Aikido is a Japanese martial art founded by Morehei Ueshiba ("O Sensei"). Its roots stem from the brutal art of Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. As with all Aikido techniques, we blend with our partner's energy and redirect that combined energy in a circular motion around our center. There is great emphasis devoted to learning how to roll and fall properly and an even greater emphasis on repetitive practice. In a typical class, you will practice Aikido techniques with random partners over a hundred times. You will fall and roll at least that many times. Every roll or fall toughens your body to the point that you will eventually be able to roll or fall on almost any surface. Every bruise is a badge of honor. Every step towards progress is a victory. The beginning techniques are very simple and demonstrate basic movements. As you progress up the ranks, you will work on more sophisticated techniques, some combining more than one technique or giving you choices to deal with any situation. You will have many questions about Aikido and you will discover that the more you learn, the more questions you will have.

My Aikido journey: classes 1-100, 101-200, 201-300


July 27, 2015, 5:30pm - class 1 with Roderick Johnson - Today was my first class at Aikikai of Philadelphia. We did warmup exercises in the first part, practiced backward rolls in the second part, and practiced three techniques, the names of which I couldn't remember. (1) The first was a single hand grab to the wrist where you pull the attacker down and towards you to create imbalance, you switch hands on his wrist, curl his fingers inward, and pivot and sweep your outer leg around all the while turning and twist his wrist to direct his fall. I practiced this technique with Barbara, a fellow student whom I had met during Ed's weapons class, and Chris, a teenager who was about my size. Both were friendly and accommodating. I think this was Katatetori Kotegaeshi. (2) The second was similar to the first but with a wrist pin. You twist the person's arm and pin it with your arms. I practiced with Asamina, who was very nice and accommodating, and Sensei who tried to teach me step by step, but I kept failing to understand the moves. I think this technique may have been Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote. (3) The third, Morotedori Kokyunage, was a double hand grab to the wrist where you pivot your heels and turn 180 degrees, position your arm straight and under the attacker's head, and slide the front foot back to cause him to fall. I practiced with Ed who also showed me how an attacker can escape from the technique. I didn't expect to jump right into techniques so soon, but I'm somewhat glad I did. You haven't lived until you experience what an Aikido fall is like. It really does work and you can land awkwardly if you're not careful. I was sweating profusely much like my yoga classes. I didn't feel aches and pains the next day like I did my first few yoga classes. I'll have to learn some rudimentary Japanese so I can remember the names of the techniques. I don't think much has really sunk in at this point. All I can say is Aikido is a very challenging art and I thought that by me being there, I would hold the class back, but I read that beginning students can actually teach experienced students more about a technique because they get a chance to practice and learn what works and what doesn't on people who aren't like them.

July 28, 2015, 5:30pm - observed class 1 with Ed Shockley - Curious about the classes on Tuesdays , I observed a portion of it to see if it was right for me. There were only two students, which worked out well because there were two instructors. Ed was demonstrating what appeared to be Shomenuchi Iriminage to a student. I think a class this small would be a fantastic opportunity for me to learn the techniques well.

July 29, 2015, 5:30pm - class 2 with Dr. John Porter - We learned three standing techniques and practiced them against each other. Each of the three techniques was broken down into steps so we could practice each part and understand what was happening. I still don't understand a lot of it. A couple of times I did the moves correctly, but most of the time I stepped in the wrong spot or direction. Aikido feels a lot like learning how to dance. (1) The first technique was a single hand grab to the wrist where you stepped forward to the outside of the attacker's foot pulling the attacker's arm down to make him lose his balance and then a quick palm strike to the face with your other hand. (2) The second technique, Tai No Henko, was a single hand grab to the wrist where you step in, pivot and turn 180 degrees, walk forward to make the attacker lose balance, and then you finish with a wrist pin. We started with Tai No Henko Kihon and then moved to Tai No Henko Ki No Nagare. (3) The third technique, Katatetori Shihonage, was a single hand grab to the wrist where you stepped forward to the outside of the attacker's foot, pivot and turn 90 degrees as you grab onto his wrist with your free hand extending forward, bend down, and raise both arms as you pass underneath your arms and flip the attacker onto his stomach for the wrist pin. (4) We also learned a sitting technique, Kokyudosa, to break out of a two-handed wrist lock, drop one hand down and push forward to make the attacker lose balance, reposition by sitting hips to heels next to him, and keep one hand an inch above the attacker's clavicle and one hand an inch above his wrist to prevent him from getting up. The final minutes were used to describe the purpose of bowing for courtesy and respect towards O Sensei, our teachers, and each other. "Without your teachers, you would have no class. Without students, the teachers would have nobody to teach. Without your fellow students, there would be nobody to practice on," John said. We sat in order from the most experienced to least experienced student. Kess and John were the senior students followed by Chris and then me, the beginner with two classes of experience. I discovered that John was previously Chief Instructor at another Aikikai school. While I did not feel any ill effects after my first class, my hips and pelvis felt sore the next day.

July 30, 2015 - My observations from the Aikido Intermediate 1 app are as follows: Iriminage looks like a clothesline technique where you quickly make the attacker lose balance and then, before he knows it, you clothesline him down to the ground. Kokyunage appears to be a flip technique where you use both arms to direct the attacker's energy to roll forward. Koshinage appears to be a flip technique where you roll the attacker across your back.

August 3, 2015, 5:30pm - class 3 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students, all women. Where were the men? We did warmup exercises in the first part, practiced tenkan, forward and backward rolls, and kneewalking in the second part, and practiced two techniques (Tai No Henko and Ryotetori Tenchinage (Heaven and Earth) with our ukes. Class was divided in two towards the end. Shanti and I were in our own group. We practiced the same technique over and over for half an hour. At times, it seemed like a dance. Her two hands grabbed each of my wrists, I yanked one down, my other hand palm strikes her chin and I step out with one foot, then step back in again with the other foot to make her lose balance. "You did very well!" Shanti said to me. I was surprised by her response. "It took me a while to get the forward rolls, but you just did them!" she said. Much like my first yoga classes, it felt good to receive praise. "You had a really good class today," Sensei confirmed. "You were doing rolls that others took weeks, even months, to do. That's very rare to be able to do that.

August 5, 2015, 5:30pm - class 4 with Dr. John Porter - 2 students, me and Kess. We learned Kotegaeshi, Tenchinage (Heaven and Earth), Tai No Henko Ki No Nagare, and Iriminage, the "20 Year Technique." I know after today that I'm not going to be good at this any time soon. All of the movements flow like a dance and right now I have two left feet. Supposedly I'll get used to hearing the Japanese words soon. On an Aikido forum, one poster said, "Ikkyo must be the hundred year technique. This stuff is an optical illusion. The farther I go, the farther this stuff gets away and these teachers who are supposed to help me learn only show me what I don't know. Frustration is good for the soul, I guess." Sounds like yoga! One can never truly be an expert at yoga since there's always something new to learn. Once you think you've perfected a posture, there's always some subtle element that can be improved upon.

August 10, 2015, 5:30pm - class 5 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. I think I took a step back today. I did okay in my forward and backward rolls and kneewalking. We practiced Tai No Henko Ki No Nagare and Kotegaeshi and I just wasn't getting the latter. I felt like I had two left feet today. During Kotegaeshi, my uke, Ken1 (so named because he's the first of two Kens I've met at the dojo), was striking my arms hard, causing the bruise on my arm from the previous week to swell up. I had a big vein popping out of my wrist after one of the strikes. I rubbed it down to release the pressure. A couple of times I did my moves correctly, but I couldn't repeat what I just did. Five classes in, I see Aikido as a "deadly dance." We're moving in choreographed ways right now so beginners like me can learn the basic techniques that will allow us to defend ourselves in specific situations. I love the fact that all of this is based on a mind-body connection and I feel Sensei has a good feel for what yoga teachers know about breathing and movement with the breath. I purchased Yamada Sensei's The Power and the Basics three-video set to use as a study aid.

August 12, 2015, 5:30pm - class 6 with Dr. John Porter - When you perform a technique, there's a reason for it. Where you end up must make sense. If I grab someone's arm, raise it, and spin around underneath, I have to land in a position where he cannot hit me. John gave us a lot of fundamental building blocks we could use to piece together to make moves. We also practiced techniques for one of my classmate's upcoming 3rd kyu exam. For example, Sankyo is a really nice wrist immobilizing technique, especially when someone grabs you from behind. We also learned Yokomenuchi Shihonage Ura. Before class, I practiced rolling on the floor using what I learned from Sensei's classes and Yamada Sensei's first video. "Good class today!" Ed said to me. Sensei advised me that the etiquette of the dojo is the chief instructor is referred to as Sensei while the other instructors are Sempai.

August 17, 2015, 5:30pm - class 7 with Roderick Johnson - Today's class focused on 5th and 6th kyu techniques. Sensei said that if I could show him all that I learned today the next time I see him, I'll earn 6th kyu.

August 18, 2015, 5:30pm - class 8 with Dr. John Porter - John explained that every Aikido class usually begins with Tai No Henko and ends with Kokyu Ho. We sped through five different techniques and their breakdowns at blinding speed. Sometimes we spent just 45 seconds on a part which allowed us to practice two iterations instead of four. The senior students said I did well, but I didn't feel like it. I was thinking too much about every move and where to place my hands, center, and feet, so much so that I looked like a contorted rag doll at times. Instead of starting in gyaku hanmi and the wrist grab in tai no henko, we started in ai hanmi and proceeded with irimi and the grab. Everyone else's tai no henko has power; mine does not yet.

