Keep These In Your Pocket

Life can be tough to navigate and deal with sometimes.  For my money it’s a good idea to have some tools & tricks to deal with the bugger when it goes pear-shaped, or gets weird.

I once read that the reason why Buddhism is given in lists (4 noble truths, 8 fold path, 3 root poisons, etc) is because the Buddha taught before such things were written down, and it is easier to remember lists.  Being as I have a terrible memory, I can really get behind the idea of keeping it simple.

To that end I think there are a few things everyone could use to keep handy.

A way to keep fit that you enjoy. For me that’s Aikido and Tai Chi.  Those have the added bonus of keeping me a bit safer too.  Tai Chi is awesome for its portability.  I also collect odd body-weight exercises that I can always do should I need a quick workout.

Some level of knowledge of how to keep your system fueled. Here I am thinking about a modicum of knowledge about food and how to make healthy choices.  I also have a simple food-plan I picked up from my active time in OA – three meals a day, no snacks, no sweets, no peanut butter, no pizza.  That combined with a basic fear of fast food keeps me well fueled.

A philosophical model/modality that helps you get through life. I keep a few basic truisms close to hand – “The map is not the territory”, “Opinion is not fact”, “We all see through our own distinct reality-tunnels”, and my personal favorite, “All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.”  I also like, “Don’t be that guy”, and (thanks to Diane) “Just be cool, dude.”  I also like Buddhism for compactness and a basic strong grounding in psychology, Taoism for simplicity, and the Integral Model for catch all applicability/orientation.

A way to connect to the truth. Atma Vichara and Meditation are my mainstays here. Atma Vichara you can find out about (my take on it) here.  For Meditation you can poke around my tagged posts here.  The vichara gets me zeroed in on the basic truth of what I am, and by extension since there really is not-two in this reality, the truth of everything.  That may be a bold statement, but luckily the truth cannot be spoken so i don’t have to bother to try.  😉  Meditation helps me develop equanimity and sharpens my awareness.  Two very useful skills for dealing with this wacky world.

What are some of your tools for getting along in life?  I would love to hear them!


The Greatest of Gifts a Teacher Can Receive

In my Aikido career there have been two quantum leaps in my skill level. Both were noted after the fact.  The first was my term as uchi deshi.  I lived in the dojo for two years and eight months, training on averages 10 times a week.  During the middle year that was ramped up to 12 times a week, which resulted in my training every day.  It was an intense growth period, but for the most part unnoticed as my nose was too close to the grind stone.  It was only after I had been out of the dojo for a month that I realized the amazing amount I had learned and internalized.

The second leap came as a result of beginning to teach regularly.  After I was awarded my shodan (first degree black belt) I was given two morning classes to teach.  Over time that went up to three, and then back to two and is now at teaching two morning adult classes as well teaching/running the kid’s weekly afternoon class.  After about a month of teaching I noticed something: The skills, tips and tricks which I had internalized and began to take for granted had to be brought out in order to show them to others which made me realize that they were not quite as sharp as they could be in my own execution (some of them were not really close to being on the mark.)  The process of teaching someone else a skill you have integrated forces you to re-examine that very skill set.  It’s like re-learning all the fundamentals again.  If they aren’t clear and precise in your own head then they won’t be clear and precise in someone else’s and the the best way to learn is when things are clear and precise.

As a result of having to match my walk to my talk as a teacher my Aikido improved by a distinct leap.  It became clear to me that in teaching I learn far more than the students I am working with.  I have noted the same thing in teaching blogging, atma vichara, the Integral Model, meditation, customer service, and driving.  Every time I teach someone else something, even casually, I get more out of it than they do.

I noted recently that on the flip side, when being a student, I experience feelings of guilt for taking up the teacher’s time.  When I held that up to the experience of being a teacher I realized how inaccurate that sentiment is.  being a student is a great gift.  Now when I am being taught something I do so with respect and an attitude of giving.  I give my attention fully without being pulled away into feelings of guilt prodding me to spout, “Yeah, I get it” before I do just to spare the other person some time.  I honor the teaching both as a gift to me and a gift to the teacher.  I find it a much more effective place to learn from.

Teaching and learning are both great gifts to give and receive.  That’s my experience at least.   What positive experiences have made an impact on you as teacher/student?

The 5 Habits Of The Highly Effective Aikido Student

I’ve been training Aikido for the last 14 years and teaching as a black belt 2 – 4 times a week for nine.  As an instructor, and as a student I try to pay special attention to the shedding and building of habits.  In my experience there are five key habit that really serve your training well.  Drum roll please!

