Summer on the aikido mat – and a video…

It’s been a great summer for me in many ways, not the least when it comes to aikido. As usual I have clocked several hours at New York aikikai and Aikido North Jersey.  I cannot convey how much these places, and the people therein, have meant to me over the years – you know who you are Harvey, Steve, Sharon, Crystal, Jerry, Chris, Kazuko, Brad and all the rest! This summer I was honoured to surprise the ANJ summer camp kids and teach them the weapon form called “ki musubi no tachi” – what a hoot! They were great students, of course – Crystal, you are brilliant!  

A side from the regular training, this year I finally managed to get some days in at the annual USAF summer camp. What a treat!  So many classes, great people and friends, both new and old. It was VERY hard to leave early but I had a plane to catch.

Osawa Hayato Sensei teaching at USAF summer camp 2017. © Jakob Blomquist

I do love to come back to my home dojo, Lunds Aikidoklubb, though. As the summer schedule came to its end I was teaching the final two classes this week. The light from the windows filled the dojo beautifully so I turned off the ceiling lamps and decided to snap off some photos and videos while teaching. With those I mashed together a short video of sort – nothing fancy – as a token of my love for the place and the people there.

Maybe you will enjoy it!

/Jakob Blomquist

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Don’t train perfect forms once in a while

Train something every day.

The video below is an example how this can look, for me. Not perfect. Suburi stitched together, adapted and naturally altered in the moment to work in the confined space of the home. Just solitary training with the focus on working on things important that day. Every day.

/Jakob Blomquist

Video by Author under Creative Commons CC BY-license.

How do we meet on equal terms?

On the mat we face each other, touch each other, and work together with a common goal.

It’s a couple of days after the 2016 US election and I’m trying to formulate something smart to say.

I can’t.

It’s easier to respond to comments and share memes than to draft something of your own. There are so many emotions bubbling in me and others that we try to calm down. I think of the words of POTUS Barack Obama: “It’s about the work…”, reflecting about times when he felt overwhelmed with his own perceived failures and limitations. As if to say “Just get on with it. Let the day-to-day work bring you forward, no matter what.”

Still, we have to face people we know voted in ways we have a hard time accepting. They are the same as before… but somehow, different. What, then, is the work that brings us forward? To me it’s the classroom, in front of, and together with, my undergrads. They give me their trust, and I just get on with it. There, in the classroom, I let science enable them to see the world in richer colors, use physics to bring clarity on complex problems like global warming, and perform chemical experiment to teach them about next generation of batteries which will hopefully bring humanity along. Student for student. Class for class.

But still, this is not meeting people on equal terms. I’m the teacher and they are students. They ask me. I answer. We are part of a hierarchy that puts us on unequal terms. As satisfying as it is to see my students progress and develop a greater understanding of their world, ultimately this non-symmetric relationship come packaged in a state of tension and emotions related to personal opinions. Even healthy ones.  Where, then, can I safely meet and connect with people on equal terms, independent of our personal background and baggage?

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For me training a martial art, like aikido, really helps. On the mat we face each other, touch each other, and work together with a common goal. There is little, or no, talk on the mat; just trust and connection. My connection with my own center, and my connection with theirs. Everything else is left outside the mat… or should be at least.

And so life goes on.

/Jakob Blomquist

(Photo on top: Face to Face, by Christos Tsoumplekas CC BY-NC 2.0
Bottom photo by Author, Aikido Seminar 2016 in Davao, Philippines)

How do you confront the offensive?

Use verbal Aikido!

Most of you know about how one of the 2016 US presidential candidates have been consistently caught using offensive and chauvinistic language. Sometimes even making comments that outright condone sexual abuse. In one of these occasions – off camera – a reporter stood by and seemingly did nothing to stop him. Instead he joined in, likely in the hope of gaining favorable standing by the future candidate.

It’s easy for all to point fingers and exclaim: “How could he not say something!”

Well… It isn’t normally that easy, is it? It could be your family member, your colleague, friend, in the classroom, or someone you don’t want to distance yourself from.

But you don’t have to go full force and engage in something that usually ends up as a conflict. Even a quick non-aggressive response from you is enough research shows.

Diversion is one trick; or  verbal aikido. Gail Stern from Catharsis Productions are referenced about it in a New York Times article:

She calls that tactic “verbal aikido,” after the Japanese martial art whose practitioners defend themselves by redirecting an opponent’s attack.

Read the excellent New York Times write-up of what you can do if and when you are confronted with this yourself.

/Jakob Blomquist

(Photo on top by Bill Gracey, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0-license)

Medical Invention Close To My Own Heart

About 1 child in 100 is born with some form of congenital heart defect. A hole in the heart.
I was one of them.

That’s why inventions like those by Dr. Franz Freudenthal and his team means a lot to me. Please enjoy his TED talk below about how he combined indigenous weaving techniques with medical science to save children.

/Jakob Blomquist

Photo (CC BY-SA 2.0): There’s a hole in my heart, by Cheryl

The Mat: Where we all train and come together.

As we read the latest flow of news about yet another life taken by fatal use of force by police officers; or yet another law enforcement officer that will not come home to his or her loved ones, we are also immediately reminded by our social media feed that we are suppose to take sides: either pro-cop OR pro black-lives matter; either pro left party OR right; either for the establishment OR Wikileaks;  either for evidence based medicine OR holistic alternatives, and the list goes on.

My wife and I spent the previous Friday in New York City to catch a show. We had reserved tickets to see The Daily Show hosted by Trevor Noah. It can not be easy to take over that show after the enormously successfull Jon Stewart and I’m sure that Mr Noah has struggled to fill the shoes. But this night, in his last show for a week, he changed the script, sat down and spoke from the heart; reminding us about the third option.

Previously the same day I had walked up the stairs of New York Aikikai. For once I wasn’t carrying a bag with training clothes; I was merely killing time before the show and figured I would say hello to some friends and observe a class.

As I sat in the sofa watching the training on the mat, lead by my good friend Jerry Zimmerman, I was also reflecting about the latest tragic events. It affected me. But looking out on the mat I would see smiles and that also affected me.

On the mat we all train and come together; no matter where we are from,  what color of our skin we have,  who we vote for, what we believe in, and what our occupation is.

We all share a common respect for each other.

There on the mat.

/Jakob Blomquist

Photos: Jakob Blomquist and Morgan BurkeCreative Commons License)

“Scientific study shows that coffee will reduce racism!”

It does? Really? Watch the clip below to figure out how!

*Spoiler alert! Well, no actually, it doesn’t but I bet I could find a segment of a morning show  on TV or on social media that claims as much. *

The sad part is that in-stead of helping and educating the public – too boring! – normal “news” fail to do anything but make things worse. No… give it to a comedian, like the lovely John Oliver, to really educate us all about what science is all about – and what it isn’t! – and expose the problem with today’s media in their ever dumbing down of the information flow to the viewers, readers, and listeners. So well, in fact, that I plan to direct my own students to this clip.

I have previously penned pieces about this phenomenon in a couple of earlier posts here:

A Disease of Scienceyness – Mix Tape – Medium

…recent tests can not confirm results of earlier studies…

John says it best though:

 

/Jakob Blomquist

(Photo: Coffee Science, by Jennifer Balaco. CC-licence: CC-BY-2.0)