August 24, 2015, 5:30pm - class 9 with Roderick Johnson - In today's class, we practiced basic shihonage and kotegaeshi techniques. I had trouble understanding kotegaeshi, so Sensei showed us how kotegaeshi is done with the sword. "Sometimes seeing how it's done with the sword helps us understand the technique," he said. I was excited to be finally working with the bokken. Ed was very helpful and patient with me during our practice time. He's very tall (six-foot-eight), so his presence really tested my knowledge of leverage concepts. "The martial way is that you always get leverage on his arm against your shoulder," Sensei instructs during Shihonage practice. There wasn't a test today, so perhaps Sensei felt I wasn't ready yet. The only thing I can do is keep on practicing as much as I can both inside and outside the dojo. Maybe he'll feel I'm ready next time.

August 26, 2015, 5:30pm - class 10 with Dr. John Porter - We started with Tai No Henko, moved to Shihonage, and then to Kokyu Ho standing and sitting. A student asked John about getting out of behind the back choke holds so John showed us various methods of relinquishing control of a situation ("Press his wrist into your neck, he won't know what's happening, raise your other arm up to forehead level taking his arm with your arm, and butt atemi him. Pivot and turn around to face him, step back with your inside leg, and finish with kotegaeshi."). We learned that whoever is the teacher's uke in a demonstration should be the person that every student swarms towards since the uke is the person most familiar with the technique. This means we can learn more about a technique by being someone's uke than by being a nage. We also did some wrist strengthening exercises and forward rolling. I was better with my footwork today than in my last two classes.

August 29, 2015 - After my kids finished their class, John said, "I heard you were training, too." I nodded and said I started last month. Sensei praised my ability to do forward rolls on the first day to John.

August 31, 2015, 5:30pm - class 11 with Roderick Johnson - I thought it was a little unusual that there was an additional black belt in class today - Brendan Ryan - who happened to be the instructor of Friday's classes. After our Tai No Henko exercise, Sensei divided the class into two halves. "Everyone 3rd kyu and over, go to the other side of the room to practice with Brendan," Sensei said. I had no idea everyone was already 3rd kyu! Sensei had me go through all of the 6th kyu knowledge I had to get a sense of where I was at. I felt ready. I had studied for many hours outside of class and was well-prepared. Sensei selected one of my classmates to be my uke. He clapped his hands and everyone stopped what they were doing to line up in seiza. All seven of us were asked to move to the back of the room. My uke, Asamina, and I were asked to shikko forward, bow to O Sensei, then to Sensei, and then to each other. After a series of tests on movement, stance, and atemi, I was asked to perform Tai No Henko and Kokyuho. I felt good about these techniques. Asamina and I were asked to shikko back to our line of classmates and I awaited my verdict."Clare has passed the test beautifully. She has grown leaps and bounds over when she first started and has progressed faster than the usual time required. Congratulations," Sensei said. He asked Brendan for any additional words of advice. "Just keep practicing," he said. When class was over, everyone congratulated me. I'm now an officially ranked 6th kyu in the Aikikai.

September 2, 2015, 5:30pm - class 12 with Dr. John Porter - 2 students, but I thoroughly enjoyed class because we received a lot of individual attention. "I can be a little picky now," John said, especially since there were just two students. As a 6th kyu, he expected me to perform more rolls during ukemi. Unfortunately, my big toe became my next Aikido casualty during a shihonage exercise. The other student's foot got caught underneath mine and my nail lifted off causing my toe to bleed. My uke also held my arms too forcefully, reaggravating my wrist injuries from a few weeks ago. As ukes, we practiced the correct way to hold onto our nages' arm during a technique. John asked us to hold a quarter in our hand while grabbing nage. "Don't drop the quarter from your palm," he advised. We refined our stances during a technique to ensure that the center of gravity was on our side and to break uke's balance. We also practiced one-on-one freestyle attacking at the end. At the end of class, one of my classmates whom I hadn't seen in a while hugged me and congratulated me on my new rank. Word travels quickly in this dojo. "Congratulations, you're really good!" she said. I wanted to admit to her that my passing the test was more self-motivated desire rather than skill.

September 4, 2015, 6:45pm - observed class 2 with Brendan Ryan - I sat and observed Brendan's "Aikido Mixed" class today. There were three students, two of whom appeared in my Monday and Wednesday classes. There was also Kei Ogawa, another instructor. After Tai No Henko, the techniques looked more and more complicated. I fear that someone like me might hold back a class, since students in a Mixed Class are probably looking to practice more advanced techniques with more advanced people. Kei's power and speed were impressive. His demonstration of a technique would immediately drop his uke to the ground. I don't think I'm ready for a Mixed Class yet. I learned my lesson when I tried taking an Advanced Bikram Yoga class too soon. I was impressed by the love my fellow classmates had for this dojo. They all helped sweep the mat and dust the dojo at the end of class. I remember reading an article that said that once you join a dojo, you join a community of selfless, like-minded people who all aspire towards the same ideal: a beautiful dojo to train in. I like that philosophy.

September 5, 2015, 1:00pm - I sat and observed the Philadelphia Renseikan's weapons class held once a week at my dojo. The weapons style taught is Edo Yagyu Shinkage Ryu Heiho, an all-encompassing style of swordsmanship. There were ten practitioners in class today with one person who began today and another who was three classes in. The class was patterned after a typical Aikido class where the Sensei would demonstrate a technique and everyone would imitate what he just did. As people practiced, Paul Manogue Sensei or his senior students would walk around making corrections. Everyone looked quite regal in their keikogi and hakama. Manogue Sensei wore a slightly different, almost robe-like outfit that made him look like a a Jedi. I would love to study this art someday, perhaps after I've had more Aikido training.

September 9, 2015, 5:30pm - class 13 with Roderick Johnson - It's frustrating when the techniques aren't sinking in yet. Everyone else in class seems worlds ahead of me. Sensei demonstrates a technique and everyone else just gets it. I'm left puzzled as I try to recreate the sequence of moves. I feel that, just like what I've learned so far, it'll all make sense one day. It just won't be today. Every time I leave the dojo, I replay in my mind what happened in class over and over. How far away should I be from the attacker? What hanmi? What do I do with my arms and hands? Where do I place my feet? "The power comes from the hips," Sensei would say, but then in remembering the dozen things that got me to the point where I'm supposed to rotate my hips, I don't rotate them. Ed said that I did very well in class today. I do give my all in effort in every class. I just wish I would pick up the techniques more easily. The class ended with an Aiki-ken (Japanese sword technique) exercise where we shadowed our opponent's moves.

September 15, 2015, 5:30pm - class 14 with Carlton Harris - 4 students, including one I hadn't seen before. Class started with a very thorough warmup exercise session of 40 minutes. We then worked on three techniques: (1) defending against a Shomenuchi strike from a seated position using Iriminage. Carlton worked on this one-on-one with me. My initial thoughts on iriminage resembling a clothesline move are incorrect. Carlton instructs that you make uke's head touch your shoulder and then lever your arm up and then hip turn. (2) Morotetori (two-handed grip on wrist), tenkan, slide, slide, end with a Nikyo pin. (3) Morotetori (two-handed grip on wrist), break free using heaven and earth to shihonage to forward flipping uke. I did more rolling in this class than ever before. It was painful on my back because I just threw myself into my rolls. "You did very well in class today. Those were 3rd kyu techniques our teacher was showing us," one of my classmates said to me after class.

September 16, 2015, 5:30pm - class 15 with Dr. John Porter - Today I felt like I was actually picking up all of the techniques taught to me. I felt good about my practice today. We practiced a lot of techniques today: Tai No Henko, Ikkyo, Nikyo, Sanko, and Kokyu Ho.

September 22, 2015, 5:30pm - class 16 with Carlton Harris - Ed and Brendan assisted Carlton today. It was just me and another kyu-ranked student in class, but she was significantly more advanced than me. Ed and Carlton thought I did very well. Much like my other classes, I throw myself into situations and today I took a hard landing on my knee. It was excruciating at one point, but I walked off the pain. Anyone who thinks that Aikido is a "soft martial art" is in for a shock. Some of the falls can be brutal if you don't know how to fall or roll properly. We practiced techniques for defending against Shomenuchi, Yokomenuchi, and Tsuki attacks and ended class with a Randori where we each applied Ryotetori Hokyunage. There were several important takeaways from today's class. One was the importance of moving your center of gravity when performing the stretching exercises. Next was sitting in Kiza as opposed to Seiza when performing Suwari Waza (kneeling) techniques. "Seiza is for tea ceremonies and listening to the instructor," Carlton advises. Lastly, when defending against a Tsuki attack using entering footwork, Carlton showed us how our knife-hand movements simulate tanto (hand-knife) strikes to the wrist.

September 23, 2015, 5:30pm - class 17 with Ed Shockley - Ed taught me and another student the intricacies of Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura using sword techniques. This was wonderful to me because I had been studying Yamada and Waite's versions of Shomenuchi Ikkyo earlier today. We also learned seven ways of attacking using a sword. In a lightbulb moment, I related the forward thrust to tsuki (forward closed-fist punch). I like Ed because he always forces me to think about what-if possibilities with any technique ("What happens if he comes at you this way? Guard your face at this moment. Don't just bounce back up; roll out of the way.")

September 27, 2015 - For the past several weeks, I've diligently studied Yamada Sensei's The Power and the Basics videos along with several supplemental references listed in my reading list below to prepare for my eventual 5th kyu exam. I've written notes and drew pictures for each technique. In addition to the classes I've attended, I've sat and observed Aikido classes from a third-person perspective to gain more insight into the art.

