we practice Aikido, how do we evoke harmony in our technique, and how do we use that as a model to extend out to the other aspects of our lives. We are sons, fathers, daughters, bosses, orphans, leaders, followers, friends. I find that there is a similarity between being present with my guitar, playing and not just hitting the notes, but really feeling a song, really expressing musically what is in my heart and soul, and being on the mat, really connecting with my training partners, letting the technique come out of the interaction between myself and my partner, rather than trying to force it.

So if I can find similarity with this, then I can extend this out and connect with my coworkers, my son, my lover, my family and some how find harmony there as well. All of the same ingredients that make for a well played guitar,or a good connection with my training partner can be used in so many other aspects of my life. Those ingredients: compassion, presence, feeling full and comfortable in my own skin, being open to the possibilities around me, listening and not waiting for my turn to speak.

Our class today was a small one. We had four people and Charlie who taught. We worked on shomen uchi ikkyo through yonkyo, yokomen uchi shiho nage and morote dori irime nage. Typically when we are working on test preparation, whoever is teaching that night will ask candidates to come up and perform techniques that they call out; a kind of "aiki pop quiz" if you will. I got a chance to work some variations today from both standing and kneeling positions. They feel like they are improving! Everyday that I train I'm excited.

For some reason, Mr. Fogerson is on my mind tonight. Before I saw "Above the Law" with Steven Seagal, George Fogerson was the person who introduced me to Aikido. Mr. Fogerson was the neighbor who lived across the street from me when I was a kid. He had three children, Amy, Karen and Dave, all around my age. We all used to play hide and go seek and whatever else while I lived there. I was 12 or 13 and George was training at Aikido West under Frank Doran Sensei. I remember him taking out his jo and swinging it around in his yard.

Mr. Fogerson showed me a couple of techniques that I didn't quite understand at that young age. However, I do remember being a bit fascinated by these strange movements. Mr. Fogerson planted a seed way back when, and now, 34 years later it is still growing. I have to credit him with my introduction to this wonderful art. I remember that he unfortunately had to quit at a certain point because it was hard on his knees.

I reconnected with Mr. Fogerson's kids on Facebook a little more than a year ago. Sadly, George passed around the same time. I remember him and always will. So, Mr. Fogerson, thank you for showing me those weird movements. You were the one that made me aware of this art.

Gentle reader, if you are wondering, yes, this is... this is a disjointed blog post. I suppose I have a lot on my mind. I wish I could say something more eloquent but simply put, tonight I feel and I want to get it out. Thanks.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 4 day 3 - Train Joyously

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Train Joyously
- Morihei Ueshiba

Today's class was a good class. We worked on nikkyo ura and sSankyo Omote and Ura and koshi nage. We've done these techniques many times but it's always a good thing from time to time to pick these techniques apart from time to time. Sensei does a really good job explaining our techniques from a body to body perspective as well as on a purely physical perspective.

Signing off with the following thought:

"Train Joyously." If our world is our dojo what does that tell us?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 4 Day 2 - The Tea Master and the Samurai

Originally uploaded by markdeso

One of my favorite short stories is the one of the Tea Master and the Samurai:

A master of the tea ceremony in old Japan once accidentally slighted a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous soldier demanded that the matter be settled in a sword duel. The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a fellow Zen master who did possess such skill. As he was served by his friend, the Zen swordsman could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility. “Tomorrow,” the Zen swordsman said, “when you duel the soldier, hold your weapon above your head, as if ready to strike, and face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform the tea ceremony.” The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The soldier, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a blow being struck.

There is a hidden moral of this story that I didn't get for a while, and that is: we all come with a certain mastery about us. Because we start one discipline doesn't negate that we have talents in a broad number of other areas. There are a couple of people that are new on the mat at our dojo that bring talents from other areas. One is a chiropractor, the other is an architect by vocation and a dancer by his avocation. As we start new ventures, new disciplines or tune up the ones we've been practicing for a while, we can draw upon our experiences in a vast number of other areas to help us with the frame work of the new disciplines we partake in.

