Monday, February 06, 2012

Nidan (Part II)

On May 1, 2000, I stepped onto an aikido mat for the first time. Some years later I began including aikido demonstrations and simple exercises into training programs for businesses and universities, and started bringing in qualified aikido practitioners and teachers to assist delivery. Why? Some of my clients had been requesting the Samurai Game®, but were asking for it to be delivered outside of design parameters. Their groups were either too small or too large, or they wanted delivery completed in less than the required time, or the situation was not appropriate for the Game. As a result The Art of Practice and the Organizational Dojo™ (AOPOD) was created.

This past June I separated my right shoulder days before my initially scheduled nidan (2nd degree black belt) exam. The test was postponed until December 1st. California Aikido Association rules require that an essay accompany the challenge. Last month's issue of The Ronin Post contained the first half of that essay, "On the Eve of Nidan". The remainder follows. It chronicles reflections I had on November 30th, the day before the test. Aikido principles are transferable to personal and professional effectiveness for daily life outside the dojo and off the mat. The following principles and terms most occupied my period of reflection:

* Ai - Ki - Do = Harmony - Energy - Way, i.e. the way of harmonious energy

* Irimi = to enter into a situation

* Tenkan = to turn and look at a situation from the opposite direction

* Zanshien = the maintaining of a connection with all that is around you

* Onegai shimasu = a greeting or offer made to assist another learning

* Sensei = teacher

* Randori = being under multiple attack (i.e., all hell breaks loose)

* Kyu = any aikido rank below the rank of black belt, with 5th Kyu being lowest and 1st Kyu being highest

* Katate dore, irimi nage, kaiten nage, and kata dore = names of various techniques

* Uke = the "attacker" in a paired partner aikido training situation

* Gi = martial art training uniform

* Hara = body center point, about two inches below the navel

* Seiza = a formal way of sitting on one's knees

* Aikidoka = those who practice and study aikido

November 30, 2011

On The Eve of Nidan

Reflecting back to January 10, 1997. Mid-afternoon.

I am sitting legs sprawled, on Capitola Beach south of Santa Cruz. The sunlight is striking my face, as is a brisk sea breeze. The wet sand soaks through my trousers and puddles of water surround me. The tide is coming in. An hour ago my friend, John Gallagher, and I were walking over boulders and I slipped and fell. A horrible pain shot up and down the left side of my body. I heard my left femur split. John turned to ask, "Are you OK?" In hopeful denial I replied, "I think I've dislocated my hip." Broken the hip was, but broken I didn't want it to be.

John has gone to fetch help, leaving me alone. Down the stretch of beach a disheveled man with dreadlocks is ambling towards me. As he approaches I tense. I am helpless. Easy prey. Two things have kept me conscious the past half hour: deep breathing, and my incessant humming "Think of Me", a song from Phantom of the Opera. The man now stands over me. "Are you OK?" I respond," No, I'm not. I think my left hip is broken." He then acts differently than my fear has guarded me tense against. He extends an offer and asks, "Is there anything I can do to help you?" I accept his offer, "Can you hold my hand and help keep me from passing out?" He reaches out and we begin to talk. A little while later the police and paramedics arrive. My helper (training partner?) vanishes.

The paramedics assess the situation. They say the only way to safely get me off the beach is: first, carry me directly into the on-coming waves and beyond the boulders; second, move sideways parallel to both waves and beach; and third, turn and walk directly with the flow of the waves back toward to the beach. It's a painful journey full of twists, turns, bumps, jolts, laughter, screams, but it works. We get to where we're going. The next morning a surgeon skillfully aligns and joins together my split femur, wraps it with wire, screws a plate to it and then bolts the whole contraption into my hip. I live five days in a hospital and go home.

