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When sitting, just sit.

And when climbing, just climb.

One of the things I didn't realise I'd get from climbing is what a great stress reliever it is. Sure, it's painful, sure it's difficult, sure it's frustrating.

But when you're moving from one hold to another, there's no space for anything in your life except movement. You can't really be worrying about anything else - if you do, you're not going to move properly.

I set myself a goal this year; not just to climb, but to climb gracefully. Obviously, this is a work in progress. But all the people I admire when I watch them move with elegance, not power. I've said before that I consider laziness to be the most interesting virtue; laziness in the sense of making no more effort than is necessary.

Laziness is elegant and graceful, because that's the most efficient way to move.

It doesn't happen all the time. I reckon in 7 years of Aikido I pulled off maybe two graceful techniques - the ones where your movement and that of your partner are so closely blended that you cannot tell each other apart, and there is no effort. It's almost predestiny, an elegant move - it doesn't feel like there is any conscious choice there, and yet you end up exactly where you want to be; centered, breathing properly, focused. Ready to move again, but perfectly still.

Twice, in 7 years. Twice, in thousands of throws.

And that twice was enough to keep me motivated.

Tonight? I wouldn't say that I moved gracefully. But I moved well; well enough for two people to comment on my technique. And moving well is the first part. Because once you move well, you can forget about moving. And that's where the grace starts to well from.

Admittedly, one of the people who commented did so with a caveat - one that could have come straight from the mouth of Ueshiba himself.

"Nice technique, but you didn't half go red in the face. Don't forget to breathe."

Move with grace, and just breathe.

That will do.
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I need to buy a judo gi and belt (and zori, if possible) and I'm going to be in central London tomorrow.

Anyone know of a Martial Arts supply shop within zone 1?
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When I started studying Aikido, Geoff and Phil had just split from their old club and started Maru Aikido. Maru is a honynym in Japanese; the meaning that they intended was "circle", but it also means "name" when applied to a ship. It tends to get used in the same way that we'd add HMS to the name of any Royal Navy vessel (and for the SF Geeks amongst you, is why the Kobayashi Maru is named so. (Incidentally, I've just used Wikepedia, which tells me that Maru means perfection or purity, and is given as a suffix to ship names because it implies a safe, or round trip. I'm absurdly pleased by that.)

Anyway; when I started, Maru was a member of the Aikido Research Federation which was based in Staffordshire. Over the years, however, our sensei decided that the next logical step was to form a federation - Maru Aikido had MMSU's Aikido club as a sister club, and they weren't necessarily happy with the politics that were necessary to be part of the ARF. (I am aware, before anyone points this out, how much this is like the Judean People's Liberation Front ...).

So the new federation was formed, and called Jiyuu Renmei, which Geoff told us meant "Freedom Federation". He and Phil had club badges designed, with a picture of Fuji-yama in the centre, the sun rising over the mountain, and the name of the Federation in a circle surrounding it. We were to wear these like Samurai mon, on the left upper arm of our best gi. None of this is unusual for a martial arts club.

So, wind on time, 12 years later. I've started Aikido (with a UKA affiliated club, [livejournal.com profile] curlwomble and [livejournal.com profile] ellistar! You got me in the end :-)) and last week, I wore my heavy karate-gi, which was the gi I did my dan grading in, and just so happens to be the gi that has my Jiyuu Renmei badge still carefully sewn to it.

At the end of the practice, I was chatting to Kumiko, a young, Japanese PhD student here and she looked at the badge. It took her a second to translate, and somewhat hesitantly, she said "This means Freedom, yes?"

I breathed a sigh of relief then; one that I'd unknowingly been holding in for 12 years.

Because as seriously as he took his Aikido, I think it would have tickled Wheeler Sensei immensely to have his students wearing a badge which said:

"I don't read Japanese. Please punch me here."
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I forsee myself having a frustrating year ahead.

I had my second Aikido class after an absence of 11 years this evening, and I'd forgotten so much. Not the broad strokes; the shapes that I'm supposed to be moving are still there, and if it's not quite right all the other shapes that you can move to are there too - I have a symmetrical syllabus in my head.

But that's the problem; it's in my head. I can describe the shape that kote-gaeshi makes, and yonkyo and irimi-nage, but somewhere over the last 11 years they've moved out of my centre, higher up in my body. I know the shapes, but I don't grok them.

When I learned Aikido the first time, Wheeler-sensei told me that I'd learn it in my head first, and then in my centre, and then finally in my head again. And then I'd get my black belt and relearn it all over from a new perspective. And he was totally correct - first I learnt to know, and then I learnt to do without knowing, and then finally I learned how to watch myself doing, and thus to know once more.

That's a horrible paragraph, but I'm not sure I can improve it.

From that, you'd think that re-learning wouldn't be so difficult. I've managed the first bit, after all.

But my centre remembers the philosophy, and the joy. My centre remembers what the perfect technique feels like. My centre has been there before. And if I could shut my mind up and let my centre take over, I'd be fine. That's the transition between 'know' and 'do' after all. But the monkey mind screeches "I know this! I know this!" and the centre cannot be heard.

So I've a frustrating year ahead.

I need to relearn so much, and I have to remember that I don't know it, and that the people correcting me aren't doing it to have a go, they're doing it because I'm doing it wrong, and they're trying to help me get it right.

I need to keep doing this.

But on the mat tonight, one of my partners threw me really well, and I landed well and bounced up and we just grinned at each other. A quick nod, a grin and a 'nicely done' and I remembered why this will be worth the frustration.

I'm looking forward to this frustrating year.

January 2017

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