For me, I find a lot of similarity in music to Aikido. I've been a guitar player for almost 35 years, and an understanding of rhythm, timbre and harmony, help me understand Aikido on the mat. Conversely, Aikido, and all of the things we learn on the mat about being present, being in an embodied state, and a sense of timing help me with as a musician.

Tonight was a good night. We had 12 people on the mat, a lot of folks for our space, and I really enjoy training with a full mat. We may not have the freedom to throw as fully as with less, but I like the energy that happens when you get that many bodies in a room. Before class, Sasun, one of our instructors met with me to work with me on some techniques for the test. He will be my uke for my kyu test and so we went over a few of the techniques that I will have to perform come test time.

So, time to hit the hay now. Till next time!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 4 Day 1 - Grab My Wrist why don't ya?

Originally uploaded by markdeso

My mom asked where my monday blog was. It's um, Tuesday, so hence, we will not be having a Monday blog. let me submit my Tuesday blog post in it's stead :D

Today was a rousing class. There were only three of us and our teacher Charlie this evening. This evening we worked on variations from "ushiro" attacks. Ushiro translates loosely to "from behind". The attack happens in the following manner: Uke (the attacker) starts to walk around nage (the person being attacked) and first grabs nage's right wrist with his right hand. The intention is that as he walks around, he will attempt to grab the left wrist as he is behind you, and then do something nasty like throw you out of the bar you are in before last call. There are a host of techniques that nage can apply to defend against an attack like this. On the first kyu test I will be expected to do 5 variations both from standing and kneeling positions.

At this point I don't think I've talked too much about "why the wrist grab?" And further, there are people who say that there is no practical application to learning techniques from a wrist grab.

Aikido and many other related arts like ju jitsu practice techniques from a wrist grab to understand the bio mechanics of how the body moves. From the wrist grab, we can do techniques and get a better understanding of our bodies and how we can move our bodies, connect and blend with our partners and get a feel for how we can move our partners bodies through the act of connecting with them. This is a fundamental building block of Aikido and an important one.

If you are wondering where this originated from, keep in mind that Aikido is a synthesis of some older arts (daito ryu ju jitsu). The wrist grab in fact was a practical defense on the battle field. If someone found themselves unarmed against an opponent that still had their sword in their scabbard, they will attempt to grab the wrist to attempt a joint lock. Their opponent would have techniques that they could draw upon to escape the joint lock, draw their sword and dispense the enemy.

We also practice techniques on our knees. This had practical application back when the Samurai would be sitting in their house and all of a sudden the marauding hordes would storm the house. The Samurai would have to defend before he was able to stand so there was practicality in training on one's knees. These days, we practice kneeling techniques as a training device. Any technique that we have trouble with from a standing position will be amplified greatly when you are on your knees. If you can work techniques on your knees and get the kinks out, then it makes the standing techniques that much easier.

Why do I write this? Hell, I don't know. I love Aikido. Maybe the two or three of you reading this already know this stuff. Maybe you don't. I love to share information, and by expressing this, it helps me gain a better insight and knowledge into my own path. So, thank you for allowing me this indulgence!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 3 day 3

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Today, the last Saturday of the month, we have weapons class at our Aikido school. last month and this month we worked on a set of katas representing "Sho Chiku Bai", or pine tree, bamboo, and plum blossom. The katas come from a series of sword work John Stevens Sensei created.

Although the series has many forms, we worked on the first six. They all use the shomen, yokomen, and tsuki strikes as responses to the attacks from uke.

Sword work is an interesting thing. Although we don't use live blades, we respect the sword as if they were live blades (and if you've ever been wacked in the head by a wooden bokken, it's not any fun). This raises the stakes for both partners. As an Aikido practitioner, it gives us the opportunity to exhibit more precision and hence more care into our practice in the "spirit of loving protection". When we come back onto the mats and do our empty hands techniques, hopefully we get a better sense of ma-ai and timing.