  1. Show up – Show up to class. Pretty simple.  Make a habit of getting to the dojo, getting into your dogi, and hitting the mat.  Try for on more class per week than seems easily reasonable.  Push your comfort slightly.  One of the secrets of habit forming is to face squarely the fact that you are making a change, therefore you will be doing something differently.  That will push your comfort, in the sense of feeling out of the ordinary.  That’s to be expected, encouraged and worked with.
  2. No do overs – When we learn something new (and this seems to be endemic to the Western world-view) we tend to think that we should get it quickly and easily.  That is true in some cases, but when dealing with a new skill set with depth, not so much.  One of the ways this manifests is the “do over” and it is the death of Aikido.  A “do over” is when you get part way into a technique, think you may have made a mistake, and abandon the practice to start over.  Bad, bad, bad.  Aikido is a martial art.  Martial arts inherently are dealing with situations where you are at risk, or in crisis, and have no time to think.  You just have to do.  In those situations you can only rely on habitual responses you have built up.  A “do over” builds the habit of running from a situation to re-start it.  Imagine you are suddenly in a bar-room brawl with some mook swinging his ham hock of a fist at your head.  You step around the arc, but not as skillfully as you’ve seen your sensei do, so you throw up your hands and say, “I screwed that one up.  Let me try again.” Insanity.  No do overs!
  3. Make it happen – Another habit of people learning something new is looking for approval during the performance of a new skill.  It’s pretty common to see a junior rank pausing in the middle of a technique to see if the senior student approves.  Back to the bar-room example that would be like sweeping the mook’s arm out of the air, gripping the wrist, pivoting and flipping the wrist over then pausing before his balance is taken to ask, “How am I doing?”  Madness.  The proof that a technique happened is that the attacker (either real or simulated) is neutralized.  In Aikido this usually means thrown, or pinned.  Until that point, don’t check in to see if you are on track.  If you are out of the ball park the senior will either let you know after you’re done, or if there is suddenly no motion because the technique has gone far south, or will stop you mid-technique to offer a suggestion.  (This last method is a bad one, but that’s for another post.  Really a junior dojo mate should only be stopped if they are about to injure themselves or someone else.)  Complete the technique, even if it’s a bad one, then get feed back, not while executing a move.
  4. Keep the agreement – Aikido, like any martial art, is training for a fight but is not itself a fight.  There are agreements and contexts for every practice.  If either the attacker, or the receiver leave that agreement the practice is neutralized.  You are wasting class time.  One of the tricks of learning Aikido is being able to act as if you don’t know what’s about to happen.  I throw a punch at your gut.  You turn off the line and intercept the motion of my fist.  Gripping my fist you begin to lead my motion as I circle around to try and strike you with my free hand.  You sweep the arm up, adding to the motion slightly, turning my wrist over on itself which turns my shoulder, which in turn affects my center and I fall.  Classic kote-gaeshi (wrist-reversal.)  If at any point I (as attacker) leave the agreement I have nullified that practice.  You (as the receiver) may adapt and apply a different technique, but your practice of that version of kote-gaeshi is gone.  This can happen at any point along the way.  I can throw a blade hand cut to the top of your head instead.  Or, I could not turn in to attack you with my free hand once you’ve turned.  Or, I could pull my arm in away from your turning my wrist.  Any one of those (and a dozen more) will make the practice of that specific version of a technique go away.  Simple as that.  Conversely, if you as receiver change mid-stream to a different technique, or version of the same technique, you have negated my practice as attacker of that particular exchange.  That is not as bad as the receiver leaving the agreement since it demands that the attacker access the core principles of ukemi (receiving) to follow through while staying safe, but it still negates that specific practice.  For the learning of Aikido to proceed smoothly, both sides have to keep the agreement.
  5. Follow through – Follow through has two aspects.  Firstly, Aikido is a physical act.  It can be unpacked and discussed verbally and mentally, but the performance of Aikido is primarily a physical act.  The body learns differently than the mind does in some respects.  One is time for a physical act to completely pass through the system before moving on.  After a technique is executed the body takes a moment to settle through the motion and feel fully what just occurred, imprinting that feeling on itself so that the next execution is improved.  In practice this means sticking with the motion and feeling of the technique for a second, or two, after the technique is “done” and the would-be attacker is pinned, or thrown.  It’s pretty common on the mat to see a student throw their partner then flop their arms down to their side, standing up out of stance while the partner is still flying.  That denies the body the opportunity to absorb what just happened, cutting short the learning cycle.  Let the body feel what it’s like.  It’s sort of like an echo.  When you yell across a canyon you have not heard that particular yell all the way until the last echo fades.  If you stop listening before that you have missed some of the richness and depth of that particular experience.  Follow through is like that.  There is feedback occurring when, and after, you throw your partner.  Stay there for a second, or two, still engaged to let that reverberation fully affect your body.  Secondly, follow through has a more basic facet.  When throwing someone, if you stop the throw before it’s actually happened you wreck the technique.  This is associated with the habit of “no do overs”, except there is no re-set, just a pause of doubt to see if you are doing it right.  This can be either watching to see if the partner falls, or when practicing with a senior student it can be a pause to see if they approve.  Again you are training your body to not complete the technique, and the habit you grind in during training are the only ones that will serve you when you have to execute a technique in a real situation.

Aikido, like an martial art, is about building new habitual skills for the body to use in times of emergency while discarding, or re-tooling old habits.  When a situation suddenly comes upon us we will not have time to think.  We will simply react.  Our reactions will be based on the habits we have developed and honed during training.  Lending a conscious eye to their development will accelerate your training greatly.

I’d love to hear what habits you build on, or work to shed, in your life and how you go about doing so.