Allowing the Learning
by Colorado Springs Aikido Student, Greg Johnson
“Aikido has no form, it is the study of the spirit”- Morihei Ueshiba
I am finding in my Aikido training with Goettsche Sensei at Aikido Koshin Shuri that my spirit needs to be full of perseverance and persistence. Now that I will be testing for 5th Kyu, sometimes I feel like I just started last week. I have been assured that this is a normal feeling to have, given the intricate nature of Aikido. I appreciate the style of instruction I am receiving at our dojo. I have heard from many people that they struggled in their training because their instructors did not show them the finer points of the techniques like my instructor does. I truly feel that my instructor has my best interest in mind while sharing his knowledge of Aikido. Even with the great training that I am receiving with Goettsche Sensei, I sense the immensity of the art and I am understanding why this is a lifetime endeavor.
Though it feels like I just started training, there are sparks of understanding that I am allowed to savor on occasion. I enjoy the rare and fleeting sensation of my center becoming one with my training partner. There are times that the pain in my joints is not as intense as it once was as I am being “taken down”, and I can imagine and feel where there are openings to apply a counter. I am not quick enough yet to apply these counters but I am able to see the progression and feel an elementary understanding within my spirit. I am also beginning to be able to watch and feel how my body reacts and apply a small portion of this knowledge to my next technique.
“Aikido has no form...” I will link this part of Morihei Ueshiba’s quote with another of his quotes, “Do not look upon this world with fear & loathing; bravely face whatever the gods offer.” I am beginning to understand the openness one needs to allow Aikido to flow from one technique to another. When facing an attack, I cannot have a hint of expectation in my mind as to how the attack will play out. I do not have the ability to read an opponent’s mind. I just need to blend with what they offer.
It goes without saying that this state of mind is very helpful in everyday life. I cannot control others or have unreal expectations of other people that I come in contact with. What I can do though is accept what they offer, good or bad, and look for the openings where my spirit may positively interact with theirs. I have always felt like I “got along” with others pretty well. A persistent study of my spirit through Aikido is giving me more depth and understanding of “getting along” with others and why I do.
Change is Constant; Change is Good
By Colorado Springs Aikido Student, Gihan Fellah
Change is a constant in our world. Our minds are constantly refined as we learn new information that causes us to reevaluate. Changes in the weather often cause our moods to shift; changes in relationships can transform our lives; change in our age as we get older causes our perspective to differ, and so on.
Change is pretty constant in the martial arts also. Martial arts are constantly altered in seemingly minor ways as taught by different instructors, but these minor changes have significant meanings that can completely transform how the art is understood and practiced. Just as in Aikido, each instructor teaches techniques slightly different based on how much understanding the student has. This also differs depending on how the instructor themselves interpret what they were taught.
Ok, so where am I going with this? I recently came across a poem/song I wrote in
November of 2007. The first verse goes like this:
“You spoke so slow
I caught my mind wandering
Away to someplace far and I
Held my mind in my hand
And watched as it melted
Through my fingers to form
A puddle on the floor”
When I first started training martial arts in Colorado Springs, I wanted to work on refining my sense of focus. My mind was constantly jumping around (now society labels this as ADD). This poem reminds me of how I used to have trouble following someone’s conversation. With training in the martial arts, I’ve refined my focus/attention on not just conversations but in all areas that require attention to detail.
While I still work on my focus in Aikido class, I realize that my reasons for continuing my martial arts training have changed numerous times throughout the years. This seems perfectly logical, as life is constantly changing the circumstances that surround us.
By Colorado Springs Aikido Student, Greg Johnson
As I drove my automobile North on I-25 from Albuquerque to Colorado Springs, I had plenty of time to analyze the process of getting from one place to another. I realized that I was using an Aikido technique that we spent considerable time practicing one evening in Aikido class. As I viewed the world around me through the windshield, it occurred to me that I did not focus on any one thing at a time. I scanned the horizon and was able to gather information and react quickly to a large number and variety of events that took place within my view and immediate vicinity.
