testing 1-2

Three of my good friends just tested for their respected levels of black belt (dan) rank and I was fortunate enough to be able to see the test as well as partake in some of it.  My next test will be for 2nd degree black-belt (nidan), so this post is mainly about that particular test (no offense, Austin, you crushed it).  Although I haven’t been able to train, that hasn’t stopped me from stressing about taking my next test, even though I have no idea when that will be.  It’s been about four years since I’ve been able to attend a nidan test, and since a lot of my stresses are from the unknown about what the test is like,  it really helped seeing the test.  What was really great, though, was seeing two people that I came up through the ranks with take that next step forward.  I’ll explain.

The shodan (first degree black belt) test is performed in a very static, step-by-step fashion.  We perform and demonstrate the techniques in this way to show we understand the very basics of the movement.  In the nidan test, we’re expected to take those techniques into fluid, continuous motion (ki-no-nagare, as we call it).  As easy as it sounds, this is not an easy step to make.  The shodan test is such a big milestone, and we work for years on stop-start power positions and grounding after each step that, transitioning to fluid movement can be a challenge.  It’s easier to break the techniques down into steps because our brain has a second to think about the next part of the technique when we do.  With the nidan test, the whole movement needs to be fully together and integrated into a fluid motion.

Not seeing my friends train in six months, I haven’t seen the progression they’ve taken through the work they’ve put in to their test preparation to get to this point.  What I saw was incredible and inspiring to say the least.  There was a huge transformation from what I saw before.  The movements were so incredibly effortless and smooth, yet still technically sound.  The expressions on their faces were those of calm and control, as opposed to the ones seen on a shodan test which are more straining, naturally.  Seeing them go up there and test made me very excited to be at this place in my training.

I see the shodan test as being the test where the steel is forged through variance of heat and cold, hammering your spirit through the technique constantly to get to a place of optimum strength and balance.  Taken in comparison, the nidan test is one of smoothing out and sharpening the edges, filing and refining to make the sword accustomed to your use and aesthetic taste.  You’re still fashioning the sword, but it’s a softer, more skillful touch.  That was demonstrated masterfully on the tests and it was inspiring to be there and see it.

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paradigm shift

Garbage in, garbage out.  Putting positive thoughts in your memory bank, leads to mental richness.  You didn’t hear O’Sensei talk about how life was hell and we need Aikido to fight our way through it taking no prisoners.  Although, come to think of it, he probably could have made a fortune developing an internet marketing campaign around that concept looking around at some of the shit they’re selling right now in internetland.  Can you imagine the ad of him in a warehouse that’s been transformed into a gym wearing board shorts with a couple muscle cars in the background wearing a muscle shirt with his arms crossed saying, “If you follow my 7 steps, you too can be a fighting machine, bro”

There are martial arts out there whose underlying philosophy draws  on these garbage mental and spiritual bank balances:

As much as I want to try Ameridote right now, Aikido is different.  I won’t quote them here, but O’Sensei went about things a little bit differently… Okay, I’ll quote just one:
“There are no contests in the Art of Peace. A true warrior is invincible because he or she contests with nothing. Defeat means to defeat the mind of contention that we harbor within.” Morihei Ueshiba
See!  Different paradigm completely.  Tough to market that to the masses, though.  Okay, fine, one more:
“Always keep your mind as bright and clear as the vast sky, the great ocean, and the highest peak, empty of all thoughts. Always keep your body filled with light and heat. Fill yourself with the power of wisdom and enlightenment.”  Morihei Ueshiba
Okay, I’m done with the O’Sensei quotes for now.  Bottom line is to, well, listen to the guy!  Garbage in garbage out.  Aiki in, aiki out!
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action, the cure

Scared to do something?  Well, that’s not very Aiki now, is it?  Some of us try visualizing.  Here’s the technique: Sit there on your couch and visualize whatever it is you’re scared of, and see yourself doing it, successfully, over and over.  Do this until you’re nice and comfy and the fear goes away.  Then you get up to do it and… bitch out.  Why does this happen?  Because the nice little visualization you had on your comfy couch was a whole lot nicer and fuzzier than the reality of the situation.  The reality has teeth.  The visualization didn’t.  Damn.

