Deep thoughts & Directions: Coming out of the ADD Closet

As noted in an earlier post, I it was recently discovery that I had ADD as a child. With reassurances from some in the blogging community I thought I’d go ahead and put a brief history of my life concerning this new revelation. This isn’t the complete cliff notes, but I hope you enjoy the beginning of the journey nonetheless.

As stated, on a visit to a psychiatrist  last month he had determined that as a child I likely went undiagnosed with ADD, otherwise known as Attention Deficit Disorder. I guess this didn’t come too much of a shock to me since as far as I can remember I was always a little off as a child; quiet yet emotional, physically adapt yet unable to academically “fit in” (I did have my scholarly moments). My academics were erratic as best; there were years where I was stellar in K-12; others I was in the dumps with Cs and Ds! (for those not from the USA, it’s kindergarten through 12th grade – ages 5-17).

One year in middle school however, I discovered a saving grace: sports and exercise. That year was the year I was on the cross-country team. Man was it tough! Running three miles for an 8th grader is no walk in the park. However I assumed that was what got my grades up to a 3.9 GPA (stupid French, I only got a B+).

So that was it. The only time my grades ever breached the 3.5 gpa mark. I use to have a 4.0 gpa the first semester of my graduate program but it was since fallen due to subject course load and subject matter. Goddamn.

So there’s my ADD history in short. Nowadays it’s just known as ADHD (Attention Deficit Hypertension Disorder). Why the scientific community upped the standard of those with this type of existence is beyond me. Just being ADD already carries a badge (of honor or shame depends; I prefer the first) and just being typecast is already something to consider. Anyway, my academic woes didn’t stop at college, I’m still struggling with in my program and in my classroom placements.

That aside, I would like to share this part of myself because of my martial arts history. I did Shaolin Kung Fu for 4 years from 6th – 9th grades. Unfortunately that didn’t end well (different story). My cross-country experience was only for one season – I did it for 8th grade and entered high school being on the team but dropped out in favor of taking an accelerated literature course for freshman (a decision I’ve regretted ever since!).

My attitude towards the classroom has been a bipolar one; either I’m deafly neutral to them or they’ve been the bane of my existence. The only time I’ve thoroughly enjoyed a classroom setting has been when I’ve had a great teacher. By “great” I mean “balls-to-the-wall-I-love-teaching-AND-I-know-my-stuff”. I bet that some of you have had teachers who were quite animated and enthusiastic about themselves and their topic(s).

Anyway I digress. So yes, the way to attract my attention in a class was to have an awesome teacher. Otherwise forget it! I’ve off into my own little world, drumming on the desks, daydreams, swinging the legs, etc. If you wanted to get me you’d need to go kinesthetic; that’s academic speak for “activities that involves movement”. Not surprisingly, my cross-country experience and my current forays into Aikido had yield positive results and growth in multiple facets of my life in terms of energy, self-control, self-confidence, self-dignity, and direction (among others).

I won’t get into details as to how to handle ADD/ADHD. I’m not a licensed professional (yet) and am just one guy among many trying to sort out his own craziness. But what I will say is that my journey is one that is riddled with trial and error (with amusing and tragic results!). There’s nothing particular at the moment that I want to focus on, but I will be including my “condition”, and will be sharing findings that I find of interest.

Till next time ladies and gents!

3 year anniversary and Reflection Shinanagians

Phew, after many homework days I can breathe a sign of relief for tonight to write into this blog. I swear I’m not ignoring it, but my “life” so to speak has pushed aside the things that come naturally to me. As the title states, it is my 3 year anniversary in Aikido – about 2 weeks early. Nonetheless I feel that I should mark this  because 3 years ago prior I basically relearned the art.

I use the term relearned loosely since I first trained in collage for two years (read the description in the ‘about me’ section). The Sensei at that time was a middle-aged man. He first trained in Jujitsu, then had moved into Aikido. He had trained under Chiba Sensei, and his student Pablo Vázquez Sensei. Subsequently his Aikido form was quite powerful; rigid, with a dash of Jujitsu influence. Focusing on weapons and technique, he would subsequently – and unfortunately – prove to be one of the many “run of the mill” instructors to me. Well meaning, yet there was no really spark to his teaching, personality, and/or his transmission of the Aikido. Don’t get me wrong, he was a powerful guy standing at 6′, being the broad chested white Caucasian male that he is, and he knew his stuff, but there was something there that was missing – especially compared to what I have now.