October 1, 2015, 5:30pm - class 18 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Tai No Henko, Shomenuchi Ikkyo, Tsuki Iriminage (4th kyu), and Kokyuho. A new student joined Aikikai today and it wasn't long ago that I felt like the newbie in class. At times, I still forget what side I worked on last, how to roll backward effectively, and the meanings of all of the Japanese words, but it's true when my teachers and fellow senior classmates say that everything will make sense over time.

October 3, 2015 - My youngest son, Matthew, suffered from an asthma attack the week before his Aikido class today. He needed liquid steroids twice a day and albuterol treatments every four hours. He was tired and not feeling well, but something drove him to want to participate in class. "I want my yellow belt," he said. I had trained Matthew's older brother, Brandon, for his yellow belt the past couple of days while Matthew looked onward. Matthew has my gift of relentless desire. He never gives up! At one point, he couldn't go on due to tiredness, but he rested for a little bit and jumped right back in.

October 5, 2015, 5:30pm - class 19 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Tai No Henko, Katatetori Kotegaeshi, and Kokyuho. I have to remember to slide my foot forward and pull my uke down to break his balance and keep him down while I apply the technique. I was amazed to see eleven students in class. That's the biggest class I've been in at the dojo so far. More students equates to a greater variety of practice partners.

October 7, 2015, 5:30pm - class 20 with Carlton Harris - Carlton taught us Shomenuchi Ikkyo in Seiza, Shomenuchi Ikkyo standing, Iriminage, and Shihonage. Unfortunately, I didn't feel as if I were grasping the concepts quick enough. Where was all of the knowledge I had studied? My back was sore after class.

October 12, 2015, 5:30pm - class 21 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Kokyuho, Kotegaeshi, and Iriminage. Kokyuho was fairly straightforward, Kotegaeshi was doable, but the variation of Iriminage we did today was confusing. "I feel kind of stupid for not getting it," I told one of the students. "No, no, you'll get it in time," she assured.

October 13, 2015, 5:30pm - class 22 with Dr. John Porter - "You two did very well today," John said to a fellow student and I. "In motion, you two look like you've been practicing Aikido for five or six years," he said, "and that's partially because in motion movement is actually easier to do than static techniques because you're moving energy. But it's also easier to hide mistakes." He commented that my tenkan movements in Iriminage and Kotegaeshi were beautiful. My practice partner is a 5th kyu, but he has many more years of experience than I do. John mentioned that Ki No Nagare (flowing, or in motion, movements) are not taught in Iwama Aikido until black belt level whereas they are a part of regular kyu training in the Aikikai Hombu Dojo.

October 16, 2015, 6:45pm - class 23 with Brendan Ryan - Prior to class, I did an open mat practice from 5:30pm to 6:45pm. Class lasted until after 8:00pm, so that was over two and half hours of practice! Today was a milestone of sorts because I got to practice with some very experienced students. I endured lots of pain, but I hung in there. We practiced a lot of ukemi and then had a chance to apply all of the rolls and falls in a series of Aikido techniques starting with Tai No Henko as a lead to an uke roll. We ended with a hand-eye coordination exercise. I got a lot of practice with the black belts. My third and fourth Aikido casualties are my shoulder and spine, which were aggravated by repeated bad landings during rolls. I have enough energy to do a couple of good rolls and then they all look and feel bad afterwards. You can pretty much get away with not rolling very well in the basics classes, but in the mixed classes, rolling is par for the course.

October 18, 2015, 10:30am - observed class 3 with Ed Shockley - I sat and observed the last half hour of Ed Shockley's weapons class. Ed was teaching a student the "sixth technique" showing him how to retreat while striking and defending with a staff.

October 20, 2015, 5:30pm - class 24 with Carlton Harris - Carlton focused on basic stances and movements in the first two-thirds of class. He then showed us five basic techniques, including Ryotetori Tenshinage (Heaven and Earth, 5th kyu), Yokomenuchi Kotegaeshi (3rd kyu), and Kokyudosa. There were eight students in class, including two black belts. The big takeaway I got from this class is when I'm facing an opponent, I should try to look at him with my third eye and use my two eyes to see everything around me rather than focus on a narrow line of vision. Carlton had me take ukemi during the final technique, an Iriminage demonstration.

October 22, 2015, 5:30pm - class 25 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Nikyo and Sankyo techniques today. They were mostly confusing to me, but I worked through them as best I could. During the last few minutes, four other students and I helped one of our classmates prepare for his 3rd kyu exam by attacking him randori style. My latest Aikido casualty is a minor bruise on the back of my hand from a hard fall.

October 27, 2015, 5:30pm - class 26 with Dr. John Porter - John complimented me on my rolling techniques and Ed said that I did very well today. We started with Tai No Henko and from there, we practiced three techniques: Iriminage, Kotegaeshi, and Kaitennage. Kaitennage is a pretty advanced technique. Today I was no longer the lowest ranked student in class, so I found myself paired with a newer student and teaching him some basics. I was paired with Ed during Kaitennage and it was a challenge trying to break his balance and throw him because he's so tall. "Think about the spiral going down and then up. Uke can go down and then lift himself up on his own power so you can follow through with the throw," John said.

October 29, 2015, 5:30pm - class 27 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Ikkyo sitting and standing, Sankyo, Tenchinage, and Kokyudosa techniques today. Sankyo is still quite challenging to me. I landed on my left hip wrong during rolling practice. Sensei and one of my classmates said I did very well in class today, but I didn't feel like I did. Maybe I'm too hard on myself, just like in yoga, and should just let the process happen rather than overthink everything. I do know that once I finish my Bikram Yoga 30-Day Challenge, I want to concentrate fully on Aikido and master the 5th kyu requirements.

November 3, 2015, 5:30pm - class 28 with Dr. John Porter - The class started with Tai No Henko and we moved from technique to technique at blinding speed. It was a veritable smorgasbord of Aikido in 90 minutes! Just as I was about to grasp a technique, or some small part of it, we moved to a new one. If there are four steps in every technique, I usually miss out on step 2 and sometimes step 3. Even though I was confused, I never once felt frustrated. "It seems as if every week, I alternate between understanding everything and mass confusion," I said to John after class. "You'd be surprised to know that you probably learn more in your weeks of mass confusion," John said. "You learned some techniques today that you probably won't get to master until years from now," Ed said, "but it's good to learn them now so you have an idea of what's to come." Ed encouraged me to come to one of his classes, so he could give me more guidance on a technique I had trouble with.

November 5, 2015, 5:30pm - class 29 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei taught us Tsuki Iriminage (4th kyu), Tsuki Kotegaeshi (5th kyu), and Kokyuho (6th kyu). I still felt a little awkward today with these very basic moves, but the nice thing is I'm practicing against a larger variety of people, since there were seven people in class today. Towards the end of class, we sat and watched one of our classmates take his 3rd kyu test. One of the techniques I got to see was Tsuki Kaitennage, which completes the trio of tsuki techniques.

November 10, 2015, 5:30pm - class 30 with Dr. John Porter - 9 students, including two newbies. John explained that the reason why he doesn't teach stretching in class is because stretching is very personal, so what you may need to stretch might apply to you but not to someone else. I've always liked that about John's classes. We always dive right into the Aikido techniques right away. We started with Tai No Henko and worked on a lot of basics, such as Tai Sabaki (footwork), for the new students. We did Tenchinage, Shihonage, Ikkyo, and ended our class with Kokyuho. It felt strange that I was actually teaching the new students during the times I was paired up with them because it wasn't long ago that I was a new student, too. For the past twenty classes, I've been muddling along trying to pick up a move here and there that will help me with my 5th kyu techniques. One of the senior students thought I was 5th kyu already, but I don't feel like a 5th kyu yet.

November 12, 2015, 5:30pm - class 31 with Roderick Johnson - Sensei brought all of the senior students together to help me with my 5th kyu techniques. We covered Shomenuchi Ikkyo (omote and ura), Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi (omote), and Katatetori Shihonage (omote). I felt like I was in a family where my more experienced brothers and sisters would all come together to help their little sister learn a new skill. After class, Sensei presented me with my Yukyusha Card, a little passport book documenting my kyu tests and the future seminars I will be attending.

November 17, 2015, 5:30pm - class 32 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students, four higher-ranked, three lower-ranked, and me. We started with Tai No Henko and moved to Morotetori Kokyuho, first empty-handed, then with a sword, then Ryotetori Kotegaeshi, Ryotetori Iriminage, a second version of Ryotetori Kotegaeshi, Ryotetori with something like a Tenchinage, Tenkan, and stepping back, and then Kokyuho. John had me take ukemi during Kokyuho. The new guy in class is really coming at me as uke, gripping my wrists tight with a death grip and applying the techniques as if I were a true adversary. He's had a year of Aikido training while in college, so it's unknown what his official rank actually is. These kinds of ukes can actually make you a better Aikido practitioner, various sources tell me. Barbara thought I did very well in Ryotetori Kotegaeshi. "You're getting it! I don't feel like I'm with a beginner anymore," she said.

November 19, 2015, 5:30pm - class 33 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We started with Tai No Henko and progressed to Tsuki Ikkyo, Tsuki Nikyo, and Katatetori Tenchinage. Sensei said that I had a very good class today. There are still some technical points I need to understand before I feel confident that I can demonstrate the techniques. I'll be away next week on vacation so I have a week to reflect upon my Aikido practice.

