Friday, September 30, 2005

Loosen Up Dude!

At the end of class today I asked Sensei if it would be
counterproductive for me to practice hard-style kata. "For you, yes.
For most people it would be great, but for you... You really need to
loosen up." Guilty as charged! I have a lifetime of tension I'm
working with here. In hard-style martial arts, the process of striking
is tense-relax-tense: you launch a technique by first contracting the
appropriate muscles, then relax when the technique is en route, and
tense at the end to "pull" the technique, keeping yourself from
hyperextending an elbow or knee, and also in the case of partnerwork,
keeping yourself from hitting your partner. There are a few problems
associated with this approach. First of all, there is an inherent
difficulty in going from a tense state to a relaxed state. The tendency
is to never quite relax as fully as you could--there is too much tension
throughout the technique. Second, when tensing muscles to launch a
strike, the untrained (or not-quite-properly trained) body will tend to
tense all the muscles in the arm/leg, not only the ones necessary to
deliver the technique. The result here is that muscles are actually
working against each other, so much energy is wasted. Men are
especially prone to having too much tension. In the worst cases, it is
quite common to see a guy holding his breath throughout a kata, being
completely rigid in all movements, sweating profusely, and obviously not
generating external power while burning enough energy to light a small
village. It's pretty scary to watch.

So this is my history, and it will take a lot of effort to undo these

We spent this morning's class doing Qi Gong style exercises and movement
exercises derived from them. This is very useful to me, a missing piece
of my training so far.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Today I made it to 7AM class after last night's high fall practice
class, so I'm "on a roll" you could say (pun intended, ha ha).

Last night Andy went over high fall practice with us, something I really
need work on, and really something most of us need work on. First we
practiced with the cushy mat and then worked up the the tatami
("normal") mat. Next week, concrete! Not really, but you *know* there
must be some nutcases out there who practice falling on concrete,
because they can. The idea behind the high fall, or aerial fall, is
that you kind of do a cartwheel in midair. If you are cool, you somehow
make a cushioned contact with the mat, but if you are like me, you go
"splat"! So we practice going from splat to the sound of a pillow
falling on the floor--poof.

This morning was a real treat. We had the opportunity to practice with
shinai, a bamboo sword covered in leather. We went over the 8 suburi,
or individual practice techniques (kata pretty much), as taught by Chiba
Sensei. I was like a kid in a candy store. I do pretty well following
along, but don't ask me to remember what I just did.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Morphing Injury?

Made it to Friday AM class last week. Sensei had Charlie teach for the
second half of class, after leading us through some nice AM ki
exercises. I really like starting the morning like this, kinda slow, as
that's more natural (for me anyway) than starting with a lot of heavy
"flying about" ukemi. One thing Charlie had us do is go through some
techniques without holding onto an arm, where normally we would,
focusing on more subtle control of our partner using I guess what I
would call a "ki connection".

My left shoulder continues to be in a bit of pain on and off. After
warming up it generally doesn't hurt at all, so while I'm concerned,
it's not going to keep me from practicing (yet). I kind of dread the
thought of taking a break from training. One interesting thing that
happened is that after class I felt that the tension in my shoulder had
translated into pain in my neck, sort of moving up the kinetic chain. I
spent the weekend "self-adjusting" (pop!) my neck as a result.

We made it to Josh's party this weekend. His house is really awesome,
built by his parents with a personal touch. I was surprised not to see
more aikido folks there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Stay in Bed

I really wanted to make it to today's AM class, but what I wanted and
what I needed were two different things. My body is still healing, sore
left shoulder and collarbone area, seems mostly muscular, as it
generally feels OK after I warm up. So I slept in and took a short soak
in the hot tub. Not a bad way to start the day.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Last night I had the privilege of attending my first test at Open Sky,
fortunately only as a spectator. 5 people tested: Max--promoted to 5th
kyu, advanced from the youth ranks (purple belt) to go back to being a
white belt; Sarah--promoted to 4th kyu; Cayo and Dan--promoted to 3rd,
and a *surprise* test of Mike, who was "not supposed to test, but did
anyway", promoted to 1st kyu.

My personal test for the evening was sitting in seiza (kneeling) for the
duration of the test, which was approximately half an eternity as a
result. I think it was about a half hour in "real time", and no, I
didn't quite make it all the way through without taking a break on the

Alex kindly offered to video the test and preceding class, earning
herself an honorary membership on the video committee, though she
doesn't know this yet. (heh heh) After some thought and Jesse's
suggestion, I have decided to move ahead with developing a short demo
video using our existing footage and editing tools, taking up Mike's
offer to edit, and hopefully providing the soundtrack music myself. The
idea is to pitch a real production proposal to "real" video people locally.