It’s that initial fear that is the bugger.  I’m of the opinion that action is the only thing to cure your fear.  It took me 28 years to have the cajones to be able to do a front flip off of the diving board.  I remember that moment.  Nobody else thought it was that big of a deal, but I did.  All throughout childhood my friends did flip after flip after flippity flip into the pool.  I’d end up doing a half-assed back flop and bail out at the last second.  I stopped trying for years.  One day, a few years ago, I didn’t make a big deal out of it.  I just got up and… Did it.  Ever since then, it’s been a piece of cake.  I know, it’s nothing big, but it illustrates the point.  Now if I could just learn how to swim.

Scared of taking that first highfall in training?  Take a deep breath, focus, take some advice from your peers, and do it.  Don’t make a big deal out of it.  It’s only as big of a deal as you make of it.  Once you get over the initial fear, visualization can help refine and streamline whatever it is you were scared of and help you get better at it.  Before that…  Jump.


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interview with Miles Kessler

…incredible interview by Eagle DeBotton. Miles Kessler is a good friend of my teacher, Vince Salvatore.  He’s doing amazing things in Tel Aviv right now at the Integral Dojo, which he founded. You can find out more about him here.  Many, many great points covered in this interview including, but not limited to:

  • Unless a shift in perspective takes place, it isn’t Aikido…
  • Aikido happens in relationship…
  • The natural occurrence of conflict between people who, if not self-aware, results in a chain of action/reaction. We play with this relationship in training.
  • Aikido is Jazz.  You can’t predict it nor keep it in a box.

So glad to see him online more and more.  Looking forward to much more in the near future.

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fear – a gift

I wrote a post a while back about, what I called, the snail brain. I kind of threw the post together after the idea hit me, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since trying to clarify my thoughts on it. What I claim it is, is the phenomena where you override your lizard brain’s survival instincts when you should really be listening to it. I think us humans are unique in doing this. I love studying conflict and fear, and my research lead me to Gavin DeBecker, one of the world’s leading experts on security. This guy owns a firm that provides security to Supreme Court justices, past Presidents, many of the world’s most famous celebrities, and other high profile individuals. His firm also provides a lot of protection to the CIA. You know you’re a bad ass when your company guards the CIA. Yeah, the ones who kill and assassinate people around the world daily.  He guards THEM. Predicting violent behavior and dealing with fear is what he does for a living, and he’s the best. Anyways, I was watching some of his interviews when I stumbled on the video below. Especially, check out the segment of the video around the 3:50 mark where he talks about the woman getting on the elevator:

What he describes is what I was trying to say about the snail brain. This woman got a terrible feeling about the sketchy looking guy on the elevator. In her gut, she knew that getting in the elevator with that man was probably not a great idea. But, she overrode it, and decided to get into the soundproof, steel cage with him anyways. As DeBecker states in the video, no other animal in the world would do that.

My research about DeBecker carried me to this video below. This is a first, and hopefully a last, on AikiLiving, but… brace yourself… it’s an Oprah interview with him. Yep, I couldn’t resist, because the story he tells explains this point even further:

Kelly, in the story, overrode her survival instincts several times and it lead to her being raped. Following that horrendous event, though, the one time she listened to those instincts saved her life. As much as I bash on the lizard brain, it does have a purpose. Fear could be a gift. Not anxiety, but fear. In the first video, DeBecker explains how ridiculous anxiety is and how it’s affected our culture. We’re a culture based on fear, really, and most of it is not necessary. There are times, however, when listening to your survival instincts could save your life.

Gavin DeBecker is an interesting dude, for sure.  He has some books out about fear and having the awareness necessary to prevent dangerous situations from happening.  He also has several interviews online that I highly recommend.  Watching that whole old-school Primetime interview is worth it too.

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