December 1, 2015, 5:30pm - class 34 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students. We started with Tai No Henko and a Morotedori technique followed by a series of Ushiro Tekubitori techniques. We also practiced Ushiro Tekubitori from a kneeling position so we could compare it to the standing version. We then practiced a simulated one-on-one attack where we would choose a random technique to apply to our ukes without premeditating the technique. "Don't think too much ahead," John advises. It was almost like we were being asked to use The Force. I could do Iriminage, but got stuck on Kotegaeshi. We ended our practice with Kokyuho.

December 3, 2015, 5:30pm - class 35 with Carlton Harris - 9 students. We practiced a lot of Tai Sabaki in the beginning of class and I came away with the knowledge that I need to sit a little lower in my stance at the end of a Tenkan. We practiced a kneeling version of Kokyunage and then did standing versions of Katatedori Iriminage Omote, Tsuki Iriminage Omote, and Katatedori Shihonage Ura. I felt really good about my standing techniques. I felt like I showed more fluidity today than in previous days. Two weeks ago, I had this sick feeling in my tummy like I'll never get these techniques, but today I felt like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

December 6, 2015, 10:30am - class 36 with Ed Shockley - 4 students. It was my first weapons class with Ed. Kess and Tom have a lot more experience with weapons than I do, so they were already familiar and comfortable with the sequences. We did jo (staff), sword, and tanto (knife) techniques. We ended our practice with a three-on-one randori. Somehow I managed to do a shihonage technique in all the confusion. Shihonage without thinking about it! That was cool.

December 7, 2015, 5:30pm - class 37 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. I practiced with the two senior students, Ken1 and Ramla. We concentrated on Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura. Sensei was showing us the finer points of the techniques. "In ura, try to get your uke's arm behind his body in a triangle," he said, "and then lead him around and down." I felt somewhat massively confused during the Ura version because I knew the straight arm version. I thought I knew how to do this technique, but it turns out that if I want to do this in a real-life situation, I have to know how to intimately control an attacker because he isn't going to just roll with my mistakes like my ukes sometimes do in class when I first started out.

December 8, 2015, 5:30pm - class 38 with Dr. John Porter - 6 students. We practiced static and flowing tai no henko with eyes open, eyes closed, and in the dark. We then moved to Ai Hanmi Katatedori Tai No Henko Ki No Nagare Shihonage/Kotegaeshi/Kokyuho/Kaitenage. My latest Aikido casualty is I got bopped in the nose with an atemi. Ouch! Nage apologized many times and I acknowledged that it was all part of the training process.

December 12, 2015, 10:30am - class 39 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We practiced one-handed grab to the shoulder techniques first kneeling Katatori Ikkyo Omote (with Ramla), then standing Katatori Ikkyo Ura (with Barbara), Katatori Iriminage (with Ed), Katatori Nikyo Iriminage (with Carlton), and Katatori Iriminage (with Anthony). Carlton showed me how to do a proper Nikyo. I've been studying too much of Ikkyo Ura with a straight arm, which is easier to do. When demonstration time comes, I have to perform them the way Sensei wants them done, not how my other teachers want them done.

December 13, 2015, 10:30am - class 40 with Ed Shockley - 4 students. We practiced the same bokken and jo techniques from last week. I understood a little more this week than last. We also practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo kneeling and standing and then practiced Ikko, Nikyo, and Sankyo with a partner. I learned that I have to be fast in my blocking a Shomenuchi strike, just as fast as the person striking me. "As soon as he gets his arm all the way up, it's over," Ed warned. We ended our practice with Kokyuho.

December 14, 2015, 5:30pm - class 41 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo kneeling and standing with several wrist pin variations. We also learned Morotetori Kokyunage using a Tenchin (heaven and earth) movement. Sensei spent extra time with me to make sure I understood the movements and pins. The dojo will be replacing its old mats with new tatami mats soon. We will all need to adjust to the new surface, so falls may not be so easy.

December 15, 2015 - I love Tuesday's teacher, Dr. John, but I felt compelled to attend my classmate Asamina's art exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Alliance. On display were several of her beautiful and intricate crochet works as well as a video of her performing an experimental dance that showed how she uses her body's movements to simulate the weaving of a pattern. Other senior students were also in attendance: Ken1, Roger, Barbara, and Liz. It was nice to be a part of a group that supports each other.

December 17, 2015, 5:30pm - class 42 with Roderick Johnson - 4 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Yokomenuchi Iriminage and Yokomenuchi Kotegaeshi (both 3rd kyu). I felt a little frustrated because I kept messing up in Kotegaeshi, but I started getting it towards the end. What I like about Sensei's classes is the emphasis on breathing and movement. There's also a little bit of Japanese mysticism in them in that he teaches us how to release the flow of energy in our bodies. I'm starting to see the circular shapes I need to do in order to perform each technique correctly. My movements are still linear in most cases, but they're slowly transforming. Ed was pushing my potential today by not allowing me to perform easy moves. One of my classmates, Ken2 (so named because he's the second Ken I've met at the dojo), earned his 3rd kyu today, which was well deserved because Ken2 always teaches me something new every time he's my uke.

December 19, 2015 - New York Aikikai Christmas Seminar - I took a bus up to New York for the day to attend the New York Aikikai Christmas Seminar, an event where you will find many of the Shihans and rock stars of the Aikido world all under one roof. I was excited to see the very people I had read about and learned from online and in books. I met Claire Keller (Howcast Aikido videos) and Penny Bernath (Florida Aikikai) in the lobby area. I attended four of the day's six classes with Steve Pimsleur, Yoshimitsu Yamada, Donovan Waite, and Harvey Konigsberg. I was particularly impressed that three of these class teachers all took the time to walk over and teach me the fine details of the techniques they taught (Pimsleur with Kokyunage, Waite with Shihonage, and Konigsberg with Tenchinage). Big kudos to all the teachers who taught while they were practicing, too. The venerable T.K. Lee (Aikido of Houston), a Shidoin and a direct student of Yamada Sensei, was always teaching someone in the round-robin line I was a part of. He taught me something new in Kokyudosa. These one-hour classes flew by quickly as we paired up individually and in groups to practice, sometimes in rapid succession. Some of the classes had well over 100 people in a hall designed for half that many. The dan test followed the classes. Senseis Yamada and Pimsleur were the judges. In the shodan (1st dan) test, groups of four stood in front of the judges and were asked to demonstrate everything they knew in a span of twelve minutes. Every student was then asked to demonstrate their knowledge in a four-on-one randori attack. The nidan (2nd dan) test was a lot shorter, but more intense. The judges asked every student to demonstrate all of the knowledge they knew in rapid-fire succession and then demonstrate their knowledge in a five-on-one randori attack. The Christmas party followed. A smorgasboard of wonderful, savory dishes were enjoyed by all. On display were three kinds of beef roast, four pasta dishes in four different ethnic varieties, two kinds of chicken, two kinds of ham roasts, dumplings, veggie dishes, sandwiches, and an assortment of cookies, cakes, and pies. Wine and beer were served. Yamada Sensei walked around in casualwear greeting everyone. Overall, the Christmas Seminar exceeded my expectations and I hope to make it a habit of attending it in upcoming years.

December 21, 2015, 5:30pm - class 43 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We started our techniques with an Ikkyo exercise working Ikkyo back and forth between us and our partners. We then moved to Morotetori Nikyo and Morotetori Kotegaeshi, working with different partners. The takeaways from this class are to keep my spine straight while breaking uke's spine (and balance) with extended arms in Ikkyo and Kotegaeshi and to learn how to crank the arm properly in Kotegaeshi for the pin. "Push my elbow towards my face to turn me over," Ken1 advises as I crab-step over and around his head. "Make sure his hand and arm position are in the right spot," Sensei advises, "otherwise his arm is totally relaxed and he can break free."

December 23, 2015, 5:30pm - class 44 with Carlton Harris - 3 students. We started our techniques with an Ikkyo exercise working Ikkyo back and forth between us and our partners. We then moved to Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura Suwari Waza (both kneeling), Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote Tachi Waza (both standing), and Shomenuchi Iriminage. We had a discussion of lowering our centers versus leaning forward and moving our centers to our advantage to take down an opponent. We also talked about the correct way to face your opponent with your knee facing him rather than exposing the side of your knee to him.

December 24, 2015, 5:30pm - class 45 with Roderick Johnson - 3 students. I had some time before class, so I reviewed the teacher's notebook that's accessible to students. The one technique that I've had the least exposure to was Ushiro Tebukitori Kotegaeshi. As luck would have it, Sensei must've read my mind because he focused on that technique today. I practiced with both Sensei and Ed. Ed was a challenge because he was so tall. "Smith Sensei tailored some of the techniques for me since I'm long," he said, "so what you might try on a normal sized person might not work for me." Ed showed me a neat trick to break out of a wrist grab from behind (jutt butt out and sink your center, thrust one hip out to bring your hand forward, then thrust the other hip out to bring your other hand forward). Sensei showed us an additional technique for obtaining kotegaeshi if your wrists are behind you. "Invite uke with your leading hand and swing the leg in an outward semicircle, foot behind you, uke grabs your wrist behind you, uke grabs other wrist and you grab his wrist with your nonleading hand, thumb down and over his wrist, step out with your back foot, pivot and turn, and apply kotegaeshi on the wrist you just grabbed from behind. "I have to unlearn everything I learned online from the other Senseis," I mentioned to Ed. "That's right," Ed said, "because the way you have to do it is how Sensei does it. It's how Smith Sensei did it." What sets this Aikido apart from other Senseis is these versions of the techniques can really hurt someone. I could really feel the tension and torque in every technique, especially with Tom's "death grip." My latest AIkido injuries are a sprained right thumb and a bruised left hand. Oww!!!

