Saturday, May 29, 2010

MOVE SMOOTHLY, NOT FAST

5/27/10 w [1s, 6v] B Four new vets, although one of the “new” people is back for one of the regular three week tuneups. This is a pretty good program to be associated with. There is good backup support for these guys after they finish the six week program; the scheduled three week and one of two day refreshers when ever someone needs it. This also means that when I do a few minutes feedback this Friday, there will be someone with some feeling as to whether Aikido practice has been any continuing help.
I started with a “new guys” intro but I am continuing to place more emphasis on how relaxing to center, moving from the hips/center, and how powerful it is to maintain a calm mind and smooth, balanced movement throughout a technique. My mantra has sort of become my favorite quote from Kanai Sensei, “Do not try to move fast, practice moving smoothly. Fast will come from smooth”. [Apologies Sensei, if I have misquoted.]
Getting them to focus on slowing down, relaxing the upper body and maintaining balance really makes a difference in their technique. One guy told me “I messed up that technique, but kept my balance and could feel how he was moving, so I ended up in a good pin anyhow!”. One of the vets who has been here for a while said, “It is real nice when sometimes a move just seems to flow!”
It will be nice [I hope] to hear what I get for feedback Friday. Thank you for that suggestion.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

SENSITIVITY OF A CLOD

5/19/10 w [1s, 6v] A I would like to thank everyone for your suggestions. The consensus seemed to be that I should apologize for being such a clod, make it clear that I respect and admire what he did by recognizing that he had hit a “trigger point” and leaving a situation he didn’t feel he could handle. I should also ask if there was anything I could do to help in this kind of situation.

I went up to him before class this morning, and he started to apologize to me! I stopped him, and followed the advice above. He looked a little surprised and then smiled and said that he wasn’t sure if he had handled the situation the right way. I gave him much reassurance and said if he needed, at any time, and as soon as he felt the need, he could just sit out until he felt like he was ready to come back.

I’m going to have a meeting with staff next week to see if there is a better way to deal with these situations, and if I should let them know right away? as soon as class is over? I have to always keep in mind that this is not a regular class at the dojo. These guys have a wide range of issues and, while I want to introduce them to Aikido, my main goal is to give them tools which they can use to enable their ability to deal with those issues. So thank you all for helping me remember this.

We did some more advanced techniques from gyaku. It is interesting that as they have to focus on more complicated movements, they are keeping more relaxed and centered, when they are relaxed and centered, more complicated movement flows more smoothly. A couple of people found that if they do that, they can successfully complete an immobilization, even if they did not do the technique exactly right. After doing one technique very nicely, one vet exclaimed “Oh, that was beautiful.” and his partner said “I didn’t feel a thing until I realized I was pinned.”

Ah! Great strides from little steps.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I REALLY NEED SOME ADVICE

5/12-14/10 w&f [0s, 8v] A Seven of these guys have been with me three weeks, and will be here three more. I started them off with a continuous, flowing kana henko [enter & turn], then had them doing a form of “sticky hands”. It took a few tries, but as they got the flow of these movements they began to see how the whole dynamic of relax, center, movement from the hips and use of momentum, really fostered control and enabled technique. We then went to a fairly complicated technique from gyaku homni using sankyo and requiring smooth, flowing motion to work. I then used the same technique, but with two different standing pins.
Even the stiffest, most awkward guy is moving smoother. And everyone is consciously taking that deep breath and “setteling” to center. Also, because I can do some more advanced techniques, I’m having more fun myself.

I have a situation though, that I would like some advice on. During this technique, one of the guys apparently hit a trigger point and felt he was loosing his temper. He did recognise this, and felt he had to leave class. He is one of the people showing a lot of progress and I would really like him to stay with the class. I know that sometimes, especially when parterning with someone, usually young, who has a particularly “heavy” technique, I start to loose it. I find I have to step back, sometimes I can just take a couple of deep breaths but I often have to sit on the sideline for a while. To some degree I understand what is happening with him, and I appreciate the control he is showing, but can I approach him with out coming across as patronizing or belitteling? And how best to do this?

In the past you all, my senseis out there, have given me good advice. This time I could really use some help.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

THE SATISFACTION OF A GOOD GROUP

5/7/10 f [0s, 13v] I I really like working with this group. They pay attention, work diligently on each technique with out a lot of idle talk and focus on the breathing and relaxing to center. They respond quickly to corrections on posture and most are beginning to identify, on their own, when they are “muscling” a technique. There is a lot of supportive interaction between the guys who have been taking the class for a couple of weeks and those who just started Monday. I would like to think I am beginning to get my act together, but I just think this is a very good group.
One vet visited the Northampton Aikido last night, and he, and another vet came this morning. One of them has taken Brazilian Jujitsu and Taekwondo. He said at first Aikido looked about the same. But after watching class today he realized there were major differences. The biggest differences he saw were that the person being attacked [nage] was much less aggressive, more relaxed and with a stronger center of balance. The more advanced people just seemed to guide the attacker in throwing themselves. He wants to start practicing at the dojo. As always, we see!