Unfortunately I stopped Aikido at the beginning of my senior year in pursuit of making the most out of my last year. Namely to get accepted into a fraternity and focusing on graduating with a job! Unfortunately both didn’t pan out as well as expected and I subsequently spent the next 2 years working in Los Angeles and up in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I finally found dragged myself to take some classes at the community college near my house and decided why the hell not to take the Aikido course there. Toke it with a 3rd Dan (who I still meet on occasion), then heard about some badass Shihan who was teaching nearby and thought to myself once again: Why the hell not.

That was August 2008. The rest so far, is history.

In 3 years I’ve worked my way up from 5th kyu to 1st kyu. I will be eligible for my black belt test in December of 2012. Assuming the world won’t end I should be fine. Looking back at my time I have grown so much…yet so little! I have only brushed, not chipped, brushed the surface of Aikido, my martial arts journey, and myself as a human being. God it’s scary just thinking about all of this.

Have I improved as an aikidoist? Oh hell yeah. Have I only began my journey as “being me”? Oh yes. If there was anything concrete that I had gained from my training, it’d be that you are always changing, always reforming, always pliable. The moment I thought I “had it”, I’d run into something that’d challenge my sense of self (in the dojo) and I would allow myself to change. Sure I have gained some rough edges since my training, but I suppose with new ideas you have new problems. It’s all in the journey, the voyage…

With that said, I plan on unveiling some new stuff as time goes by. I have made some personal discoveries over the months and I feel that there will be a time when these discoveries will intertwine with my journey as a martial artist and I would like to share at the very least, tidbits of my findings.

In other news, I’ve updated the “about me” section, the title of this blog, and the header. Hope you guys like the header (I designed it myself – I’m working on my photoshopping skills). As for the title change, I finally settled for The Journey of an Accidental Aikidoist. My first title The Accidental Aikidoist felt dull – and I didn’t like the initials AA. Then I changed it to one thing and now back to its current title. My apologies for those of you who already have it set. But this title is a sure thing.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Anno Sensei & Top 40 List

I’d like to quickly mention somethings before the start of this week.

1.) On July 9th of this month I went to Santa Cruz, California to sit in on Motomichi Anno Sensei’s 80th Birthday. Anno Sensei, 8th Dan Shihan is one of the last remaining first generation aikidoka who studied under O’Sensei. That week he had made his 20th (might be more, I can’t remember off the top of my head) appearance at the Aikido of Santa Cruz Summer Retreat.

Keep in mind, this man is 80 years old (as of May 2011) and who has been training in Aikido since his 20s. Anyway back to the story so since I was busy with school, work, and homework I was only able to come to his birthday party on the night of the 9th. I was genuinely surprised he recognized me! I waved to him just before the presentation started, he smiled and waved back. I guess knowing that I am only one of perhaps tens of thousands of students he has met over the years made the moment better.

Honestly I don’t know why I keep on being drawn to this master. He’s not your John Wayne type. He certainly not a tough-guy type nor is he one to seek or be comfortable in the spotlight. Quite a humble sensei; “friendly”, “nice”, and “down to earth” are common adjectives used to describe him. Standing at 5’3″, he does give off a slight cartoon-ish presence (to me anyway).

So here I am at his dinner and throughout the night it’s a rather mature affair. Wine, cheese, few meat dishes, the whole 9 yards. fortunately for me there was a full stocked bar in the hotel that the party was at and I helped myself with a couple of beers. So comes the ceremony and guest speakers who praised Anno Sensei. It was mentioned that he was awarded the 人間国宝-Ningen Kokuhō (Living National Treasure) by the Japanese government a couple of years back. My own sensei gave his own short speech regarding Anno Sensei (who was one of his teachers in Japan, by the way).