December 27, 2015, 10:30am - class 46 with Ed Shockley - 4 students. Before class, Barbara helped me with my 5th kyu test. We went through all of the techniques and she concluded, "I'm going to tell Sensei you're ready for it!" Somehow my footwork all makes sense when Barbara is my uke, probably because she's around my height. We began class with stretching and ki-building exercises. Ed does them differently than other teachers in that his ki buildup looks so intense. I recently learned that his method is based on Qigong breathing. Barbara, Tom, Kess, and I practiced five jo techniques and the first 11 out of 27 katas in the jo suburi sequence against two attackers. One important thing I learned today was to make sure I'm holding my jo in front of my knee to protect it from a frontal attack. After weapons practice, we practiced some 5th kyu techniques for my test. "Even if you do the wrong technique, just be sure to finish the technique and throw uke. Then follow up with the right one," Ed advised. He also said that it's important to be silent during the exam. Ed knows that I've been studying a lot of online videos and books and seeing different variations of the same technique. "Always go with Sensei's version," he says, "because it's closest to Henry Smith's way."

December 28, 2015, 5:30pm - class 47 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Katatetori Shihonage, and Katatetori Iriminage. Ken1, Barbara, and Tom were my practice partners.

December 29, 2015, 5:30pm - class 48 with Dr. John Porter - 4 students. We practiced Tai No Henko and various Morotedori techniques. I discovered that I didn't end in an upright position in Tai No Henko, so we practiced a number of times so I could achieve such. We practiced resistance exercises towards the end of class to learn how to feel an opponent out and go in another direction if needed. We learned that by moving our centers back just an inch, we can gain the upper hand in moving our opponent into a position for a technique. My arms got bruised a bit more from today's practice sessions.

December 31, 2015, 5:30pm - class 49 with Roderick Johnson - 4 students. We practiced Tai No Henko and Ryotetori Tenchinage. Class ended early at 6:30pm, but there was an additional class at 7pm with 13 students, the annual New Year's Eve Misogi Purification Practice. "The Misogi practice is a long tradition at the dojo that helps bring in the New Year and to refocus our minds and bodies on the challenges of the upcoming year," Sensei said. Sensei would choose a technique and we would practice it 100 times as both nage and uke, all for the love of Aikido. We practiced Iriminage, Shomenuchi sword cuts, and Kokyudosa. The benefit of repeating these techniques so many times is we force ourselves to discover new ways of doing the techniques so we don't get bored. We also gain a sense of what it feels like to be very tired while executing the techniques. Our bodies are more relaxed and we are more amenable to taking ukemi. Also, when you are very tired, you are not so much relying on your strength as much as your skill. I was able to try several different approaches to Iriminage and Kokyuho based on what I learned from Sensei, Dr. John, Carlton, and T.K. Lee. We celebrated the New Year afterwards with sake and donuts and met more teachers and students, including some old friends of the dojo.

January 2, 2016, 10:30am - class 50 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Katatetori Kokyuho, a variant of Morotetori Kokyuho, and Katatetori Iriminage. In the Kokyuho techniques, I learned that I need to pull uke's arm really far down to break his balance so I can get my arm underneath his chin. I also learned that our centers should rotate (like we're drawing a circle with a crayon that is attached to our belly button) with the motion of our arms rising and moving back. I also learned that your arm is stronger when you relax it. Wow, I just completed my 50th class!

Some of you may be wondering why it's taking so long to learn the knowledge I need for my next rank. Indeed, if I was studying some other martial art, I would've gotten my next rank by now. The answer is Aikido is hard! The Aikido student that pens the Concrete Lunch blog gives the most blunt but accurate example of the Aikido learning experience:

Aikido is so hard to do well that most people give up within two weeks. Even among martial arts enthusiasts, Aikido is often misunderstood. That’s a huge topic and I’m not going to write about it. What I want to talk about is how it changes you. I think this is true of most martial arts, but I only know Aikido, so that’s what I will discuss.

Like most activities, when you start, you don’t know shit. It’s the simple truth. When you walk into the Aikido dojo, you may think you know something. You may have seen some videos on YouTube and thought “that looks easy and soft.”  You may think you are in good shape. You quickly find out that 1) it isn’t “soft”, 2) it isn’t easy, and 3) you are not in good shape. Then, if you are among the small percentage that come back after limping away from the dojo that first practice, you go through the following transitions:

  1. You realize that you don’t know shit. Everything you thought you knew about what you were getting into is totally wrong. What you thought was happening in Aikido isn’t happening at all.
  2. Some time later, after a significant amount of practice,  you realize you know even less than you thought you did when you first realized you don’t know shit.
  3. After more time and practice, it begins to dawn on you what you are actually doing. You don’t really understand it, but you have a glimpse. Something happens in class that gives you a small “a-ha!” moment.
  4. Then you see more new people come into class, and you see their confusion, and see that they are where you were months or years ago. Then you look at your Sensei, who has been practicing for 30 or 40 years, and realize it is a long road, and you will always be learning.
  5. At some point, you start to notice that the long-time students have something that you don’t. They are more “there” than you are. Then you take hold of their wrist, even though they are light people, they feel like they weigh 1000 pounds. A half-ton, but a half-ton that can turn to liquid in an instant, love with quick fluidity, or exist in both states simultaneously. Then you realize that to the new student, you feel like that. You are on the path, but it’s a long path. You need to stay on it. But it has to be your path.

January 3, 2016, 10:30am - class 51 with Ed Shockley - 4 students. We practiced jo (staff), bokken (sword), and tanto (knife) techniques, including facing off with an opponent with bokken and disarming an opponent with a sword or a knife with your bare hands. "Aikido techniques all come from these weapons techniques," Ed instructed as he showed us, in some cases, at least three different variants of each technique based on the Sensei he learned from. An a-ha moment came when I subdued uke with kotegaeshi and he still had his sword in hand. I turned his hand holding his sword around in a circle and that turned his entire body around. The concept of cranking the body around with the wrist didn't make sense until today. "You really have a strong grip," one of my ukes, a big guy whose name I didn't get, said.

January 4, 2016, 5:30pm - class 52 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Kosatori (one-handed wrist grab, same hands) Ikkyo Ura, Kosatori Iriminage, and Kokyudosa. The way we practice Ikkyo Ura is a lot more complex than what I've seen teachers in other schools do. The irimi (entering) step behind uke and bending the arm and cutting down with spherical rotation while keeping both of your arms underneath his arm is quite challenging to do. Then you must spin uke around like a top around your pivoting foot as you lower him down. One of the biggest things I have to work on is overcoming the feeling of awkwardness in my movements. I'm a very bad dancer, so learning dance movements is very difficult for me and Aikido is a lot like dancing.

January 7, 2016, 5:30pm - class 53 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Nikyo Ura, Suwari Waza (kneeling) and Tachi Waza (standing), at length today. I practiced with Sensei quite a bit. Nikyo was a challenge against him because he's such a big guy. Against people my height and weight, it's easy to get a little sloppy with techniques and use power over skill. On a big man, the techniques have to be executed flawlessly with no room for error. We ended our practice with Kokyuho.

January 9, 2016, 5:30pm - class 54 with Roderick Johnson - 11 students. We practiced Katatedori Shihonage Omote, Hanmi Handachi (uke standing, nage kneeling) and Tachi Waza (standing), at length today. I felt better about today's practice than yesterday's. We ended our practice with sword versus jo exercises.

January 10, 2016, 10:30am - class 55 with Ed Shockley - 1 student. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo, Nikyo, Tsuki, and Ura techniques with the bokken and jo. We also practiced two 5th kyu techniques I need more practice in, including Tsuki Kotegaeshi and Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi. We practiced both omote and ura for each. I discovered that there were three ways to do Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi, such as the over the top method (raking the face as you spin around, as Sensei teaches it), the under the arms method (as Yamada Sensei teaches it), and the spin around method (breaking free of one wrist grip as you spin around and take kotegaeshi on the other wrist). "Step into my space for omote. Because I'm long, you have to remember to bring me out far enough and down far enough to break my spine without breaking yours," Ed said. To do so, I have to go from the triangle in grabbing uke's wrist to square as I squat down while extending uke out and applying kotegaeshi. I learned a lot in today's class.

January 11, 2016, 5:30pm - class 56 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Kosatori (one-handed wrist grab, same hands) Kotegaeshi today. We finished the exercise with a line where we each took turns applying the technique over and over again to our classmates. I especially enjoyed this part of class because we got to rapidly practice our techniques in a rote way. Sensei taught me to breathe out as an opponent approaches me and I begin to apply a technique. We ended our practice with Kokyuho.

January 12, 2016, 5:30pm - class 57 with Dr. John Porter - 4 students. We practiced Tai No Henko and various Katatori (collar grab) techniques. The theme for today was learning how to move our centers. "Move yourself, your center, and not your uke. Your uke will follow," John advises. We were taught to move with our uke. If he pushes you, move back. If he pulls you, move forward. Uke's own energy should be used against him. We were taught an especially cool technique where a collar grab could quickly turn into a Nikyo to subdue an opponent. "This is more of a street technique than one that would show up on a test," John said.

January 14, 2016, 5:30pm - class 58 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We practiced a number of techniques that progressed into Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi. The hip turn at the end of a kotegaeshi is especially tricky for me because I don't seem to have much leverage. On lighter people, I have less problem hip turning. I think this is how it's supposed to be. In a way, I think Sensei is kind of disappointed in me that I didn't progress faster, but it may have been my own fault by cramming so much information in from other Sensei's books and videos.