There are many more aspects of sword work and why it is good to practice sword techniques, but this is one of them that I don't really think about as much. It was nice today to practice outside with bokken and my son.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 3 day 2

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Sensei worked with us on the ikkyo through yonkyo series last nite as well as koshi nage. Koshi nage is a throw similar to many Judo throws. We don't practice this much in our dojo and so we started literally from the ground up. We did a falling practice, first slapping the mat, then rocking back and forth on each side and slapping, then a roll into a fall, slapping the mat instead of coming up.

I practiced these types of falls when i was a kid doing Danzan Ryu Ju Jitsu and still appreciate Sensei's perspective on falling correctly. I always welcome going back to basics. It used to not be that way for me. I always wanted to "get to the good stuff" without realizing that it's all good stuff.

In O' Sensei's biography, the author writes about a demonstration O' Sensei gave with the spear, moving 20 bales of rice from east to north and west to south. The audience was very impressed with this feat of strength. However, the author writes, "For O' Sensei, this was merely a representative ability grounded on his daily training." I like how the author points this out and I believe that while we should rise to the occasion on tests, it should be in fact a "representative ability grounded on our daily training." Now to find my spear and those rice bales...

Today, I'd like to leave off with the following beautiful thought that the author quotes to us:

Tori mono iwazu. Shita onozukara kei wo nasu (Trees full of peach and plum blossoms don't have to speak to invite visitors; people will forge paths to where they are).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 3 day 1

Week 3 day 1, yo!
Originally uploaded by markdeso

Friday I met with a physical therapist about my shoulder. I injured it around the 3rd week of November. I took a fall from a throw and rather than rolling out of it I came down straight on it. For about 4 or 5 days back then I couldn't train, but it came back to about 85% of normal and that allowed me back on the mat. Unfortunately, there is still pain and I'm still not fully recovered. It makes it hard to sleep most nights. After a few weeks of on again off again (read inconsistent) work to try and rehab it I thought I better get a professional opinion.

So, my PT looked at it and gave me some exercises to do. He is stressing that I don't use more than 3 or 4 pounds, saying that we are trying to engage the smaller stabilizing muscles. My job now is to stay faithful to the program he laid out for me. hopefully in about a month we can see a difference.

We had a good class today. I haven 't been able to attend our Monday classes as of late but my schedule is all flubbed up with some training I'm having to do for work in SF. I have today free and a commitment tomorrow so I switched days.

Monday nights are our fundamentals night and I find a lot of benefit in taking a technique apart and working it slowly. I got an opportunity to work with one of our new folks. I find that I really like working with new people and I feel good about being able to show them some of the things that helped me when I started out.

Today, on the ferry, I read a little more on O' Sensei's biography. In the twenties he actually formed a volunteer fire brigade. The fire house (hut as his son refers to it) was apparently a place for the youth to congregate to laugh and sing and have a good time. O' Sensei would cook snacks for them and yell at them when they ate everything at the fire house. The kids took particular pride in being able to make a martial arts master like O' Sensei blow up at them.

These anecdotal stories paint a unique picture of our founder. He loved life and people loved him dearly. He was the epitome of joy, industrious, was always of service to others and very human.

Today before I left the dojo, I was talking to the Monday night teacher, Sasun about the book. I was telling him how I really enjoy the very human picture Kisshomaru Ueshiba paints of his father. He responded, "If O' Sensei was indeed super human, then I'd be disappointed because there would be no way to attain what he had." I thought that was incredibly wise.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 2 Day 4 - Onegai shimasu

Originally uploaded by markdeso

"The true martial way halts violence with virtue and love." - Master Onisaburo to a young Morihei Ueshiba.