The dinner/ceremony went on for another 2 hours before it ended. Honestly I came only for Anno Sensei. As I’ve mentioned before I can’t explain why I’m drawn to this master, perhaps my youthful and aggressive energy could use some calming influence every once in a while in the form of a martial arts master.

…though I prefer it in a women 😉

2.) I recently found out I was nominated in a Top 40 martial arts list!…in Tae Kwon Do.

Wait what? Did  someone miss the translation somewhere? You can view the list and page here, I’m number 28.

I appreciate the free publicity and all, but seriously Tae Kwon Do? You can’t get any further from Aikido! Hah, in any case I will thank whoever put me on the list, however I will advise said person to do some research. I wonder what the Striking Thoughts has to say about this (he’s number 3 on the list).

Alright that’s it for now, till next time ladies and gents!

Musings 070611: Kids have more balls than most adults!

In lieu of long posts (of which I have 5 in back order) I have decided to break the silence and share a couple of stories which support the title of this post. And seriously, some of these kids put most adults in awe! (myself included).

Story #1: 3 weeks ago I was teaching my normal kids class that Thursday. Towards the end of the class I notice one of the 5-year-old boys has the “I’m-going-to-throw up” face. Now mind you this boy is one of the rambunctious characters and is often caught by me and my fellow child instructors not listening and just being a little punk. He’s gotten better at listening to the adults but at the beginning he was very prone to just being distracted and “listening to his own record”. Anyway at first this was what I thought – but the slightly colored face gave it away that he was rather dehydrated. He’s usually has a rather colorful personality – being a bit of a brat – so him walking up to me in this fashion was out of character for him. I asked him if he wanted to have a seat and drink some water. He shook his head; he wanted to stay on the mat. Okay I thought so I allowed him to stay on. A couple of minutes later I noticed he still hadn’t gone to drink and his face was still rather colored. I asked him again – he said

“No I’m okay”.

At this point the class was about to end in a few minutes so I thought that having him sit down would deprive him of a much-needed closure activity. So I finish the activity and I’m having the kids sit down to bow out. Calmly this child stands up and says the words:

“I don’t feel well.”

Okay, I thought, and told him he could go to his mom and have a drink. My blue belt sempai on the other hand exclaims “You don’t look well, go throw up!” At this point the poor kid’s face was beige all over (he has white skin) and a small hue of green in the mix.

What happens next should be chronicled among the volumes of kindergarten/5-year-old badassery. He calmly walks up to his mother (her face is a mix of motherly worry/concern/and “w.t.f. is happening here?”) and stops as if to wait for his bottle of water. Instead he then turns away from his mom and stops at the trash can that is nearby (which by the way, is almost as tall of he is).

All of sudden he stands up on his toes and a gigantic blob of vomit ushers forth from his mouth and into his trash can. For those of you who have seen your vomit after a night of heavy drinking – imagine that flying out of a 5 year old’s mouth!

The whole waterfall scene happened less than 2 seconds, but what happens next makes him a god among kids. He wipes his mouth with the sleeve of his gi, walks up to his mother (she’s still looking at him with a “what-the-hell-are-you-thinking” gaze), takes a sip of water from his toddler-size water bottle. He then turns and bows towards the shomen of the school, gets on the mat, then sits in seiza with the class that’s waiting to be bowed out. He then looks at me (I’m seated in the instructor position) and gives me the most serious, disciplined, I-am-ready-for-your-orders-sir! look that I have ever seen him use. He says nothing for the rest of the class.

That kid took it like a boss!

...kinda like this kid. Only less of this badass and more like...

... this badass.

FYI: the rest of the students who were politely sitting waiting for him showed and expressed their disgust at the scene, saying “ewww…”. And like a boss, he ignored them (at least from what I could tell).

Story #2: So this is actually from a classmate of mine that reminded me of my student in #1. So his wife and him were watching the fireworks this past 4th and according to him, they were waiting for the show when suddenly his wife lets out a scream! He turns around and a woman nearby lets out another scream. Apparently there was a cockroach that was about 4 inches long walking under them. The two women were screaming “Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!”. My friend was standing around trying to decide what to do when an 8-year-old badass comes out of nowhere and crushes the sucker under his foot.

