Posted by: balladofyoko | February 25, 2009

Two Surprises

1. Going to aikido class, and seeing new white belt students. Hooray! I hope they stay.

Not new to me, but something that I had forgotten: more often than not, white belt students (often male, but not always), when first training with me, will be overly concerned with whether I’m all right after they throw me. It’s a little annoying, but kind of cute. I told one guy, “If I can get up, then I’m fine.” They’ll learn soon enough. I think another guy did when I gave him a little extra sankyo.

2. Seeing students who used to go to my class, after not seeing them in a while, and noticing marked improvement in their techniques. They look more comfortable moving. All right! I made sure to tell them how pleased I was with their progress.

Posted by: balladofyoko | February 17, 2009

Quote From Class

Go where the pain leads you.

~Ron, to a white belt student as uke in a sankyo tenkan technique

This is may be good advice outside of aikido, but I’m not quite sure how.

Posted by: balladofyoko | February 11, 2009

Got Caught

As I was fashioning a post in my head, it occurred to me that the expression “caught flat-footed” is a great way to describe what not to do in an aikido freestyle.

The secret to a successful freestyle is to always be ready to move. I initially wrote “keep moving,” which is often given as advice, but is misinterpreted as constant evasion without throwing, which is not what a freestyle is about. When I say “be ready to move,” the nage needs to stop momentarily to catch the uke’s energy and throw, but not to have both feet firmly planted on the ground and become immobile, thus allowing to get caught by multiple attackers instead of dealing with them one by one.

Last weekend, I had my first freestyle as nage since I attained my black belt. I was not caught flat-footed– it felt great to blend and move.

Posted by: balladofyoko | February 5, 2009

Feeling Closer?

I hesitate in writing yet another post on language miscommunication, but my recent exchange with Gil Asakawa made me think some more about a conversation I had on the subway the other day.

While I was riding the subway home, an African American man hailed me with “Ni hao” and “Anyeong haseo.” After telling him that I speak neither Chinese nor Korean, he asked me what my native language was. I told him “English.”

He laughed, but he didn’t let up. He said that he started out saying both greetings because he thought it would make me “feel closer to him.” He further said that he knew there are people who don’t speak English, and he wanted to “reach out” by speaking another language.

Obviously, the guy was trying to pick me up. But this was the first time I’ve heard the justification of why someone would start out by greeting me in a foreign language. Is it really so different from what I’ve said about wanting to connect with someone– meeting someone halfway?

Aside from wanting to pick me up, the intentions were similar. The delivery was absolutely wrong. Why assume that I can’t speak English? Instead of “feeling closer,” he annoyed me by making an incorrect assumption of my ethnicity, and thus stopped any desire of communicating further on my part.

In response to my previous post, in which a Chinese woman assumed I was Chinese and started speaking to me in Mandarin, Gil had remarked, “That’s interesting that Chinese assume you’re Chinese. To me, the context [of] that interaction is different from a European American person assuming I’m Chinese, or Japanese.” I disagree. In both interactions, there was the desire of establishing a connection. And in both instances, my reaction was the same– I had to define myself to the other person by what I was not. Which I don’t enjoy doing.

The punchline to this story is that after I said goodbye to the guy and stepped out of the subway car, he proceeded to say hello to an African American woman– who gave him the cold shoulder.

Posted by: balladofyoko | January 21, 2009

The Joy of Practicing

The other day, a group of us went down to Wilmington to train with Rick Berry-sensei. What a treat! There was great energy in that class, and I came away with adrenaline rushing through my veins.

But you know– I finally figured out what has been missing in my practice: curiosity. Berry-sensei showed us a lot of techniques that were new to me– things that he came up with and wanted to try out. Things that left me scratching my head, saying “how does this work? When would this work?” They left me wanting to keep trying until I got it right. I didn’t get it right that day, but it got my wheels turning– and that’s what keeps me going.

My practice used to be that way, before I was advanced to black belt. Every class I went to, I was motivated to learn, frustrated enough to want to figure out what was going on, but not so frustrated that I gave up. Sensei often calls this “the edge”– push to the edge, but don’t go over.

I think that perhaps I lost that somewhere in the last two years. I haven’t been pushed to the edge, and I’m hard-pressed to find it on my own. I don’t think it necessarily means learning new techniques or variations of familiar techniques– it just means sparking the curiosity and being encouraged to do my best.

When I came back to class at my home dojo, I practiced kokyu dosa, the technique I need to learn most from. I was reminded once again of the wall metaphor. If you see the barrier, you have lost. If you try to pound through the wall, you have lost. Just go through the wall and touch the other side. Stay centered.

Go through the wall. Find the edge. Strengthen the mind, strengthen the body. Trite, I suppose, but good reminders for me on how to approach my practice.

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