The Ai-kitchen

An Aikido blog. There could also be food. Maybe.

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This one is more self-therapeutic, getting things out of my head. Feel free to skip it if that’s not your thing.

I’m sitting in a cafe in not-so-sunny Scotland, two days after the CRGI Instructor Development course in Sheffield with Rory Miller & Garry Smith. First day on this trip where I’ve been able to just relax and do that. Nothing on the plan, it’s the only real vacation day this time. Not that I’m complaining, it’s been a fun week. But I do need some quiet time to process.

I’ll do a full review of the seminar later, maybe next week. Short version: Fantastic, if a bit short for the material & depth.

I have many takeaways from it, but the main thing is that since it ended I’ve been deeply uncomfortable. That’s probably a good thing, if I handle it right that’s a good indicator that some internal growth is happening. But it’s not very pleasant. Until I have more time to sit down and think things through, write stuff down, maybe meditate on it and talk stuff out with a few different people I won’t 100% know why. I do have a few theories.

I think my teaching is going to change, possible fairy radically. Some things I thought I was doing I now think I wasn’t quite. Principles based teaching was a big theme, and frankly I’m not quite there. I’m playing at the edge between martial arts and self-defence a fair bit, and some of that mix is good but some problems might have been sneaking in that I didn’t think about. I also think I need to bring the context in even more. Might be time for a few theory classes. Might also be time to split the lessons more. A lot of “mights” and “maybes”, I don’t have good answers for some of these things, but lots of open ended questions. The course didn’t quite have enough time to sort through all of them with the other participants (almost all of which have waaaaay more experience & training than me) or the teachers. Though it might have given me some tools to sort them out myself, which brings me to point two.

I think part of me was hoping for more answers. Self defence is not a topic with clear cut, definite answers. And neither is teaching. People who tell you otherwise are usually trying to sell a specific answer. And there is great comfort in those. And in validation, having people we consider more advanced who we trust telling us we’re doing something right. Or even doing something wrong, weirdly enough. This was a place with lots of people like that, and some of this happened. But I suspect a large part of the discomfort is in realising that I need to take care of the open questions myself, not wait for an external answer. That has limits of course, there are martial artists with better body mechanics, and people with way more real experience with violence who should check some of what I do, some of the biggest douchebags in this field entirely self-validate. But overwhelmingly, it’s on me (and anyone else who does this stuff of course). And validation only matters if the source is valid. I know martial artists who are great authorities on their system, and who would be perfectly valid to check my body mechanics, but who have no clue about the context of self-protection. And people with tons of real experience who are great to check context, but useless for the fine points of Aikido. There were a few instances of checking coming up at the course which were very useful. The order of teaching applications for joint locks that I use seems good. One technical detail we’ve been using only works if the other guy makes a specific mistake, so we’re scrapping it. I feel kinda dumb for that one, it should have been obvious. External checking is sometimes useful to get past blindspots. But overall there wasn’t too much of it. And I realise there will never be. My smarter half, who did the course with me, pointed out that like in scientific research ,if anyone else can 100% validate what you do, you haven’t done anything new. Which leads into the next point.

Since I started teaching, I’ve been getting more and more happy with the classes and the results. But also more and more stuff was coming up and simmering under the surface. Things I don’t know how to improve, topics that I should cover, drill design and a whole bunch more stuff. Realising where some of my holes are, where some of the blind spots may be. Things I simply do not know how to do. And so part of me latched onto this course like an anchor. I’ll go there and learn from these guys who I highly respect and have worked with before and some of whom are awesome, in the literal sense of the word, and then everything will be fine. And that was not what the course was. More than that, there is no course or nothing that could be like that. This topic is a deep, open, almost endless mix of things, where there are no clear cut answers and nobody should ever get to the point where they say “good enough”. So all those issues that were under the surface now keep coming up. When I get back there will be a lot of writing, and a lot of working out what might be possible ways to deal with them. But realising, not just intellectually but deeply that there is no anchor is painful. And probably very, very good for me in terms of growth. But change hurts.

Some of the most powerful stuff at this course was not what you would find on a list of topics covered. In a lunch break being shown a glimpse of a system of training that bio-mechanically and in terms of intensity is an order of magnitude above anything I’ve ever done. Talking late into the night over beers with someone who has trained longer than I have been alive. Realising during a simple exercise just how powerful some of the good aspects of what I learned are. And, more than anything else, realising the terrifying responsibility of teaching this stuff, paired with the knowledge that nothing we ever do or teach will keep anyone perfectly safe, ever.