I asked my friend what he thought and he stated that he didn’t want a cockroach carcass at the bottom of his shoe. However, little Jimmy had no problem with that.

…And that’s it! That’s all the time I have left before I need to go sleep like an old man and wake up in 5.5 hours to “enrich” the minds of 25 7 year-olds…like a boss.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Update 061911: A Bunch of Stuff and the Cereal Killer

It’s 1 am here in California and my feet are still sore after an 8 hour shift at my part-time retail job that I recently started. It’s actually the same one that I had for Christmas, but that’s a story for a different time. Oh well here it goes.

1. Aikido Journal Online has featured another one of my articles! This time about my journey of ukemi ever since I restarted Aikido almost three years ago. Have a look and tell me what you think? I believe I mentioned I am only a 1st Kyu and I’m already talking about a concept/actuality that only the founder truly understands. You can view the article here on their website and the original here in my blog.

2. My Sensei has publicity! It’s awesome that a Sensei like him who has trained for over 40 years is getting this type of recognition and notice. It’s always a great thing that people other than Aikidoists are recognizing him and the message of Aikido that he is trying to spread. Thanks to Bob from Striking Thoughts! The original video and blog are seen here.

3. So back in March of this year I was put onto the Top 50 Martial arts blogs of the internet list by the Guide to Online Schools site. This list at that time included heavy weights and big wigs such as “Striking Thoughts”, “Fist in the Frost”, and “Epic Martial Arts Blog”. I love to say that I’m rubbin’ shoulders with the head honchos of the martial arts blogasphere, but it seems the list has vanished and became this. I was planning on releasing the news of my massive promotion…but I guess not anymore!

4. Last but not least, I found this funny video as done by Youtube celebrity, USC grad, and video-editing guru Freddie Wong!

I’ll admit, the whole reason why I’m featuring this video is the movement in 0:40. Other than that it’s funny humor and CGI.

Here’s the behind the scenes version.

Freddie Wong is actually a duo comprising of Freddie Wong and Brandon Laatsch. Both maintain the channel freddiew and is as of May 2011, the 14th most subscribed channel on youtube. In recent years, their skills and talent have led them to collaborate with various on-and-off youtube celebrities such as Andy Whitfield, Shenae Grimes, Eliza Dushku, and Wong Fu productions.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Ukemi: The Basics and the Journey thus Far

It’s been a while since I have done a training themed post. With the onset of a series of fresh lectures by my Sensei about Ukemi, I thought I’d chime in with my own personal journey.

Ukemi is one of the most important components of being an Aikido practitioner, it is also from my experiences with other teachers one of the most abstract – and consequently misunderstood – aspects of the martial art. I might expand on this in the future, but for now I’m going to share with you some of the insights that I have witnessed, experienced, failed at, and done in terms of Ukemi.

What is Ukemi?

Ukemi is also the art of protecting oneself during the fall. You see all these spectacular turns, rolls, and falls by aikidoka and you may wonder: “It’s all flashy stuff, but it is real?” My friends, from the injuries that I’ve sustained from not doing ukemi, I will attest that it is quite real.

Ukemi by itself is translated loosely as “receiving with the body”. For a more technical translation view here at Aikiweb. The art itself, for those of us who train in it, is composed of two people – partners: Uke and Nage.

Uke: The person coming in with the “attack” and “receiving the technique” according to the situation.

Nage: The person receiving the “attack” and “executing” the technique.

These are just general translations. I will also get into the “attack” part later.

A good Uke leads to a good Nage. A great Uke leads to a great Nage.

~ J.Wada Sensei

But not necessarily the reverse. Running with this way of being it’s been an interesting ride so far with my Sensei and the senior black belts in the school. Ukemi is emphasized so much here that I have gotten scolded by my Sensei in front of the class for not coming in with a full body presence.

How is Ukemi done?