Three years later Richard (by now I'm calling him "sensei") introduces me to strange words which unfold into profound ideas: "uke" - a would-be attacker who ultimately becomes an ally to a life of growth (my stranger with the ragged hair); "onegai shimasu" - an offer made and replied to by training partners ("Is there anything I can do to help you?" "You can hold my hand"); "randori" - when we find ourselves in the midst of forces (waves and incoming tide) beyond our control, "aiki" when we blend with those forces; "get off the line" when we allow those forces to have their way, yet we remain in connection with our own needs and sensibilities and core values. Paramedics, I discover, know the importance of "irimi", and "get off the line", and "tenkan". And they get it that life is randori.

On a January day fifteen years ago, I sat broken and helpless on a beach, and was carried to an ambulance and was then pieced back together. I didn't think of that episode when it happened in the ways just described above - but I do now.

Reflecting back to May 1, 2000.

About a year or so ago I started bringing my younger two sons to Richard's dojo. He invited me to come here in the evenings to find refuge. The futon in the back is my perch from which I watch his classes. My sons snuggle and sleep on my lap. It's a peaceful place, yet filled with swirling energy and falling bodies. I like it here. Outside this building mine is a world of anger, disgust, judgment and disillusion - the residue of my second divorce.

Tonight, on May Day, I put on a gi and take my first official step onto the mat. I come face-to-face with a truth about me: I put ten units of effort into achieving one unit of result. How do I know? Within five minutes I am sweating and exhausted. No one else around me will break a sweat for another half hour, and some wont' even sweat at all.

Over the next few months it becomes clear (not because anyone tells me) that the anger, disgust, judgment and disillusion is a world I carry within. Who tells me so? I hear it in the same voice that told me three years ago to distrust a vagabond walking towards me on Capitola Beach. I've noticed that Richard Sensei has been weaving a discourse regarding life learning outside the dojo. He speaks of it as "to embody an ability to relax under increasing amounts of pressure." I begin to realize that in all the years we have been friends, he has never defined effectiveness as mastering ways to avoid life's pressures and problems. He's only spoken of effectiveness as an ability to enter well into conflict.

I didn't think of my life struggles that way on May 1st, 2000 - but I do now.

Reflecting back to June 2001. The day arrives for my 5th Kyu exam.

My youngest son is here to watch. He's a 10 year-old forth-grader and he has only just now learned to read. For him school is an exasperating and frustrating place. He knows of my education and he is aware of how smart his older brother is. Within him is a world of self-judgment and comparison is held. Himself vs. me. Himself vs. his brother.

During tonight's 5th Kyu exam I find it difficult to remember the meaning of certain Japanese aikido terms. My front rolls look like falling timber. There are moments when I freeze. My back rolls look like tumbling cardboard boxes. Richard Sensei has to call out some techniques using English words. When my short span on the mat is complete I find myself in the midst of personal judgment and comparison - me vs. other aikidoka. But sensei declares with a grin, "You passed." Later that night as I tuck Alex into bed I'm curious to know his thoughts of my test. "Wow, Dad," he says, "You did great!" I reply, "Well thanks. But I barely got a D." From that day Alex begins to see his father and himself differently. Coming to my Fifth Kyu exam is part of a foundation from which, ten years later, he will stand and walk taller as a man. Though he's never stepped onto the aikido mat himself, a seed is planted that night from which he and I will appreciate each other and ourselves differently.

In 2001, I didn't think of a 5th Kyu exam in this way when I stepped out onto the mat that night - but I do now.

Tonight - November 30, 2011. On the eve of Nidan.

Tomorrow is my exam; but it's also just another training day. Every day is a training day. Something uncertain happens. Every day is the test. No matter who one is, or what one does, or where one lives. What will I learn? I'm not sure. But I trust that my practice will be zanshien, so that I can learn from life's sensei - teachers that live in everything around me. I trust that I will irimi so that I can tenkan. I trust I will keep my base. I trust that I will move from my center, my core values, my true hara, and that when and if I don't that I will return to my center very soon. I trust that I will love life's ukes, in whatever form they take because through them what is (and will be) here for me to learn from will be revealed.

I may see things differently in the future than I do now. And I hope and trust I will.

© Lance Giroux, January 2012

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