Today we worked on test format techniques, starting with shomen uchi ikkyo both from standing and kneeling positions. Ikkyo, "technique number one" is usually one of the first techniques we learn when we get on the mat.

Sensei once told us about a ninth dan Kendo teacher giving a seminar a few years ago. A young student heard about the teacher and wanted to see what secrets he could glean from the teacher so he came early to try and watch how the teacher prepared. To his surprise, he saw that the teacher was preparing for the seminar by doing the first sword strike you learn when you start Kendo. No tricks, no magic, just that one first strike over and over again. I appreciate how we start the testing preparation. We start with Ikkyo, "technique number one", "the first technique".

In Japanese, "Onegai shimasu" means many things. There is a good explanation on aikiweb here. We say this to our partners before we practice a technique. "Onegai shimasu", translated loosely into "let us begin." O' Sensei says that everyday is new, and so we are new everyday. So we start anew with our testing preparation, with the first technique. Let us begin..."Onegai shimasu."

Friday, February 19, 2010

La La Land, Neutrality, and a state of Embodiment

A while ago I posted the following, inspired by my friend Linda Eskin:

The post had to do with the states of unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally unconscious competence. Lately we've been working with some similar states of being at the Dojo. Sensei will work several classes on topics like this to allow us to see what our bodies do when we are in these states. At the start of this series, I asked Sensei if these three states are similar to the unconscious incompetence/competence that I wrote about earlier. He invited me to form my own conclusions.

So we are working with three different states of awareness Sensei has called "La La Land", "Neutral Zone", and "Embodiment".

He defines them as follows:
La La Land is a place we go to "check out". For me, it's a place I go to when I have a menial task at hand that I want to get done, a place I go to to avoid doing other things, or just a place where I don't need to decide anything.

Neutral zone is the state we are in when we realize that we need to shift into a place of more immediacy. We need to shift into this state because of many reasons. We are put into a position where we have to make a decision, where we have to be conscious and alert or the impending elephant stampede is at hand and we have to move.

The embodied state is a place that we inhabit when we are fully present. This state is hard for me to express. I started this post on 2/7 and have repeatedly gone back to this paragraph, scratched my head and shrug my shoulders as to how to describe it. I think it's best to refer to something Sensei said about his T'ai Chi teacher. He has had the great fortune being a direct student of Cheng Man Ch'ing. Years later, Sensei was interviewed by people writing about Professor Cheng and he was asked what he was like. Sensei thought about it and said simply, "He was always there." What he meant by that was when you talked to him, you always got the feeling that he was not only paying full attention to you, but that he was fully present in his surroundings as well.

So for this series on the mat, Sensei asked us to feel in our bodies what it feels like to be in La La land, what it feels like in our bodies to make that shift into the different levels of the neutral zone, and finally, to get a glimpse of what it may feel like in an embodied state of consciousness. He maintains that if we can feel what our bodies do and commit those things that happen to us into memory, then transitioning from one state to another is an easier thing to do. He also maintains that rather than shun ourselves from the state of La la Land, see what it is that we like about it and see how we can enjoy them in a more embodied state of consciousness. If we quickly try to remove this or put a judgment on this, then we are at risk of never fully acknowledging it and hence not able to make those transitions more quickly, and enjoy those more full embodied states.

Working this series at the Dojo, hearing other students talk about their experiences along side me has tremendously helped me understand this. Through their descriptions of these three states, I was able to form my own thoughts. Here is what I came up with for myself:

La la land - I see with my mind's eye. I'm seeing what I want to see verses what is actually in my surrounding. I'm hunched over, my head is down, my shoulders, lower back is tight. If someone is talking, I am listening but not hearing.

Neutral state- Rather than seeing with my mind's eye, I see what is actually there. I am aware of my visual surroundings, I am conscious of my posture and sit up straighter, I allow my shoulders and back to loosen and I hear the person speaking.