January 16, 2016, 10:30am - class 59 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura and a Shomenuchi Ikkyo block that transitioned to Kotegaeshi. We then practiced any of the three techniques on our ukes. Unfortunately, I accidentally tagged Ken1 hard on the chin during one rep. On an uke as tall as Ed, I need to lean into him once I get the triangle in place in Ura, then follow through with turning his shoulder as I lead him around and down. Towards the end of practice, I felt that if I really want to learn these techniques, I had better increase my intentions. I'm so worried that I'm going to accidentally hurt someone that I go soft at the last minute.

January 18, 2016, 5:30pm - class 60 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Katatetori Kaitenage, Ryotetori Tenchinage, and Kokyudosa. I learned that my head and chest have to be over the knee more rather than veer off to the side so I can roll in the direction of my foot. I also learned that I have to pull my opponent down more by going into square and then slide-turn my feet before stepping forward (under uke's head) to roll uke.

January 19, 2016, 5:30pm - class 61 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Ryotetori Kokyuho, Ai Hanmi Katatetori Iriminage, Shihonage, Udekeminage, and Sankyo, and Kokyudosa. We got to practice all of the Ai Hanmi Katatetori techniques in a freestyle format with our eyes closed. The theme for today's class was feeling for what technique you should do based on your hand position. I loved the class because we got to practice so many different techniques with different ukes.

January 26, 2016, 5:30pm - class 62 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students. Today's class was simply incredible, a veritable potpourri of Aikido techniques. Dr. John asked each of us what technique we wished to practice and we each took turns practicing that technique on our ukes. Among the techniques were Shomenuchi Nikyo Ura, Morotetori Sankyo, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Ura, Morotetori Shihonage, and Yokomenuchi Jujinage.

January 28, 2016, 5:30pm - class 63 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. For the better part of the class, we practiced a slick technique involving a tanto knife: Tsuki Kotegaeshi with a breakfall, irimi tenkan around uke's head, and pressing your knee closest to uke against his arm enabling you to take his knife. You have to hold uke's wrist with both of your hands to prevent the possibility of uke's knife cutting you. We practiced our breakfalls in this technique. You perform a breakfall because there is so much tension in the kotegaeshi that the only way to break out of the tension is to flip your body over the kotegaeshi. Unfortunately, the first three times I landed, I landed right on my back, butt, or hip. It was a dangerous move to simply throw myself like I did with my forward and backward rolls and let the chips fall as they may. "No, no, no," Sensei said, "you're turning to the side instead of keeping your chin and chest in front of your knee. Just let yourself unravel over your knee." When I did so, I found myself rolling over more gracefully, but there was no thump-thump! We also practiced a Tsuki under wrist grab, atemi to the face, atemi to the ribs, swing under uke's arm to ura position, grab the tanto, irimi tenkan, and cut back. I now know how Sensei wants Tsuki Kotegaeshi done. "Don't follow uke's arm down to the wrist. Instead, step to the side, strike uke's forearm as he comes in, then grab his wrist, and follow with kotegaeshi," he said.

February 1, 2016, 5:30pm - class 64 with Roderick Johnson - 9 students. Today we practiced Morotetori Kokyuho, Ryotetori Tenchinage Omote, and Ryotetori Tenchinage Ura. This was the first time I learned Ryotetori Tenchinage Ura from Sensei. It looks very different from other videos I've studied. After laying out your hands and allowing uke to grab your wrists, you position your hands as if cradling a large baby or stuffed animal (the hand on the side of the forward leg is down, the other hand is above it). If uke presses into you, use that energy by stepping in, doing a tenkan to bring uke around, and then perform a Ryotetori Tenchinage Omote with the high hand pulling uke's arm back to break his balance, and the low hand going up the centerline of the body like in Ikkyo, up and over uke's shoulder. You should end in a position where you feet are relatively close to each other and the arms are extended out towards uke with the upper hand turned down (pinky up, thumb towards ground). Ed advised that I should relax my arm a lot more in Morotetori Kokyuho. I tense up too much.

February 2, 2016, 5:30pm - class 65 with Dr. John Porter - 5 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, various Ai Hanmi Katatetori Tsuki moves from the inside and outside (e.g. Udekeminage), a hand-to-neck choke technique in omote and ura form, Tsuki Iriminage omote and ura, and Kokyudosa. We looked at what happens if your hand or arm isn't in the right place. We learned a devastating Iriminage technique to recover from misplacing our arm underneath uke's arm instead of over it in an Tsuki Iriminage omote. Let's say you end up with your arm under uke's arm. You step out and perform the Iriminage on uke, arm and all. Uke lands hard on his back. We got to practice these techniques in a circle attack where we were surrounded by four people. I did an Iriminage, Shihonage, Ikkyo, choke technique in ura, and the devastating Iriminage. Actually, I started with an Iriminage omote, but then switched to the devastating Iriminage to see what it felt like applying it and WHAM!!! Down went uke with a big bang on the mat. I checked to see if he was all right. He sounded like he got the wind knocked out of him.

February 4, 2016, 5:30pm - class 66 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Morotetori Kokyuho, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Ura, and Kokyudosa. I think I got Morotetori Kokyuho down. Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Ura was a bit more challenging, especially the Kotegaeshi part. For some odd reason, I can't keep my arms extended out as much as I'd like. "Don't curl uke's arm all the way in to his shoulder," Sensei advised. "Control the Kotegaeshi in front of you. In front of your center." Cranking the arm to get to the Kotegaeshi pin also involves keeping the bent elbow in front of your center as you push down on the bicep to roll uke over. It's a very counterintuitive move, but it actually does the job elegantly.

February 6, 2016, 10:30am - observed class 4 with Carlton Harris - I sat and watched Aikido class after my morning yoga class. Carlton was teaching. I watched his students practice two variants of Tsuki Iriminage. I discovered that I don't feel good replacing yoga with Aikido. I need more yoga in my life because it makes me feel good and keeps me strong and lightweight. Aikido, when done without yoga, makes me feel fat, stupid, and anxious.

February 9, 2016, 5:30pm - class 67 with Dr. John Porter - 6 students. A fun class. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, Shomenuchi Ikkyo and Nikyo Omote and Ura in Suwari Waza form, forward rolling ukemi via Ryokatatori Kokyunage, Katatetori Shihonage in Hanmi Handachi form, and Kokyudosa.

February 11, 2016, 5:30pm - class 68 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura, and Shomenuchi Iriminage.

February 15, 2016, 5:30pm - class 69 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Ryotetori Tenchinage Ura, Katatetori Shihonage Omote, Katatetori Kotegaeshi, and a variant of Kokyudosa. I can do all of the movements of these techniques, but the technical details are confusing.

February 16, 2016, 5:30pm - class 70 with Dr. John Porter - 4 students. Another fun class. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, and a series of Ryotetori techniques including Tenchinage Omote and Ura, Iriminage, Shihonage, Kotegaeshi, Reverse Kotegaeshi, and a really cool move where you end up draping uke on the ground. We then took turns practicing any of these techniques on our classmates. We ended our practice with Kokyudosa.

February 18, 2016, 5:30pm - class 71 with Roderick Johnson - 10 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Omote, Ushiro Tekubitori Sankyo, and Kokyudosa. My latest Aikido injury is a cut across the back of my foot. I'm not sure how I got it. It must've happened so fast that I didn't notice it. It wasn't until one of my classmates pointed out I was bleeding that I took a break to put a Band-Aid over it. Another classmate noted that there was blood on the back of my pants.

February 20, 2016, 10:30am - observed class 5 with Roderick Johnson - I sat and watched Aikido class after my morning yoga class. Sensei was teaching a rhythm flow exercise where the first three counts was stepping off the line from a Shomenuchi Strike and the fourth count was the application of a technique, any one of Kaitenage, Ikkyo, and Ikkyo to Nikyo. I practiced the moves on the sidelines. I think this might be a good strategy - to take three classes and then sit in on the fourth each week - to learn the techniques.

February 22, 2016, 5:30pm - class 72 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. We practiced Morotetori Kokyuho, Ryotetori Tenchinage Omote, Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, and Shomenuchi Iriminage. I could do Shomenuchi Iriminage rather well in Dr. John's class, but I found myself stumbling doing Sensei's version because the movement of both arms and hips has to be done in unison, in one flowing movement. I landed badly in Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura. I suffered a bruise to the jaw that felt like I jarred a filling loose. I continued class without complaint.

February 25, 2016, 5:30pm - observed class 6 with Roderick Johnson - After my emergency dental appointment, I walked over to my dojo and sat and watched Sensei's class. He taught Morotetori Kokyuho, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Ura, and Tsuki Kotegaesi with a tanto. I practiced the moves on the sidelines. My jaw started throbbing towards the end of class. Two days later, I went to the emegency room because of sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of my jaw that started on Wednesday and continued on until Saturday. The dental visit didn't help. The pain was so severe that I fell to my knees crying each time. The pain was much worse than the recovery period after any dental or surgery procedure I've ever had. The emergency room staff said it was likely nerve damage and the only thing they could do for me was give me painkillers. One of my back molars was knocked loose.

February 29, 2016, 5:30pm - class 73 with Roderick Johnson - 8 students. We practiced Ushiro Tekubitori Jujinage, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Omote, Morotetori Kokyuho on the new tatami mats. I tried to refrain from taking ukemi as much as possible since my jaw was still hurting.