I think “..if you try sometimes, you get what you need” applies here.

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Bit of a mix

I spoke too soon. Last post I though it would be easier now to make time for writing. I was wrong. This post is not exactly structured, I just want to get some of the stuff that’s been in my head written down, so it’s a bit of a mix of topics.

Classes at the dojo have been good. A few weeks ago we started drills for getting used to light contact (as in hitting/being hit), something that’s often a bit sidelined in Aikido. Results were good and I think everybody enjoyed themselves. We did more play and more self-defence drills towards the end of January as well and I’m very happy with the outcomes. Now it’s a little bit more of the classics, working on breaking down some of the locks & take-downs, and going over the ground pins.

Last week we had a class focusing on the pins, holding Uke face down on the floor. We covered the technical details, how to transition into them – which is the part that currently needs the most work – and some variations that can be done if things don’t quite go as planned. I’d like to break this part down into the underlying principles a bit more in the future, see how that goes.

Importantly, we also had some discussions on how & when restraint technique are appropriate to use, and when not. Who should and shouldn’t use them, levels of force and potential legal issues to consider. For the most part restraint is not terribly relevant for self-defence, we don’t want to hold the bad guy down, we want to stun/drop him and get away. There are situations though where this may be different. The stereotypical “drunk uncle at the family barbecue”. Holding back a friend about to get himself into a dumb-ass fight. Being attacked by someone who has enough of a physical disadvantage that higher levels of force are not required or justifiable – e.g. and adult attacked by a child. And of course it’s expected when doing locks in classical gradings to finish with a pin. So we talk it out in class to enable the students to make more informed decisions and understand where different aspects of the training fit in.

This Friday we did some open-hand striking on the pads, and how to integrate it into locking techniques, tried some new drills and generally played with the focus pads a bit.

Since the class is fairly small, I’ve been taking advantage of it by doing some one on one talks about training. I’ve invited the students who have been there the longest to sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about what they want from their training in the next couple of months, what their goals are, what they think they need to work on and what I think they should focus on. It has, I think, been a success and will help me plan the classes better in the near future.

Outside of Aikido, my focus is on managing my time and energy levels at the moment. My exercise and nutrition have been very good in January, which helped. This month a bit less so. I had to go abroad in the beginning of the month, and am going to the UK again to a seminar in two weeks, so I’ve been squeezing my workload into less time, spending time on organising the trips and spending less time on other things. Plus part of my appartement is still full of old stuff from a move that needs to be sorted out or thrown out.

As a result I’ve spent less time cooking than normally. Mostly that just means simpler meals, still tasty and healthy, but I miss cooking elaborate stuff a little bit. The prep time, cooking time and clean-up time are difficult to keep up when busy. I finally decided to get myself a slow cooker though, and that thing is worth its weight in gold! Saves me a lot of time as I can leave it on while I’m at work and come home to a fresh cooked meal. One downside of less cooking is that I’ve been indulging my pizza habit a little more than I maybe should. Which doesn’t bother me that much, I’m in decent enough shape that a few pizzas mixed in with my generally healthy diet won’t negatively affect me, but I like having the time to actually choose my food and cook from scratch. The ease of ordering pizza is nice, but doing it too much indicates there is something wrong with how my time is distributed.

Going back to training, the time distribution thing is a major issue. I touched on it last post, depending on what’s going on in our lives we will have more or less time and energy to spend on training. Balancing short-term and long-term goals, as well as internal and external demands on our time is a skill, and an important one. It can be learned and improved. Finding stress factors and time sinks and seeing which ones can be eliminated and how is a major part of it. Doing this, I know what my stress factors and time sinks are, and which ones I can work on. One is sorted out (that trip earlier in the month took care of it). Some are here to stay. Some I simply had to accept are things I would like to do that don’t fit with my goals and available time, and I have to get rid of. One or two that right now, I can do nothing about except try to put them in the back of my mind. Most of them though are things that, once identified, can be resolved with some focused effort, and some time dedicated to them now.

For Aikido, I have a bit of an advantage when it comes to training, in that I am the teacher. I don’t have a choice about going, there is no decision-making involved, if I am here and healthy I am at the dojo, period. Now there is decision-making and some time involved in planning the classes etc., but the actual act of going is automatic, which mentally is much easier that choosing training over other things every time.

When I get back from the seminar, I need to put some effort into marketing the class a bit more, I’ve been dragging my feet on it. Until then I’m dedicating my efforts to making some of the things using my time go away a little bit. And hopefully finding the time to once in a while write one of these posts or cook myself something elaborate.