Tag Archives: Yoshokai

No Thinking on the Mat, Please


(Those of you familiar with Aikido already know this isn’t going to end well.)

Random stuff popped in and out of my mind as we loosened up on the mat; important stuff like how hot it was in the gym, where to get ice cream after class, whether my hurt shoulder was going to hold up. Then out of nowhere came an actual worthwhile thought – that I needed to stop thinking.

I once heard the story in class about the student who wanted to train with a great master and was invited to tea. When they were seated, the master poured tea into the student’s cup, and continued to pour even when the tea reached the rim and spilled over. The student asked him to stop because his cup was full. “Yes, I know,” the master said. “Please come back when your cup is empty.” [1]  In other words, a mind already occupied with other thoughts is not prepared to receive Aikido.

So I cleared my mind and did my best to focus on what was happening at each moment. All went well through our practice of basic movements and breakfalls, and the buki techniques (when a sword strike is headed your way, one tends to pay attention). Then Sensei called me up as Uke to demonstrate a throwing technique.

Definitely not the time to be pondering Moose Tracks vs. Cappuccino Crunch.

Definitely not the time to be pondering Moose Tracks vs. Cappuccino Crunch.

I enjoy being the demo Uke but I’m always a bit apprehensive about it. I don’t know which technique I’m helping demonstrate until Sensei announces it. Then I do my best to follow his lead and hope I don’t screw up too badly. I’m told everyone makes mistakes doing this, but as far as I know I’m the only one who’s been dragged entirely off the mat – twice – before figuring out I was supposed to slide flat. But this time, Sensei announced a 4th Kyu reverse hand throw, and I relaxed a bit. I knew this one. [2]

I remember when triple cones were 59 cents at Baskin-Robbins.

Remember when triple cones were 59 cents at Baskin-Robbins?

I grabbed his wrist and he led me around in a pivot, then raised my arm and ducked under. So far, so good. I then prepared for his next move – which was at least a triple mistake. First and foremost, Uke should never “anticipate” Shite’s move, but stay focused on the moment and follow his lead. Failing that, I also prepared for the wrong move, and turned my attention away from him slightly. So I didn’t see his approaching fist (the next move being an uppercut punch) and thus didn’t block it. I was able to continue the demo and finish class (and I’m fine now), but let’s just say it was a bit challenging to chew my dinner that night.

So even after I’d reminded myself to empty my mind, I started thinking again – and paid the price. The irony is that I go to evening Aikido classes to do just that – to clear away a long, fatiguing day at work and just train, which refreshes my body and mind. But to do that well takes practice, just like any physical technique. This not thinking isn’t easy!


[1] This story is also found in Advanced Aikido by Phong Thong Dang.

[2]  Sensei has also often said you’re headed for trouble when you think, “Oh, I know this one…”

Celebrating the New, and the Longstanding

I JUST GOT SOME EXCITING NEWS from my recently departed Aikido instructor, who has settled into his new place in Middlebury, Vermont. Today I got an invitation to visit the new Aikido Yoshokai Vermont Facebook page. Classes begin in September!

Our new Vermont dojo sensei (center) at a black belt test demonstration.

Our new Vermont dojo sensei (center) at a black belt test demonstration.

(By the way, if you visit that page, the current main photo is from our Rec & Ed class. The new Vermont dojo sensei is second from right, and our new Rec & Ed instructor is leftmost. Yours truly is second from left.)

Another recent milestone occurred last Sunday, as mother celebrated her 80th birthday. It also happened to be Bastille Day, another excellent reason to sit around and eat stuff. Vive La France et passe le chocolat!

My mom, her three kids, and my wife (the awesome cake maker).

My mom, her three kids, and my wife (the awesome cake maker).

Naturally, I wanted to suggest we all go for a refreshing five-mile run, followed by dinner at a nice vegetarian place with lots of nutrient dense organic goodies, with yummy carob tofu pudding for dessert. (Those of you who want to believe that, please stop reading here.) So after stuffing our faces at our favorite Middle Eastern place, we repaired to our house for cake and ice cream.

This most definitely does not show up in any "10 Healthiest Foods for Runners" list. Tough rocks.

This most definitely does not show up in any “10 Healthiest Foods for Runners” list. Tough rocks.

This plain yellow cake with a thick, fudgy dark chocolate frosting is her favorite cake and was also my favorite cake growing up. The frosting is made with lots of butter and confectioner’s sugar, and leftover frosting can be eaten by itself as fudge. It gets laid on thick so we can eat the cake layers first and leave the frosting standing by itself. Can’t beat it.


Now I can’t say that Mom is the same kind of exercise nut that her son might be, but she does get around.

"It's the little old lady from Pasadena Dexter Township"

“It’s the little old lady from Pasadena Dexter Township!”

Thanks again, Mom, for bringing me into the world, and for not taking me out those times I most assuredly deserved it.

A New Look

Welcome to RunBikeThrow!

If you were expecting the “Fitness at 50” site, you are in the right place. Starting today, it has a new name, but its purpose remains the same: to post my adventures and lessons learned in running, biking, and Aikido, and to encourage people to get up and get active.

NewLookSameGreatBlogWhy the name change? Two main reasons.

One run in particular really took me out of my 'comfort zone'. Click here to read about it, if you dare.

One particular 2012 run really took me out of my ‘comfort zone’. Click the picture to read about it, if you dare.