March 1, 2016, 5:30pm - class 74 with Dr. John Porter - 7 students. We practiced every technique from the 5th kyu test today: Shomenuchi Ikkyo (omote and ura), Shomenuchi Iriminage (omote and ura), Katatetori Shihonage (omote and ura), Ryotetori Tenchinage (omote and ura), Tsuki Kotegaeshi, Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi (omote and ura), and Morotetori Kokyuho. I acquired many bruises on my arms and feet, but I felt it was all part of training.

March 3, 2016, 5:30pm - observed class 7 with Ed Shockley - Ed subbed for Sensei today. I sat and watched Ed's class after I subbed for a yoga class this afternoon. The class practiced 12 steps of jo techniques followed by Munetori Ikkyo.

March 5, 2016, 10:30am - class 75 with Brendan Ryan - 8 students. We practiced Yokomenuchi strikes, Yokomenuchi Kaitenage, and Yokomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura. I was a little tired after yoga, but I still kept up. I didn't take ukemi, though, because I didn't want to risk agitating my dental work.

March 7, 2016, 5:30pm - class 76 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. During the rolling exercises, Barbara and I bashed our heads together during our backward rolling. We benched ourselves nursing the eggs on our heads with ice packs. We practiced Morotetori Kokyuho, Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura, and a Shihonage Omote variant with a cross defense. I asked Sensei for a critique of how I was doing so far. He said he wanted to see more flow between techniques and better footwork. "You have to reach deep down inside you and make the Aikido your own," he said. Strangely, sometimes I don't know what I'm doing wrong and when I do something right, I don't know why it was any different than what I was doing wrong. I'm 76 classes in and don't understand why I'm still making mistakes at this point. I'll likely never have a quick first step to get my arms up in Ikkyo because I'm 48, not 20-something or even 30-something, and I'm not athletic and have never had lightning fast reflexes. I think I would've benefited greatly from being assigned a mentor, much like what happened with me in yoga. One of my yoga teachers took a great interest in me and pushed me harder each time I took her class and somehow I thrived in that environment and ultimately became a yoga teacher.

March 8, 2016, 5:30pm - class 77 with Dr. John Porter - 7 students. John has been teaching for 19 years and said that every year on the anniversary of his first Aikido class he teaches everything in that very first class he attended. We practiced Tai No Henko, static Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, Shomenuchi Iriminage Omote and Ura, and Shomenuchi Nikyo. There was more, but I had to leave early to teach a yoga class later in the evening.

March 10, 2016, 5:30pm - class 78 with Roderick Johnson - 13 students. A very large class today. We practiced Shomenuchi Nikyo Ura and Shomenuchi Ikkyo to Kotegaeshi. I also practiced Tsuki Kotegaeshi with Rachel. Gabe and I made Shomenuchi Nikyo Ura fun by reciting every movement as if it were a recipe. I wasn't faring too well with Ken1 in the same technique because I wasn't able to bring him spiralling down.

March 14, 2016, 5:30pm - class 79 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. I still can't breakfall without hurting myself. The young guys in class all seem to be throwing themselves into their rolls. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, Shomenuchi Iriminage, and Morotetori Kokyho. We learned a variant ending in Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura where you end up standing with both feet against uke and your arms extended keeping uke down. I did well against Ken2 and Gabe in that technique. When I practiced with Tom, I felt like I had two left feet in Shomenuchi Iriminage. I relaxed and fared better with Ken1 in that technique. In Morotetori Kokyho, I need to get my feet closer together, even to the point of touching, so that at the last moment, I can expand out. Contract in so you can expand out. At the end of class, Ken1 and Jimmy practiced a couple of random techniques. I did Ryotetori Tenchinage Ura.

March 17, 2016, 5:30pm - class 80 with Roderick Johnson - 11 students. Oddly, the class started with eight students, six of us women. One by one the class started filling up with late students to make eleven. Two more men joined, but it was definitely a female-dominated class today. We practiced Morotetoi Kokyuho and three Ushiro techniques from 5th kyu to 3rd kyu. I didn't get to practice with Gabe, so we didn't get a chance to use our recipe technique today, but I did try to move as slowly as I could to get my hands and feet in the right place with Asamina and Ken2. Today my hands and feet were doing what they were supposed to be doing, but I needed to sink lower in the techniques. I didn't get much sleep from last night because I totally bombed a modelling audition yesterday. The one good thing that came out of the experience was I bumped into an old friend I hadn't seen in 25 years.

March 21, 2016, 5:30pm - class 81 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Iriminage and Shomenuchi Ikkyo to Sankyo. Sensei showed us what the latter technique looked like in sword movements. I missed the stretching and ukemi portion of the class because I had to stay late at my office.

March 22, 2016, 5:30pm - class 82 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, Ushiro Tekubitori Shihonage standing and Hanmi Handachi, and various Shihonage techniques. There were reps where I got it and others where I fell apart. John tested us at the end by calling out a technique and we practiced it with our partners. Ken1, Jimmy, and I practiced some techniques after class.

March 24, 2016, 5:30pm - class 83 with Roderick Johnson - 8 students. We practiced Morotetori Kokyuho, Ryotetori Tenchinage Omote and Ura, and Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi. I learned from an uke the real purpose of the wrist grab. "Your opponent is trying to grab your neck, so you have to bring your handblade up and deflect his energy around and behind you. He will grab onto he wrist of your hand and come around you," he said. This is what the semicircular foot sweep is supposed to help do. Towards the end of class, we practiced the last technique in a line. This was the most fun class we've had in a while and I didn't mind the bruises on my hand at all. They were proof that I participated in that class.

April 4, 2016, 5:30pm - class 84 with Roderick Johnson - 5 students. I took a week off from Aikido because I wanted to focus on my yoga for a bit and get my hips feeling better. Today we practiced katatetori techniques leading to a roll or a breakfall. During one of the reps, I landed badly on my hand and bent my pinky backwards. During another rep, I landed badly on my back and the student who threw me was very apologetic. Sensei offered to stretch my back which helped. At the end of class, Sensei called me and two volunteers up for a practice run of my 5th kyu test. Sadly, my brain wasn't working when Sensei called for Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura. I just froze there trying to come up with the technique that I've practiced so many times before. I was so mad at myself! After the practice run, Sensei commented on some things that needed improvement. "You still need to move your back foot with your front foot," he said. I showed him the Triangle pose I do in yoga and he realized why my mechanics were the way they were. My feet are planted firmly on the ground in Triangle, even though they are separated about five feet apart. "That explains a lot," Sensei said. I have to work on making my Aikido better by not applying the things I'm used to in yoga. After class, Ken1 looked at me, ready to strike in Shomenuchi, and said, "C'mon, I know you know this!" I paused, smiled, and we both said "Chicken wing!" in unison as I proceeded to execute Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura once per side.

April 5, 2016, 5:30pm - class 85 with Dr. John Porter - 6 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, Ryotetori Tenchinage Omote and Ura, Katatetori and Morotetori Shihonage Omote, Hanmi Handachi Morotetori Shihonage Omote, and more. Oddly, I was the senior student in class today. Our practice was cut short by fifteen minutes because of smoke entering the hallways from an adjacent martial arts school.

April 7, 2016, 5:30pm - class 86 with Roderick Johnson - 11 students. We practiced Yokomenuchi and Tsuki strikes, Suwara Waza Katadori Ikkyo, Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote, Katatetori Shihonage Omote, Tsuki Kotegaeshi, and Morotetori Kokyuho.

April 11, 2016, 5:30pm - class 87 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. Today's class was unusual in that it was all senior students and me. Where were all the junior students? At the start of class, we practiced ukemi with partners. Our partner would push us and we'd take a backward roll. Alternatively, our partner would grab us in Morotetori and we'd pivot 180 and direct the energy into giving him or her a forward roll. Ukemi makes sense now! We practiced Morotetori Kokyuho (5th kyu), Katatori Nikyo Omote (4th kyu) Suwari Waza and Standing, and Katatetori Shihonage Omote (5th kyu). "Train as if your partner weighs 50 pounds more than he or she does," Sensei advised. At the end of class, Sensei asked everyone to line up in seiza. I thought we were ready for the end of class, so I was ready to bow. Sensei asked me and two classmates, Asamina and Shanti, to shikko forward. It was my 5th kyu test and it came totally unexpected! Nevertheless, I was ready for it. Sensei called out each technique and I demonstrated each to the best of my ability. When Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Ura was announced, I demonstrated the Henry Smith variant, which involves a hard slap on uke's back with your free hand to propel uke in the opposite direction. I sweated my brains out during the entire test. Sensei was pleased with my performance and promoted me to 5th kyu.

After attaining a new rank, it's usually good etiquette to attend all of your classes that week to show respect for your Sensei. It took me a long time to realize that the unorthodox techniques we're learning in this dojo are potentially more effective versions of the classic techniques. Our teachers are constantly breaking down the techniques to show and tell us why we're doing what we're doing. Much is said about why we're doing a technique and the martial principles behind it. Our 5th kyu version of Morotetori Kokyuho, for example, is pretty brutal if done correctly and has assurances that the assailant will be thrown. As we progress in our Aikido journey, we may eventually learn variations or nuances of each technique by attending classes or seminars with guest teachers.

April 12, 2016, 5:30pm - class 88 with Dr. John Porter - 9 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, and various Yokomenuchi techniques. I learned that, as uke, we have to be cognizant of stepping with nage so we could take ukemi properly. John taught us that it's an honor to take ukemi for your Sensei. He recounted the time he was invited to Doshu's home for helping his Sensei achieve 6th dan.