I almost felt these events taking place rather than seeing them. The dashed line streaking by, a raven swooping overhead, the bugs hitting the windshield, the truck in front of me swerving slightly to avoid a piece of rubber tread sprawled across his lane. I knew all of these things were going on but did not focus my gaze directly at each element within my periphery.
The evening that we spent practicing a "Soft Focus" on our Uke taught us that we could move more harmoniously with our partner and our surroundings if we did not zero in on one aspect of their body or their movement. By viewing our partner holistically, we could move with them a lot easier and blend with their movements as if we began our technique at the same instant that they began their attack. I believe Uke's movements became more intuitive, and more predictable to Nage.
I have realized that a lot of the principles we practice in Aikido happen to be things we do in our everyday lives, even something as simple as driving down the road. Viewing a great piece of artwork or even watching a sporting event, if you soften your focus, many aspects become more clear and easier to respond to. You may sense movement, composition, alliances, and overall intent that you would not notice by focusing on individual brushstrokes or players on the field. By not focusing on the minutia, I feel a greater awareness and connection to the world around me as well as with my training partners in Aikido.
Get Out of the Way!
By Aikido Student, Sean Hannon
After reading Greg-san's article above, it inspired me to write a brief story of my own. I, too, use my Aikido training I receive from Goettsche Sensei while driving (and many other day-to-day activities). The first step in Aikido is to "Get off the line of attack" or perhaps more succinctly put: "Get out of the way!" So much adversity, social friction, and even phyiscally-threatening events in world can be avoided if one would just get out of the way.
For example, a few years ago, my wife and I were driving home from her parents' house in Bailey, Colorado late one Saturday night. We were driving in the left-hand lane going about 70 miles an hour along the south-east corridor on C470. We had just passed Golden and were heading toward Chatfield Reservoir. Suddenly, in my rear view mirror, about a 1/2 a mile behind me came a car barrelling up the highway. He was going at least 100 mph and swerving from lane to lane. Clearly this person was in a hurry! My nervous system immediately informed me that we were in potential danger. Without saying anything to my wife, who was dozing in the passenger seat, I quickly changed lanes and took my foot off the gas. The car flew right passed me and kept going. My wife, startled by the quick lane-change awoke and anxiously said, "What's the matter?!? What happened?"
"Some nutcase was about to hit us from behind. He's going way too fast," I replied. "I'll bet you we'll see him crash in a couple of miles."
I had every "right" to stay right where I was. I wasn't doing anything wrong. I was abiding by the speed limit and it was not inappropriate of me to be in the left lane. Perhaps, if I were feeling arrogant or stubborn that evening, I might have thought, "That guy's being a jerk. I'm going to sit right here, not get out of his way. He can go around me, if he's in such a hurry. That maniac!" But all I cared about was my and my wife's safety. "Get out of the way!" is the only thing my brain and gut said to me instantaneously.
Sure enough, a few minutes later we saw tire track skid marks leading off the road. The speeding car had lost control, flipped, and rolled down a steep embankment on the south side of the highway. Authorities had already responded, so there was no need for me to stop.
"I'm glad you responded the way you did," my wife replied. "He really could have hurt us."
"Yeah," I said. "I just pretended I was practicing Aikido and got out of the way. His momentum own took care of the rest."
I think of this experience a lot. There are so many people who complicate their own lives by not simply getting out of the way of people, groups, or organizations that are hell-bent on self-destruction. I know there are times that we must intervene, especially when it is someone we care about like a family member or good friend. But, truthfully, there are many more times that we elect to meddle in other peoples' trajectories and momentums and it's silly to think that we are really going to keep them from learning the lessons they are committed to experiencing. I say, just get out of the way.
