Ai’s Wide Shut

“It’s like we’re psychic,” Holly marvels. “How did you know what I was thinking?” I ask. We repeat the experiment. She shuts her eyes. I grab her wrist and we pause there a moment. Then I focus on her shoulder—specifically the bunched fabric of her gi top. I think about grabbing it with my free…

The Caretaker’s Test

The above picture comes from Scott Carlton’s recent 5th kyu test—the first demonstration a person gives to establish their rank as a beginner. The first time they truly come to Aikido’s front door and knock, knock, knock. At first glance, the photo seems like an innocuous and typical first test snapshot, and yet, it actually…

Aikido, App’d for Dating

I downloaded the dating app, entered a punchy profile, and uploaded some pictures. My index finger hovered over the submit button. I hadn’t dated in almost 20 years. Back then, there were no smartphones or apps, I didn’t have cirrus gray streaks in my hair, and wrinkles existed only in my laundry. Did I really…

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Toward correct perception

On the path toward correct perception, is there ever really any room for regret? Recently Mark Sensei asked us to consider the difference between “extending” and “pushing.” I am beginning to understand that aikido techniques involve extending rather than pushing. And for about two years now, I’ve heard Mark Sensei and my gracious sempai remind…

Getting Here, Being Here

I recently had a wonderful conversation about the mindset of martial arts with a college professor. He is particularly qualified to speak on the subject. His doctorate is in Sports Psychology. He is Japanese, with a Japanese teacher’s license, and he is an experienced kendo competitor. We sat on my couch, enjoying a drink and…

Practice Watered Down

“Don’t change the kata,” Sensei Mark reminds the class. We stand in pairs down the mat, like characters in a Jane Austen novel about to dance a quadrille or cotillion; only we are equipped with swords, not witty repartee. We are struggling with the day’s weapons instruction. Specifically, we cannot comprehend the correct and proper…

Connection

In my early years of aikido, connection was not emphasized. I first conceived of connection as something to break away from. Someone grabs your wrist, and well, you’re trying to escape, right? Make them let go! It was a long time before it occurred to me that one of the principle things we are practicing…

Copyright 2013 Alain Grafal

Dignity and Respect

I’ve always thought of myself as the kind of person who treats everyone with dignity and respect. In the short 21 months that I’ve been training in aikido, it has become glaringly clear that there is someone new whom I am learning to treat with dignity and respect: myself. Through our aikido practice, I am…

Teaching Learning

Finally: the answer to the conundrum which has bebuggered our dojo and its instructors—maybe all dojos and instructors—since the dawn of forever! Ours cannot be the only dojo that wonders what constitutes the best practices for teaching aikido. Should you demonstrate techniques silently and allow practitioners to repeat them ad infinitum? Should you provide minimal…

Motion. Stillness. Joy. Every time we step onto the mat, it is a precious opportunity to start fresh, as a beginner.

Joy and beginner’s mind

My shaky signature on the little sign-in card betrayed the fact that I was choking back some fear. This was Day One of my aikido training, and although I was greeted with warmth, kindness, and friendly smiles, all I could see were hakama. The hakama. Symbol of someone else’s perfection. Mockingly pointing out the fact…