Monday, December 21, 2009

メリークリスマス . . . Merry Christmas!

The dojo's closed for 2 weeks for the Christmas holidays (the French love vacations!). So I'll be hitting the books and the computer to keep in touch with Aikido. Here's my new toy:

This is great software! You can see the action from many angles, take notes, play it at varying speeds, and more. It's already helped me understand several techniques in the few days I've had it. Fifth kyu,  here I come!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Week 2 : On being a good uke

Since aikido is a defensive art, it's important to have something to defend against in the dojo. Half-hearted attacks don't cut it. No follow-through, no aikido. If someone attacks like a kindergartner on the street, it's easy to avoid. No defense needed.

So in class, uke  (attacker) needs to give tori  (defender)  a committed attack. Not trying to rip his head off, mind you, but more than a feeble push or a girly-man wrist grab. I was gracefully introduced this simple fact during the last class.

Specifically, you have to launch the attack and also "keep in contact" so your momentum will enable tori to complete a technique. This doesn't mean just pushing with an arm, but one's whole body should stay with tori, like in a real attack. I found this is especially important at my beginner's level, where all attack and defense is done more or less in slow motion. If there's no presence, no weight and no follow-up to an attack, tori cannot do aikido. I did not fully realize that my attacks were about as menacing as wet spaghetti.

Rather than being too slack or stiff as a board, staying with tori actually makes the technique both easier and safer.  I was able to take ukemi (forward and backward rolls) better after a  more pro-active attack.

This wasn't something I learned on my own. Sensei and other partners formally showed me how to do this. Firmly. Still don't have it down perfectly, but at least I know in what direction I'm heading,  so to speak.

My Dojo : Aikido Club Roannais

Dauphin Sensei (3rd dan) is 2nd from the left, front row.  I'm the last on the right, front row.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Week 1: It's Coming Back

Great class tonight. Started with wooden swords alone, then defended against them. Very interesting, especially when we did the same techinques without the swords. You could really see that the techniques came from the original sword play. Nothing new to seasoned akidokas, to be sure, but for this newbie it was eye-opening.

The rest of the class flowed like water. I'm still all thumbs with technique, but I must have learned something during my previous newbie training,  because I had no sore spots tonight and no trouble taking falls.

But I'm not kidding myself. This is only my first week back. It's the honeymoon period. Still, I'm surprised this class went so much better than the first one. Maybe it was the selection of techniques that suited me better. Maybe I have more muscle memory than I'd realized. I can't say. One thing is sure, aikido feels natural. It feels like coming home.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

First class: Crouching Tiger. . .Limping Dog

I'd forgotten aikido is harder than it looks. Lots. I was soon reminded of that rather quickly. While others were gracefully whirling and twirling, it was a challenge for me not to step on my partner's toes--which I ended up doing at least once, anyway. That was when I could remember the technique at all. When the teacher demonstrated what we were to do next, it looked so simple. An evasion there, a small pirouette here and the adversary flew through the air. In my case, not quite. My partners had to break down the moves for me so much, that I even succeeded getting them almost as confused as I was at one point. However, everyone showed great patience and helped smooth out my ragged technique somewhat.

 So despite displaying all the suppleness of Robocop, I limped through this first session relatively intact. I even managed to do some things more or less correctly. For example, my forward rolls weren't that bad. Even from a standing position. The only thing that was really a challenge was sitting in a kneeling position. Couldn't put any weight on my ankles for more than a few seconds without being very uncomfortable. Ah, the joys of the aging body!

Sore ankles notwithstanding, I enjoyed the class immensely. I'll be back for more this Friday.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why in the world would an over-50 take up aikido?

Why, indeed. I first heard about aikido as a young teenager and was immediately fascinated. However, circumstances didn't allow me to pursue it at the time. Took up karate in my late teens and continued for a couple of years. A few years later, I finally  started aikido in Cambridge, MA under Kanai Sensei. The training was great, but I only stayed a few months. I was still in my hot-headed years and after training in Shotokan karate,  found aikido "too soft". My exact phrase was, "doesn't feel like I'm doing anything". After that experience, life and responsibility took over and I dropped all thoughts of martial arts. Spent the next decades concentrating on strength training and physical fitness. 

Fast forward 20 years. Stumbled on an aikido dojo in town and decided to check it out. Liked it and joined. I was 48 and in great shape, but the training was challenging. Especially the bruises. Plus, I was having trouble with rolling and was constantly landing on the same tender spot.  For 4 months I nursed sore shoulders and back until I lost patience and quit. That was 7 years ago.

Now I'm older, wiser and still in pretty good shape. Probably better than before,  since I added running to my training a few years ago. So I'm going back to the dojo. This blog will track my experiences as a middle-aged man starting aikido all over again. I know the training is going to be tough. I know there will be sticking points and frustration. I also know I don't want to quit again.  I'm hoping writing everything down will give me a some objectivity and even little encouragement when the going gets rough, and it will.