Circles and Parallels
By Greg Johnson
It was about 1981 when I met and befriended a boy in the neighborhood named Ryan Goettsche. He was my same age and our fathers ran in similar circles and were best of friends. I vaguely remember talking with Ryan about martial arts in 1987 when I joined a small Tae Kwon Do school in Woodland Park. I had not been able to keep up with the high school track team, I tried to pole vault but I was not heavy enough to bend the pole, and my school would not sponsor the other sport I had interest in, soccer. I went in search of another physical, mental, and spiritual pursuit outside of school. I found what I was looking for in the martial arts. Tae Kwon Do is very linear in its techniques and for the first couple of years I was impressed with the fancy kicks and punches I learned to do. I felt pretty proficient by the time I was in college and had fun helping a friend teach a junior class in Gunnison Colorado. I remember defeating many imaginary assailants in my forms and breaking 5 boards at a time without any difficulty. I found, to my dismay one night in Colorado Springs while home on break in 1991, that my “proficiency” in the martial arts was very poor when challenged by 3 gang members. I remember sitting in the E.R. thinking, “maybe I should be studying something other than Tae Kwon Do.”
A few years later I found myself living in Durango Colorado studying a very circular art called Aikido. I loved it from the beginning, I knew it would not teach me how to beat off the gang members in short order but I knew that it was teaching me about me and how not to be there when the gang members showed up. I did not study Aikido long before my instructor left town in the middle of the night, not to be seen or heard from again. Durango is a small town and does not have any other Aikido instructors so I just thought about Aikido for the next 10 years. I ended up in Oregon for six of those years and thought of getting back into Aikido often. I would practice rolling occasionally and stretching out my wrists for good measure. I always seemed too busy in graduate school and then with the career and then with kids. Through a couple of e-mails I stayed in touch with my old childhood friend Ryan. I remember us talking about living rather parallel lives. Serendipitously, he had married about the same time I did. He had two children just like I had and he was also caught up in a career. We also discussed training in Aikido. He had started a couple of years before I had and had stuck with it. I was envious and I was motivated to get back into the art that I knew I belonged in. Hence, I began this circular journey in my life, we moved back to Durango, where there was still no Aikido instructor, and lived for three more years just thinking about Aikido and doing a couple of backward rolls here and there for good measure.
When career and life led us back to the front range of Colorado, where I started this tale, I could not wait to find an Aikido school to begin my study again and to introduce my son to the martial arts. I looked online for dojo options and came across none-other-than Sensei Ryan Goettsche teaching Aikido in Colorado Springs! There was no question at that point where my son and I should study Aikido. I had completed one large circle. I am thrilled to now be studying once again the smaller circular movements of life in a great dojo with some very fine people.
Testing in Aikido
by Janice Gould
When the test was announced, I knew I would do it and I looked forward to it. I would be testing for the rank of third kyu. Testing helps us to commit ourselves to learning, as it provides an incentive for focus and a chance to put into practice the principles handed down by O Sensei and others. To me, those principles have to do with loving protection of the self and others, developing awareness, practicing ways of blending and harmonizing with others, and learning to lead the mind (especially one’s own mind) to peaceful reconciliation. It seems ever more important to bring to our world and our society this way of thinking and techniques for accomplishing this.
I found test day to be exciting and energizing, and also a very good work out. At the end, though I was tired from the physical and mental exertion, I felt good about what I had just accomplished, for the test had been fun and interesting. The test helped me to feel more confident about what I remember, but it also made me aware of what I still don’t know, and of what I have just started to learn—new or different techniques. Testing for different ranks show us that learning in aikido is a process and that it is something that evolves as we ourselves evolve, change, and grow. Thus, training, learning, and testing can go on for lifetime.
The modest ceremony a couple of weeks after testing was very nice. It was good to receive our certifications and our new belts whose colors indicate our levels of training. While on some level, such a ceremony points to where we have been in our practice, it also provides a gateway or threshold that opens to new possibilities for instruction and development in this unique art of aikido.