Embodied state - For me is not that much different than the Neutral State with one exception: I now have proprioception. I didn't know this word up until a couple of years ago but Sensei has mentioned this a couple of times. Proprioception is the ability to sense your body and limbs, relative to you. This sounds easier than it actually is. Wikipedia sums it up nicely in the following sentences, "proprioception is a third distinct sensory modality that provides feedback solely on the status of the body internally. It is the sense that indicates whether the body is moving with required effort, as well as where the various parts of the body are located in relation to each other."

I've enjoyed this series a lot. I think of all of this as a series of tools that Sensei gives us so that we can take our Aiki practice off of the mat and into our daily lives. For me, this does not just mean conflict resolution, but it also means the ability to tap into these tools in the creative process as a musician as well. Being able to feel present and alive with my instrument is a great benefit and my guitar playing grows much better in these states.

To answer my question at the start of this post, no. The three states that Sensei describes are definetely not the same as the spectrum of unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence. The state of La La Land, while may not be a conscious excursion is a purposeful one. We make the choice somewhere in our heads to go there, either to get work done, dismiss our surroundings, not accept the realities of our situations.

I'm looking forward to what Sensei has next, but in the mean time, I think we are going to start doing more test preparation for our upcoming kyu tests. Time to brush up on my Hanmi Handachi (where are those knee pads).

Onegai shimasu!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 2 Day 3

Originally uploaded by markdeso

Attendance is up at the Dojo! We have 3 new students, two of which are brand new on the mat, and the other a Nidan. It's always good to get fresh blood in the Dojo. I love the people I train with but we start to get used to each other, how we do and receive techniques. New people give us the opportunity for a new perspective. It's not that different than playing with the same musicians day in and day out and then introducing a new person behind the drums. A whole new dynamic is created, sometimes just by having them in the same room.

Today, Sensei is finishing up his series on the three states he calls "La la land", "neutral zone" and "the embodied state". The techniques we practiced today were from the morote dori attack. Sensei made an interesting point about the fact that whatever state we normally operate in, we will most likely gravitate back to it. To combat this, we try and just simply catch these glitches, become aware of them and then work towards moving towards a fuller sense of self.

We had a nice training day today. The gentleman from Greece will be going home after this weekend and has invited all of us to where he is staying for a little party he's having on Sunday as a thank you for the opportunity to train.

O' Sensei's biography is still pretty captivating. The author makes a point of how O' Sensei devoted his time during his tutelage underHe writes that Sokaku Takeda, who introduced him to Daito Ryu Ju Jitsu. He writes "Master Takeda's marrtial techniques were impressive, but O' Sensei's devotion was even more impressive." Even as a student, O' Sensei shows the importance of deference and respect to one's teacher.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 2 Day 2

Drivin home from the dojo.
Originally uploaded by markdeso

Today was a fun day at the Dojo. Charlie taught and we worked techniques from yokomen uchi. The techniques we worked were irimi nage, kote gaeshi, Kaiten nage, gokyo and shiho nage. Each attack lends to a different flavor of a technique. The yokomen uchi strike allows me to play around with spiraling and blending more so than most other attacks.

It's been a really long time since I did gokyo and I was surprised to see that after firing off a few, it started to feel fairly comfortable. I believe trhat if you have your fundamentals down, then you can feel the similarities from one technique to another and draw from them. The main difference with gokyo I have to remember is the grab during the take down. Once I got that, it felt pretty smooth. There's always room for improvement but at least I'm not all left feet. :D

We have a gentleman visiting our dojo from Greece. He'll be here for another week or so. He is a black belt but can't be sure of his rank. Nice guy, and has good energy. It will be fun to train with him for the next couple of days we have classes.

I'm continuing O' Sensei's biography, "A Life in Aikido". It's a bit difficult to keep all of the people and places straight in the text. We are used to "Rohnert Park, California", "Marion, Iowa", and "Mohammed Ali". But I have a bit of a hard time with "Wakayama Prefecture", "Tanabe" , and "Takeda Sokaku". It's hard to, as a friend of mine who's studying modern Japan in a class were to say, "have a space in my head for all the names."