You see, Ukemi is not falling. This is a big part of the misconception of it in the art, the “falling part”. Most often times you fall in order to protect yourself from the motion of the technique. Take this in mind: some guys are hard-hitting – dominating guys, some are soft – more inclined to help you, most are somewhere in the middle. No matter the person – or body type, one should not simply cave in. The practitioner has to be present in the moment, allowing the body to be included in the movement. In the almost 3 years at this dojo it has been journey (still is) allowing my body to do this.

Take for example salmon going upstream to their breeding grounds/graveyards. If you look at the salmon they aren’t simply going with the flow. If they were they’d simply be swept downstream. Yet they are not fighting the water either – just watch them. They are “going with the flow”, yet to the untrained eye their behavior and actions would contradict this statement (that is so often used in Aikido circles). That’s the best I can describe the feeling.

Ukemi is simply the honest expression of the person who’s simulating the “attack” – one who is allowing themselves coming in with full presence, to be taken into the technique and taken out – either by rolling, falling, etc . Think of every exchange between Uke and Nage as a conversation, as my Sensei would explain it. Honestly I agree with him – and him (there’s two of them).

When I come into “attack” my Sensei or my partners, I allow myself to have the intention of coming in at them. Even at slow speeds and with new people, it is imperative that all incoming Ukes know that their movements simulate an “attacker”. Often times I find myself working with white belts and for my practice as well as improving theirs, I always take the time to show, demonstrate, and have them experience what it’s like to come in on someone with intention.

When one is “attacking”, the uke is balanced; when one is receiving the attack, they are balanced. If one is unbalanced (all it takes it one partner to throw the system off), then it throws off the whole practice. You see unlike most other martial arts where the point is to attack the “opponent” and take them down and hurt them in the shortest amount of time possible, Aikido’s aim is to have its practitioners achieve balance within themselves – a body/mind balance that is one part of a process of growth and evolution in that person.

How can I expect you to prepare for imbalance when you’re not balanced to receive it.

~ R. Nadeau Sensei

Among all of this activity of attack and receiving the attack, uke and nage are balanced. Not just in stance, but in body/mind harmony, their own energies, and that of the situation. As Nadeau Sensei has stated many times (I’ve lost count), the main themes of Aikido is achieve body/mind harmony balance. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s value in the experience of chaotic “street” situations where all hell breaks loose, your adrenaline hits the sky, and you throw every notion in the book out the window in 0.0003 seconds flat. These situations are lacking in many martial arts school and need to be addressed – I for one would love to delve into ways on how to handle high stress situations. Yet in the “typical” rough-and-tumble, put-em-down-keep-em-down martial arts, you simply are not geared toward achieving inner balance, whether martially or otherwise.

There’s still lots to be said about Ukemi. There’s the aspect (of lack of) kuzushi, balance, body/mind harmony, etc. If any of you want, I can delve into any of these into as much detail as my experience allows me to. My personal Ukemi is constantly changing – evolving. If someone were to have asked me what ukemi was six months ago I wouldn’t be this deep or detailed. If any of you would ask me what ukemi is to me six months from now I willing to bet money that my answer will be different from the explanation here. A good example of this would be how my rolls have changed since I started almost three years back. When I began I was the typical white belt – my rolls hurt me more than they helped me. Now I can say with relative confidence that they’ve smoothed out a little yet I can only hope that they will improve with the years to come.

Till next time ladies and gents!

Musings 060111: The Human Ego

Days like these really make you realize that your ego is sometimes your worst enemy in your training.

Now I never mentioned that I was “great” or even “good” for my rank. However, I felt that in some ways my “I” (as what my Sensei calls the ego is called in Aikido) really, really had a good lesson in humility tonight. Just now I’m realizing that just like how Sensei/Sifus out there have their ways of weeding out macho know-it-all newbie students, they have their ways of keeping their students’ “I” (egos) in check.

It is a constant and never-ending obstacle. Because at the end of the day, it is not “you” who does the movement/technique/art, it is “it” – the “system”.

True Victory is Victory over the Self/”I”

Note: The picture is the Japanese Kanji for the above quote. The translation is also the same in Chinese (most Kanji have kept their meanings from the Chinese language)

Good night ladies and gents, and till next time!