Friday, May 7, 2010

MIDITATION & TEACHING AIKIDO

5/6/10 NOTE: So how does all this internalization I blathered on about in the blog on 5/01 relate to what I am trying to do for the vets with PTSD? I mean, if I think I’m going to get these guys doing any “meditative Aikido” in six weeks, I will just end up frustrated. Also, I will not be giving them anything of real value, no hints of different ways to deal with aggression, vulnerability, stress.

After some thought, I think my own awareness of the meditative aspects of Aikido can be of benefit in two ways;
The first lies in how I approach the way I teach and run the class. If I stay centered on what I want to accomplish, and how I model aikido it will help me deal with the frustration of having a different group of people every week, with no one for longer than 12 classes. It will help me avoid getting caught up with guys who want to muscle or otherwise “test” my Aikido. [
I’ve already screwed up once on that!] And it will help me keep my ego under control and focus on what these vets need that I can provide through Aikido. It will also help me keep my sense of humor. [A very important issue and one I will try to write on later]
Secondly, if I keep the emphasis on the breath/relax to center, discuss it as an important part of every technique, give “homework” to use this in their everyday, and occasionally speak of it as active meditation, I think I can ground the point with them. Then I can hope, when the occasion arises, they will be able to “meditate” as a practical, functional life tool. Conscious or not.

I realize that my approach to meditation needs to be much more along the lines of the Taoist "wu wei", [
action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort] than either of the zen schools I mentioned. It kind of means being in the here-and-now, natural action. I realize this is a gross over simplification, but it’s the best I can do with out writing another thesis on the subject. I will probably return to it later though.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

WHAT SEEMS TO BE WORKING BEST

5/5/10 w [1s, 13v] A I think the changes in my intro and the focus I am placing on technique is helping. I am being more up-front about what I hope to give them in this class, i.e., tools to help in dealing with stress, aggression, vulnerability. I am trying to be clear on the fact that, although they may pick up a few effective moves, I can not hope to teach them Aikido in depth in six weeks, 12 classes. What I do hope they will gain is a way, relax, center and to tap their internal strength.

I once said that I don’t study Aikido to learn technique, I study technique to learn Aikido. This is what I want to bring to these vets. They are beginning to see that if they breath/relax to center and move in a smooth, focused way, a technique will work. While I do have them do the movement of a technique properly, I need to stress that if they are not centered and relaxed, the “mechanics” of a technique are at best, awkward, and may not even be possible.

An effective, on-going evaluation of how I am succeeding is seeing how often people take that deep, relaxing breath and let the tension go out, and stay out of their shoulders, and whether or not they move smoothly as they do a technique. The fact that more people are working on this, and quickly recognize when they are “out of phase”, is an indication that the shifts in how I am conducting the class is are becoming more effective, and the directions I want to work in.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

AIKIDO AS MEDITATION

5/1/10 NOTE: I keep thinking about the concept and action of relaxing as it is used in Aikido. I find it the same type of relaxation I have been told I should seek when meditating. When we meditate, we are attempting [non-attempting?] to “let go” of our physical and mental tensions, internal disruptions and distractions. This is usually done by relaxing our entire being [including the effort to relax our entire being!], often by focusing on something such as a tone or our breath, to the exclusion of everything else. Unfortunately, I can not sit quietly for any length of time, for physical reasons as well as serious lack of the sort of self discipline needed. Five minutes of “stillness” and I become a total mental and physical twitch. Like asking a two year old to sit quietly.

But there are two rivers of meditation;
Soto, the calm, placid river which gets its strength from its depth and undercurrents,
Renzai, the active, dashing river which gets its strength from its coursing down a mountain side.

I practice Aikido as a form of active meditation. Often, I will use a technique as the thing to focus on. Ideally, once I have the moves of a technique [waza] and with much practice, I will focus on my breathing and my own center, comfortable in knowing that proper technique will enable partner to “throw them self”.
The thing I am trying to internalize now, is taking that relaxed, centered self off the mat and moving through the day with a “Taoist mind”. I sometimes manage this, particularly when driving or doing some routine work, but damn, it is hard to try, with out trying.