Still, it is a fascinating read. O' Sensei was a man of many many talents and worked hard to gain the physical prowess and strength that he achieved. He was also a champion of the oppressed. This gives me a different context to think of when I think of his notion of martial arts being for the "loving protection" of all.

Tomorrow, I'll look forward to the gym and hanging out with my son after work. I'm enjoying writing these series of blog posts and feel connected to my training both on and off the mat as I can stitch this stuff together on the screen as well as in the dojo.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 2 Day 1 - Aiki field trip

Gengo Sensei and me
Originally uploaded by markdeso

Today I took my son to San Francisco to train with Stevan Gengo Sensei at Aikido of Noe Valley. Before my incredibly long period off the mat this was my home dojo. I love training with Steve as he is always offering an interesting perspective on Aikido.

He stays true to O' Sensei's teachings and today talked about Ai (triangle) ki (circle) and do (square). Today he used an ushiro version of koto gaishi to demonstrate how these shapes represent the intention of movement and direction at the start of a technique, the spiraling and circular nature of Aikido through the technique and ending the technique with a solid and substantial frame.

I enjoy visiting Steve and have always enjoyed being his student. His Aikido seems to have grown. He seems like he moves with smaller circles, exerting less effort. Today, he mentioned the three techniques that O' Sensei says we should practice everyday, Taino Henko, Kokyo Ho and Kokyo Dosa.

In class Gengo Sensei is always working through things in his head to offer up for the next technique. It's fun to watch the gears move in his head as he walks around class. Most of all, I enjoy his demeanor. He is a truly gentle soul and always makes me feel welcome and encouraged. I look forward to training with him again in the coming months.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 1 Day 5

Originally uploaded by markdeso

I was reading more from the book "A Life in Aikido" this morning. Early on in the book, O' Sensei's son Kisshomaru Ueshiba writes about O' Sensei having a bit of a selfish and childish streak in him. I scratched my head about reading this and wondered for a bit why he would include this about his father. I think he took the time to write this so that we understand that while O' Sensei was supremely talented in many things, he is still a man, prone to the same issues we have in our daily lives.

I remember a friend telling me about a therapist she went to school with. Her school mate was taken under the wing of a prominent psychologist and mentored for many years. She grew immensely under his guidance. One day she found out that he was having an affair. She felt terribly betrayed. My friend said that eventually though she came to the understanding that the message and teachings she received stand on it's own, even though the messenger had compromised values.

Now, I'm not comparing the two men at all, and in no way am I saying that O' Sensei had compromised values. But by Kisshomura's account, he was at times childish and selfish. I appreciate a 360 degree view of our founder though. I appreciate that we get a humanizing account of someone we often think of as bigger than life.

Today in class, we are still working on "La la land", "nuetral zone" and "the embodied state." As we use techniques in class to transition through these states Sensei asks what we do in our bodies and how we know we are at a higher state.

For me, I become aware of where my body stops and feel the direct delineation between my body and the world. I don't always have this awareness. Sensei talks about the concept of proprioception. Wikipedia defines proprioception as "the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body. " It's interesting and eye opening for me to start understanding this on an experiential level and relate back to these three states, and to start recognizing that internal shift that moves me from one state to the other.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 1 Day 4

Originally uploaded by markdeso

We've been working on a few interesting themes lately at our Aikido school. Sensei has been working with the state of "la la land", "neutral zone" and "embodiment". I'm working on a more thorough post of these states that I will publish later but as a part of my process towards 1st kyu, I'll relate to it from that angle.

Some quick definitions:
la la land - that place we go to when we "check out". The place that we allow ourselves to go to when we are not present. There is some attractiveness to this place or magnetism but it's a place that leads us ultimately to entanglement.