My reaction after seeing the test was a mix of being impressed and being
a little bummed (though that's maybe too strong a word for it), because
I'm so far from being able to do these things, thinking of Mike's
performance in particular. It's sort of like seeing one of my guitar
heroes perform and realizing that I'll never be that good. The upside,
however, is that I started martial arts at a young enough age that I can
still make good progress, the only enemy being my aging body.

Friday, September 16, 2005


If I had to pick one technique that is central to aikido, it would be
iriminage, or "entering technique". Today we spent a good amount of
time working on this. I sometimes don't look forward to falling for
this technique at 7AM class. It's one of the more demanding (read:
exhausting) techniques and I sometimes don't know how I'm going to fall
for it, as it varies depending on how you are thrown. Anyway, we
practiced several variations from tsuki (punch) and I learned a new one
from Andy.

I'm trying to find a good video clip illustrating iriminage, but doh!
Tough to do. I did find a slew of "aikiblogs" over at!
I'll have to check them out. So um, anyone have any good links to video

I also had a good GET OFF THE LINE STUPID moment this morning.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Blogging in Public

I just posted this url on a local forum, so hi everybody in netland!
Drop me a line if you like, or if you want to stop by the dojo sometime,
click on the link over there on the right...

Happy surfing,

Friday, September 09, 2005

The Vibe

In many traditions there is the concept of direct transmission from
teacher to student, a type of learning that goes beyond anything like
book learning or verbal instruction. What gets transmitted is the inner
feeling of doing a technique, the underlying principle behind
everything. In aikido we are only 3 generations (depending on your
teacher) from the founder, who many consider one of the greatest martial
artists of all time. So, on a good day, if we are lucky and attentive,
we can receive the principles as transmitted from the big guy himself.

Today was a good day as 7AM classes go. I was well rested enough and
mentally present for class. It felt like a step forward.

A key comment from Jory today: I put forth too much effort in my
technique and I need to relax. The paradox of this is that it is most
visible when working with advanced students. When I'm most challenged
is when I am most likely to tense up.

Sarah and Dan were there this AM, both working toward their tests next week!

I'm still nursing my shoulder injury, but it is noticeably better today,
no doubt due to my attempt to not sleep on my left side. I was actually
debating whether I should keep practicing, or whether I should take a
couple of weeks off. I'm glad I stuck it out. The upside of being
injured is that I pay more attention to keeping myself safe--I don't try
anything too stupid.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Test Anxiety

I have been realizing that I have a fair amount of "test anxiety"
regarding promotional exams. This is no doubt due to my difficulty
testing for shodan (in TSD) when I was young, a tale too long to tell
here. The scars are still there, though I like to think I'm stronger for
the experience. There is, I think, also an element of wanting to be a
"carefree" beginner for as long as I can hold onto that idea, sort of
avoiding the responsibility that comes along with knowing what I'm doing.

I remember when I was a young guitar student who never practiced much.
One cop out line I would use was: but I'm pretty good for a ___ year
old, right? I started playing when I was about 8 years old, so that line
served me well for a while. In 1987 I took a course called Guitar Craft
(, taught by a guy named Robert Fripp of King
Crimson fame. One thing I remembered him saying was that for many of us
it was quite a shock to realize that, yes, in fact we really are THAT
bad! Up until then we could sort of get by on our "licks", but having to
learn how to actually play, well, that's another story entirely. In GC
they have "levels" that you could say are akin to belt ranks in the
martial arts, though the requirements for each level are not clear to
me. So the first course is typically a Level 1 course, though now they
also have preparatory courses that are before Level 1. Level 3 courses
are (or were back then at any rate) 3 month residential courses, and
they have various projects and challenges beyond that. I have continued
playing "GC style" over the years, though I am again not practicing with
any regularity. GC courses will hopefully be in my future.

What does GC have to do with martial arts? The approach to learning is
similar you could say. There is the notion of "quality of attention"
that relates to how we play the guitar. One aphorism (Fripp is a
constant source of aphorisms) from Guitar Craft is: “How we hold our
pick (guitar plectrum) is how we live our lives”. I could rattle off a
bunch more similarities, but suffice it to say that I draw on my GC
experiences in my aikido training. As I said previously, when we perform
a technique, our entire history presents itself.

Anyway, my *all new* goal in practice is self-preservation. I'm still
nursing a shoulder injury, so I'm swearing off high falls and generally
trying to take it easy on myself. I am also trying to take a light
attitude toward practice, and this will help in and of itself.