April 14, 2016, 5:30pm - class 89 with Roderick Johnson - 8 students. We practiced Katatori Sankyo Ura (4th kyu), Katatori Nikyo Ura (4th kyu), Katatori Kaitenage (3rd kyu), and Katatori Iriminage. At the end of class, we lined up and took turns practicing the techniques we learned on our classmates. I had leverage problems throwing a couple of students who were longer than me. I also had problems rolling because I had crunched my shoulder in ukemi practice. One of our newest students, Jimmy, who recently attained his 6th kyu, is already showing great ukemi.

April 18, 2016, 5:30pm - class 90 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. We practiced a Morotetori exercise, Morotetori Nikyo Ura (2nd kyu), a Shomenuchi exercise, Shomenuchi Kaitenage (2nd kyu), and Kokyuho. I injured my pinky again - the same one from two weeks ago - during ukemi practice, so I couldn't take a Nikyo grip on my right hand. I had to practice taking Nikyo with my left hand, however, falling to the ground still required the use of my right hand. Ow!!! I was irritated by the injury because I thought I was 100% again. I may have to sit out for a while and just let it heal.

April 21, 2016, 5:30pm - class 91 with Roderick Johnson - 2 students. I didn't think I'd take class today, but I didn't want to pass up the chance to receive individualized instruction from Sensei. We practiced a lot of ukemi and footwork using the sword to guide us. We also practiced a Katatetori Kokyunage throw as well as a really cool triple combo technique using Iriminage, Kotegaeshi, and Shihonage following a Shomenuchi strike. We practiced wide as well as narrow steps. At the end of class, we practiced 13 steps of jo. The single techniques never really made much sense to me when thinking about a fight, but the triple technique makes a lot of sense because it answers the question, "What if an assailant bounces back up?" This was one of my favorite Aikido classes ever.

April 23, 2016 - My two sons earned their yellow belts in class today. All of the parents watched as four of eleven students were being tested. One of the parents turned to me and said, "Your sons look really good out there!" It was almost like a passing of the torch as two new kids joined the class and watched my sons earn their new ranks, similar to when my kids joined last year and watched two kids earn their new ranks in their first class.

April 25, 2016, 5:30pm - class 92 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. During one sequence of ukemi practice, we had to perform as many compact rolls as we could from one end of the dojo to the other and somehow I performed an advanced roll without even knowing it. Sensei pointed out that it was a black belt-level roll. We practiced that roll next, but I couldn't figure out how to replicate it. It's just one of those things that happened maybe because of luck, maybe because I was completely relaxed and pulled it out of me. We practiced Katatori Nikkyo Omote (4th kyu), Ushiro Tekubitori Kotegaeshi Omote (5th kyu) and Sankyo Omote (4th kyu), Morotetori Kokyuho (5th kyu), and Kokyudosa.

April 26, 2016, 5:30pm - class 93 with Dr. John Porter - 8 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, Katatori Sumi Otoshi with a Tenkan, Katatori Sankyo, Ryotetori Kokyunage, Tsuki Kokunage, Ryotetori Kotegaeshi, Kosatori behind-the-back Kotegaeshi. Somehow I ended up in Nikyo instead of Kotegaeshi in the last one, which impressed John. John showed us how an uke might take a breakfall in a technique by using Jimmy as an example. "Then you get to O Sensei's level," he says, "where uke attacks and you just go aiyahhh!!! and uke falls down without even touching him." True enough, Jimmy started his attack at full force toward John and John pointed two fingers towards Jimmy's eyes causing him to fall without being touched. This is an example of an Aikido no touch throw. It looks like a Jedi mind trick. "It looks fake in videos, but there's something to it," John says, "because uke doesn't want his eyes gouged out, so he has to take the fall." During my practice with Ed, he showed me how important it is to have the right intentions set when you're feigning an atemi as nage. My latest Aikido injury is a bruise to the shoulder from Katatori.

April 28, 2016, 5:30pm - observed class 8 with Roderick Johnson - I sat and watched class today. The students practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, two versions of Tsuki Iriminage (4th kyu), and Morotetori Kokyuho. The thought of jumping in and joining my classmates was tempting, but I didn't want to chance messing up the healing process of my pinky finger.

May 2, 2016, 5:30pm - class 94 with Roderick Johnson - 6 students. We practiced Suwari Waza Katatori Sankyo Omote, Ushiro Tekubitori Sankyo Ura, and Ryokatatori Kotegaeshi Omote, all 4th kyu techniques. A classmate and I agreed that Sankyo is hard! At the end of class, we lined up and took turns practicing Ushiro Tekubitori Sankyo Ura on our classmates. Sensei even joined in on the action! We were told that the pin at the end was optional, but I wanted to do it. I had my pinky wrapped with adhesive bandage to mitigate the chance for further injury. It worked out well. My rolls were coming out crooked because I fear injurying my fingers.

May 3, 2016, 5:30pm - class 95 with Brendan Ryan - 7 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Tai No Henko with a Kokyu throw, Tai No Henko with a back stretch, Katatetori Kokyuho, Katatetori Shihonage Omote and Ura, and Katatetori with a Kokyu throw. I wrapped my pinky again.

May 5, 2016, 5:30pm - class 96 with Roderick Johnson - 7 students. We practiced Suwari Waza Katatori Nikyo Ura, Yokomenuchi Shihonage Omote, and Shomenuchi Shihonage. I learned that in order to take the balance of a tall, flexible person, you really need to extend her out in Shihonage. I wrapped my pinky again. I received my USAF 5th kyu certificate today. After class, a small group of us dined at Smile Café to celebrate my 5th kyu promotion.

May 10, 2016, 5:30pm - class 97 with Dr. John Porter - 10 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Katatetori Shihonage, Katatetori Iriminage, Katatetori Kotegaeshi, and Kokyuho. Ed showed me some of the atemi and psychology involved with Katatetori Kotegaeshi, including feints (atemi) to the face while executing the technique, stretching the opponent down low, and demonstrating the two-finger wrist grab to show that strength is not required to perform the technique. "Loosen up, don't be so tense," Ed reminded me. The class welcomed two new students today. We each took turns teaching them the steps of each technique we were practicing. More pressure marks on my arms from intense grappling.

May 12, 2016, 5:30pm - class 98 with Roderick Johnson - 10 students. We practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura Suwari Waza and standing. We also practiced Shomenuchi Ikkyo Ura and Shomeunchi Kotegaeshi with a tanto. I felt good doing the rolls with my bare hands.

I'm taking a little break from my yoga and Aikido practices while I take care of some medical issues. For the past week, I've suffered from extreme jaw pain. Those of you who know me know I internalize everything, so I hid my pain well. I was hoping my jaw pain would go away, but it came to a point where the pain was too severe to ignore. I saw my dentist on Monday, May 16 and he noted that the x-rays showed an abscess and necrotic tissue underneath the tooth causing me the problems. "The tooth is already dead. The way you bite down could've affected the area," he said. I knew it was more likely my hard fall to my jaw in Aikido class back in February. He recommended root canal therapy to remove the pain. At 48, I had never had a root canal before, so the experience was new and a bit frightening, but my dentist made the entire experience virtually pain-free. Perhaps the most painful part of the procedure was the initial needle. I felt pain on subsequent days, but it was managed with Advil during the day and Vicodin at night. Also, some of you know that I'm extremely allergic to almost everything. It came to a point where it affected my life negatively in many ways. I received my third Xolair treatment on Tuesday, May 17. I'm hopeful this will help my allergy situation going forward.

May 23, 2016, 5:30pm - class 99 with guest instructor Nizam Taleb. Nizam Sensei is one of the co-creators of the Aikido system we use in our dojo today. Nizam's class was structured like a seminar class. The mat was packed with at least 20 students, everyone from 6th kyu all the way up to 4th dan. We practiced ten different techniques at a very fast pace. He showed us each technique two or three times and then we were given the signal to practice what he showed us. Usually, I would need that fourth showing to get a better feel for the technique, so you can imagine the "OH SHIT!" look on my face every time he signaled us to practice. I liked how Nizam was relating all of the empty hand techniques with their sword equivalents. That gave us the context of why we were doing these techniques. I practiced with Ed, Ken1, Ken2, John, Carlton, Farrah, Shanti, an unassuming little blue belt Aikido student with a powerful grip, and twice with Sensei Acxel Saravia of Lenape Aikikai who was kind enough to guide Shanti and I through a bokken technique. A couple of members of Old City Aikikai were also present, including Sulaiman, a 3rd dan who amazed us with his feather-soft backfalls. At the end of class, Sensei and Lenape Aikikai's Sensei presented Nizam with his 6th dan certificate on behalf of Yamada Sensei.

May 24, 2016, 5:30pm - class 100 with Dr. John Porter - 6 students. We practiced Tai No Henko, Morotetori Kokyuho, static Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote and Ura, Tsuki Kotegaeshi, and Kokyuho. A new student appeared in class today and we each took turns helping her learn the techniques. Before class, Ed mentioned that Nizam Taleb was one of his weapons instructors. "Nizam used to teach on Sundays," Ed recounts. "His techniques have changed over the years, but that's because his body and circumstances changed. As you get older, you adapt your Aikido to your body. That's why we always practice."

One hundred classes in and I'm still confused about a lot of things. I'm less confused than when I first started, but still confused nonetheless. I guess that's why I always practice, so that one day things will be a little more clear.

My Aikido journey: classes 1-100, 101-200, 201-300

All images and work herein © 2007-2017 Clare Din. No reproduction without permission. All rights reserved.