Neutral zone - the state where we catch ourselves and start to pull out of la la land. We start to become present and in the moment.

Embodiment - the state where we are simply "here". We have all the attractiveness of what brought us into la la land, but we have it in a fully present state of being.

So the goal of the past few classes have been to simply realize that there are these three states, and note what things happen in the body when we move from one state to another. This has been an eye opening practice for me. There are MANY different states of La la land that I find myself in.

As of late, I've been in the following: My son has been having some tough times in school with his grades. We've been working with a tutor but it's been a hard road for him. The particular flavor of La la land that i go to is - Since Steven is not doing good right now in 8th grade, he will have a hard time at high school, won't get into college, work jobs where he will feel less than and have a difficult time for the rest of his life. Yes, I know it's ludicrous. But that part of my brain that goes there goes there for a reason. I think it goes here because it removes all the unknowns. I don't have to be present and can indeed check out because his path is already mapped out.

The fact is his life is NOT mapped out and there is a world of possibility between now and then. There is a world of possibility between now and the end of the trimester. In fact, there is a world of possibility right now. Seeing this, having the ability to be present and at the very least understand why I go there is a huge thing for me and very empowering.

O' Sensei founded Aikido with this in mind: “the martial arts are a way through which we fulfill our divine mission by making the spirit of the universe our own and fostering within us a spirit of loving protection for all things.” We cannot have the spirit of loving protection within us if we give up and resign ourselves to an outcome that is days, months or years away. Embodiment can only happen when we realize that there are a myriad of possibilities in front of us at all times.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Week 1 day 3 - Process vs Program

Week 1 day 3
Originally uploaded by markdeso

I was thinking about this as I left the gym today. There is a difference between a process and program. I define them for me as:

Process: a series of things that you can do internally and externally to accomplish tasks and goals, get to the next plateau and churn the creative juices. Most important, it is something you can look back on and reuse for different situations.

Program: something with a start and an end date with definable and finite goals.

I choose to follow my process. Lately it's been "The process of getting to 1st Kyu." Sensei often talks about the ingredients of a process and how you take these ingredients, stir them up, cook them and let them sit with each other and pretty soon you have something different; you have stew. So right now, I'm gathering up the ingredients of my process. So far, they are tenacity, perseverance, patience and sincerity towards my upcoming test.

Sensei is a big proponent of asking the question "What did you get out of this process, and how can you use this to better your life?" This is paraphrased and an amalgamation of my few years of training with him. This is the message I feel I am asked by him. I'm looking forward to seeing what the answer is.

So today, I went back to the gym again, did my 30 minute circuit, and am now gonna try and shower, dress and leave within 5 minutes.

Onegai shimasu!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Road to 1st Kyu - Week 1 Day 2

Originally uploaded by markdeso

I started the book "A Life in Aikido: The Biography of Founder Morihei Ueshiba" by O' Sensei's son and the second doshu of the art, Kisshomaru Ueshiba . I only got through the preface and the first couple of pages. What was overwhelming for me was how much love and admiration Kisshomaru Ueshiba had for his father. I am looking forward to gaining important perspective of the founder of Aikido but for now, I am deeply touched by how much his son loved him.

Tuesday nights are taught by Charlie. Charlie is a 4th Dan Aikidoka and has a very solid and elegant style. I really enjoy his classes as they are a little more fast paced and we go over several different techniques. One of the attacks on my test is kata dori (shoulder grab) menuchi (strike). The attack comes off to the side and uke grabs the shoulder and raises his other hand at the face. We did several techniques from this attack: Ikkyo omote and ura, Irime Nage, and Sankyo.

I'm grateful to our dojo and our teachers for the help in preparation for our testing. It's always a good thing to see the dojo come together in support of the testing candidates in preparation of their next rank. I look forward to the coming couple months for the training and benefit of preparation for 1st kyu.