I started this blog two years ago to share the challenges I’d planned for my “year of being 50” (2012), including a 500-mile bike ride, 50K run, and taking 50 Aikido classes in a month. That year is now past, and it’s time to move on. But you can browse my successes, failures, and other posts from then, or view a summary on my “Quest 2012” page.

I also wanted to show what’s possible at age 50 and encourage people of that age to get active. But lots of people 50 and over are already very active, and programs are springing up to support them, such as the YMCA’s “50 Moving Forward” program. And my posts were never aimed at the 50-and-older crowd anyway. I want to encourage being fit and active at any age, and that’s the way I’ve been writing my posts all along.

So why the new name of “RunBikeThrow?” It represents the three athletic activities I do and enjoy the most.


Holiday Hustle, 2012 (me, front & center)

Holiday Hustle, 2012 (me, front & center)

Run: I started running regularly at age 46 and ran my first race (the Holiday Hustle 5K in Dexter) in 2008. I now run about 1,000 miles a year, including marathons (Chicago 2011 and Ann Arbor 2012) and an ultramarathon (50K at Run Woodstock in 2012). I write about my races, training runs, shoes and other gear, volunteering, and just about anything else related to running.


Da Dawg House - Cadillac, MI.

Fuel stop at Da Dawg House – Cadillac, MI.

Bike: I am a recreational cyclist who enjoys long trips through small towns to see (and write about) what’s to see. Last year I completed a ride I’d planned for several years – a 500-mile round trip from Ann Arbor to our campground in Empire and back, at age 50. This year I’ve already put in one weekend tour and will continue to use cycling in combination with distance running to train for my big event this year, and beyond.


I learn how to fall down - again.

I learn how to fall down – again.

Throw: I have been a student of Yoshokai Aikido (mainly through the Ann Arbor Rec & Ed club) since 2005, which has changed my life physically, mentally, and to some degree, spiritually. While I am progressing toward and hope to achieve black belt, the greatest reward is in the journey – the training itself, and what I learn from the classes and clinics I attend.

My interest in healthy eating, cooking, and all things chocolate continues as strong as ever, and I will continue to write about them here. But most of what I learn about and experience in the world of chocolate and coffee will be posted on my new blog, which I’ll tell you all about as soon as it’s ready.

So a big THANK YOU THANK YOU to all my current readers, and I hope you like the change! If you’re already following this blog under fitnessat50.net, there’s no need to change anything. You should continue to receive new posts just fine.

Speaking of, we’ll be back to regularly scheduled subjects next time. Thanks for reading!

Father’s Day: Letting Things (and Rings) Go

My Father’s Day weekend, while perhaps not as memorable as last year’s, was a full one nonetheless. On a day where the emphasis seems to be so heavy on “buy stuff for Dad,” I was instead given several opportunities to reflect on letting things go, one in particular a better gift than any “thing” I could have received.

Saturday began with a 10-mile run followed by a 50-mile bike ride, as I began serious training for my big running event of the year. (Details to follow, but basically I need to get in a lot of long, slow legwork.) With a beautiful, cool morning and smooth roads, it was the kind of ride I’d been looking forward to all winter.

A stop in Plymouth, MI. Gotta keep fueled, you know!

A stop for cherry walnut bread in Plymouth, MI. Gotta keep fueled, you know!

My route took me through Lathrup Village, where I grew up. The neighborhood looked much the same; I’d time warped back to 1970 for all I could tell. Riding by my old house, I was struck again by my lack of nostalgia for it. I’d lived there for fifteen years, but now it was just another house. I’d felt the same way last month when my mother moved out of her house in Dexter Township, where my parents had moved in 1987. It too now belongs to someone else, and I’m fine with that. It isn’t the house that matters in the end, it’s what happened there, and we’ll always have the memories.

On Sunday I was part of an Aikido demonstration at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. It was the final class taught by our club’s departing instructor, so it was a “letting go” experience for both him and his students. But there was no sadness; the class was energetic and cheerful, with a sizable audience watching, many of them joining us when invited to do so. I hope at least a few of them will start Aikido and discover how much fun and fulfilling it can be.

Aikido retreat

I rode my bike to the class, dogi tucked in my panniers and buki bag strapped across the frame. I tucked my wallet, phone, cameras, and wedding ring (no jewelry allowed in an Aikido class) into my small traveling backpack. Then back at home, getting ready to go to dinner, I opened my backpack – and the ring was not there.

After a careful search of the backpack and my bike bags failed to turn it up, I figured it had fallen out on the Power Center lawn when I’d pulled my cameras out to take photos before class. So I went back there and searched a while for it, without success. Perhaps one of the spectators had found it, or it was just too well hidden in the grass. One moment of carelessness had lost a ring I’d worn for 30 years of marriage (to date).

Aikido has taught me that when a situation occurs that I cannot control, I need to find a way to fit with it. So I had to “fit with” the possibility that I would never see my ring again. Intellectually, this is not so hard; it was just a thing, after all, a plain gold band that can be easily replaced. My 30-year marriage is what really counts, and that remains as strong as ever, unaffected by whether or not I had the symbol that represents it. But emotionally, I was struggling with a sense of melancholy over its loss, and I was annoyed that I hadn’t put the ring somewhere more secure.

Still, I went to dinner Sunday night determined not to let the missing ring bother me, and I succeeded (mostly). And I took some time to reflect, too. I wanted to create balance in the situation – create some yang, as it were, to balance the yin event. So I decided to start on some life changes I’ve been thinking about for a while. Whether or not I got my ring back, I would create a gain.

What are these changes? And have I found my ring yet? All will be revealed shortly. Watch this space.